Native American Museum
In this exhibition, Native people respond to the stereotypical images of their lives that have been previously orated for centuries, so this very exhibit was an opportunity for us to learn the truth and accuracy behind the photographs taken of them. However, lets begin with who the Isleta Pueblo Natives were? What’s their history, political life, culture, art, food, clothing, and so forth like? Many of these can be answered from the paintings, photographs, artifacts, audio display, mannequins and many more resources available in the exhibit.
Isleta Pueblo, mentioned above is a location in New Mexico part of the Rio Grande Valley, where Native Americans resided. They were known as Pueblo Indians well mainly because they lived in settlements known as pueblos. Though there are two divisions of Pueblo Indians based on locations, the museum exhibit mostly displayed Pueblo Indians of the Eastern division; the eastern Pueblo villages in New Mexico along the Rio Grande. These groups spoke “Tanoan” and “Keresan” languages. “Each of the 70 or more Pueblo villages extant before Spanish colonization was politically autonomous, governed by a council composed of the heads of religious societies. These societies were centered in the kivas, subterranean ceremonial chambers that also functioned as private clubs and lounging rooms for men.”
Traditionally, Pueblo people were farmers along the Rio Grande. Available water sources allowed them to grow corn/maize, additionally cotton was cultivated in fields near river bottoms. Similar to many tribal groups that existed throughout the world e.g. The Dobe people, women did most of the farming and gathering of plants. However, since there wasn’t much to hunt aside from deer, antelopes, and small animals like rabbits, men also were responsible for agricultural work. The museum had many of their tools, and daily products they used on display. Moreover, the viewers got a chance to see the Pueblo Indians constructed housing in photographs; they used adobe and earthy resources available to them. The household consisted of the parents and children. Mainly the men were in charge just like all societies, but the women did play important roles, such as clan governance. However, both genders took part in storytelling, music and artwork, and traditional medicine. Storytelling was an important aspect of their culture because their form of communication was oral and nothing was ever really written down.
Some other interesting photos on display are clothing of the Pueblo people along with their traditional accessories. Such as intricate necklaces were worn by women and a lot of them too. Originally, men wore nothing except kilt like clothing made from the hunted deerskin. As for the women they wore lengthy dresses. However you can notice change in the clothing style once missionaries and other outside forces influence the Natives. Soon, women were wearing blouses and modern forms of clothing, such as men wearing pants. It was quite interesting to note that from what can be observed in the photographs, men and women both wore headbands tied around their forehead.
On another note, based on the photographs the intricate craftsmanship of the Natives is visible. For example, Pueblo men used bows and arrows, spears as well clubs. Pueblo tools included wooden hoes and rakes for farming, as seen on photos. Additionally, pictures of women weaving, making baskets, pottery and creating beadwork were displayed too. As mentioned earlier about women’s accessories, “the Pueblo Indians were famous for their beautiful silver and turquoise ornaments, particularly their elaborate necklaces.”
As for religious practices of the Pueblo Indians, it was mostly based on story telling passed down from generation to generation. There are lots of traditional legends and therefore storytelling was very important to the Pueblo Indian culture. They originally had traditional ceremonies consisting of some face painting/masks, singing and dancing. However, some of their practices were taken over by other societies and later settlers. It definitely created a great juxtaposition seeing a picture of a church with a cross visible on the wall; clearly depicting the influence of the missionaries and later settlers. But before all the change that occurred the Natives had songs for growing corn, the moon phases, and beginning as well as end of harvests. There’s a part in the exhibit where you can follow drawn pictures of these very actions and audio technology that lets you to hear the ceremonial songs when you push the button.
The Pueblo Indians interacted with other Native Americans such as the Zunis, who traded extensively with other tribes of the Southwest. Pueblo trade routes reached into Mexico and parts of California coast, supplying Pueblo with shells, coral, and turquoise for their jewelry and crafts. The Pueblo Indians mostly traded with the Navajos and Comanches, though they often fought with each other as well. “Other enemies of the Pueblo tribes included the Apache and Utetribes, who frequently raided their territory.” Let’s not forget the Spanish, who suppressed the Pueblo Indians into slavery and acted violently to oppress. On the other hand, social life centered on the village, such as kinship is typically reckoned through the lineage. Mostly a group is able to form clans based on common ancestral lineages.
In conclusion, Pueblo Native Americans of New Mexico “continue to use syncretic strategies; they have adopted a variety of modern convenience products, yet extensively retain their traditional kinship systems, religions, and crafts.” Overall, the Native Americans lives were once simple yet complex in their own ways that they understood. They were guided by a steady belief system i.e. following seasons and having harvests, ceremonies, and their own cultural systems. However, due to the external forces such as other settlers e.g. the Navajos, new settlers along with the Spanish conquerors entered their world. As a result the Pueblo Indians were imposed by these external forces especially through military power that changed their ways completely; having minimal cultural practices of their ancestors before them. The museum may seem like it’s very limited to what’s on exhibit mostly because not all of the building is in use. However the few exhibits they have is substantial in sparking an interest or even beginning to understand the cultures of Native Americans.