PrologueWhat we are doing, and why we're doing it!
We tend to think of our country (assuming that you live in the USA) as only being a couple of hundred years old. For those of us living in the suburbs, it seems that there is nothing more than 50 years old. Our awareness often doesn't include those who came before us.
There is a mesa in southern New Mexico that hosts a village that has been continuously inhabited for more than a thousand years. The mesa, the village, and the people share the traditional name Acoma(emphasize the first syllable). In the Keresan language spoken by the Acoma people 'Acoma' means the place already prepared.
Their culture, beliefs, and spirituality are quite different from what we are accustomed to in modern American society. They are a part of the land. When they die, they are re-planted. The people, the spirits, and the land are merged (at least for those that follow the old ways).
It is with regards to the Acoma people's ways that the first part of this log entry has no photographs. They make it clear upon entering their reservation that they are not comfortable with images of themselves or their sacred places. They do allow some photography with a special permit,but it seemed a crass thing to do.
Access to the village atop the mesa is allowed only in the company of an Acoman guide. As it turned out, our guide was one of the highlights of the tour. He spoke with an eloquence and self-assuredness that forged memories that will last a lifetime. Much of the impact of his presentation arose from what seemed the blending of the person, the land, the community, and the history of the people. His world seemed to provide a harmony and certainty that would make self-confidence a forgone conclusion. The thorough integration of all aspects of life did seem to come at the expense of individual freedom. None the less, when he spoke of his world you knew in your bones that his world is a real as ours.
The tour of the village was a mix of traditional mud and straw plastered adobe houses set on the uneven rock of the mesa top combined with plastic outhouses and Honda generators. Houses are passed from Mother to youngest daughter. They stay in the family indefinitely. Many of them have the bones of their ancestors beneath the clay floors.
One of the highlights of the tour was the Catholic Church. It's notable structure in it's own right, but it was the details (and contradictions)in the people's relationship with the church that was the most enlightening. The Acoma people consider themselves Catholic even though they continue to hold to their traditional spiritual beliefs. When they were forced to provide labor to build the church, they constructed a rectangular hall instead of the traditional cross shaped floor plan. The building's dimensions are based on numbers that are sacred in their spiritual beliefs. Even the number of styles on the banister and the colors they are painted have traditional roots. It seemed to be that the Church represented a veneer on their beliefs. Though it is a veneer, it is still a very real veneer.
While we heard much about the Acoma people and their Puebloan heritage when we visited the mesa, we got to see that heritage first hand when we went to Chaco Cultural National Historical Park. Chaco is a collection of ruins north of Acoma that is only accessible by dirt road. While Acoma is real, tangible, and certain, Chaco is enigmatic. The structures in Chaco are the remains of buildings some of which are nearly as large as the entire village of Acoma.
There is a lot to be seen while touring the remains of these ancient structures. The evolution of the skill of the builders is evident in the masonary. In several places, original wooden poles jut from walls. One room still has a ceiling of thousand year old wood and bark.
The organization of the rooms in the buildings is fasinating. Many of the rooms could only be accessed by passing through small openings in other rooms. In some cases, a room deep in the structure was only accessable by passing through a dozen other rooms. Little provision was made for light or ventilation deep inside the structure.
Several of the structures are organized in alignment with the solar solstices and the cycle of the moon. Some of the buildings even have the remains of features that seem to be designed to track the movement of the Sun.
The real mystery seems to be that very few people actually lived in any of the large structures. Chaco seems to be about spirituality (or perhaps Religion) and trade, but know one is sure. It seems that most of the questions about Chaco will never be answered. The people left nearly a thousand years ago. The descendents of the people of Chaco (Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and others) don't have clear answers for us. Perhaps the only clarity exists from their perspective. They say simply 'It was time to go.'
As with many of the log entries lately, the Photo Album tells more than I could relate in pages of text.