How I found my kachina…

The Santa Fe Flea Market was a bust.  There were very few vendors present on the Sunday morning that we visited, so not much to look at.  While I was browsing a booth the owner struck up a conversation about not having a “smart phone”.  As we talked, I learned that she was 72-years-old and from Connecticut.  She still spoke with a strong East coast accent and was as white as me.  She must have been feeling rather bitter that morning, or perhaps she’s always angry, because she started a rant about how she’d worked all her life, 30 years at someplace somewhere, and now all she got was $700/month while all those “illegals” were getting handouts…  She may not have had a smart phone, but it was obvious to me that she had cable TV and that her favorite news channel is faux.  She ended her tirade with a line that lingered in my mind:  “I feel like I’m a minority here.”   My mouth opened to respond indignantly, but I managed to just look at her and say, “You Are in the minority here.” and walk away.

Among U.S. states, New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanic ancestry, at 47 percent. Natives account for about 10%  83 per cent of the 47 percent are descendants of the Spanish colonists who arrived during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.  Among the Natives you’d most likely find Spanish/Mexican DNA, as well as in many light-skinned residents (called white Hispanics).. The percentage of white people with European ancestry is 24%.  The state is not officially bilingual, but a lot of business is conducted in “New Mexico Spanish” and in 1995 they adopted a bilingual state song –  New Mexico – Mi Lindo Nuevo México.


It’s hard to look at how the Natives have been mistreated by brown-skin and white-skin men alike.  At the Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, there was a lump in my throat and my heart was pained as I walked through the living history of the Pueblo peoples.  Their civilization was like the Garden of Eden.  They were a peaceful people, though they would defend themselves if needed.  They were monotheistic and praying to the Great Spirit, The Creator, was central to their lives and ordered their seasons. They were successful farmers, hunters, and traders.  All of that came to an end when brutal, horrible Coronado came to town…

After touring the Cultural Center, we visited the Coronado Historical site in Bernalillo…which is really the ruins of the Kuaua Pueblo.

Kuaua Pueblo...most of these buildings were 4-5 stories tall.

 In 1540, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado—with 500 soldiers and 2,000 Indian allies from New Spain—entered the Rio Grande valley somewhere near this site.  Coronado was searching for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold.  Instead of treasure, he found a dozen villages inhabited by prosperous native farmers.  These newly “discovered” people spoke Tiwa, and their ancestors had already been living in this area for thousands of years.  Coronado called them: Los Indios de los Pueblos or Pueblo Indians.  He and his men visited all twelve Tiwa villages during the course of the next two years because they survived on food and other supplies that they obtained from them.  Without the assistance of the Tiwas (willing or unwilling), Coronado and his men very likely would have starved to death.

Kuaua was the northernmost of the twelve villages.  Its name means “evergreen” in Tiwa.  It was first settled around AD 1325 and was occupied by approximately 1,200 people when Coronado arrived.  Conflict with Coronado and later Spanish explorers led to the abandonment of this site within a century of first contact.  Today, the descendants of the people of Kuaua live in the surviving Tiwa-speaking villages of Taos, Picuris, Sandia, and Isleta.

In 1680 the tribes/clans got together and rebelled, defeating the Spanish.  While the independence of many pueblos from the Spaniards was short-lived, the Pueblo Revolt gained the Pueblo Indians a measure of freedom from future Spanish efforts to eradicate their culture and religion following the reconquest. Moreover, the Spanish issued substantial land grants to each Pueblo and appointed a public defender to protect the rights of the Indians and argue their legal cases in the Spanish courts. The Franciscan priests returning to New Mexico did not again attempt to impose a theocracy on the Pueblo who continued to practice their traditional religion.

In 1848, the Spanish sold New Mexico to the United States.  The United States government did not recognize the natives as people…seriously did not think they were human…and took away their land and their rights, including their right to continue speaking their languages and perform their ceremonies.   There was trouble.  Eventually, their land was sort of returned…not the same land, mind you, but there was some land granted.  They were finally allowed religious freedom in 1978…  They are the only Americans whose religious practice is covered by a law other than the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

As we left the Kuaua ruins, there was a couple selling kachinas.  Raphael and Pauline Sarracino live in Jemez Pueblo and are of the Hopi/Jemez/Laguna tribes.  Raphael is an Elder and has studied with the Hopi.  He prays over each kachina doll before he carves it, praying to the Creator that his work will respectfully represent the Spirit of the kachina  that he carves.

Kachinas are not just dolls.  The Pueblo people believe they are supernatural beings that help and guide humans in many ways — there are over 500 kachinas!  They represent many phases and aspects of life. Many kachinas are animals or other aspects of nature.  Kachinas also represent intangibles such as happiness, strength, beauty, power, parenting, love, protection, abundance…there are many.  The ceremonial dancers dress as the kachina and their role in each is always to bring the community together for good, to celebrate the gifts of the Great Spirit, the One.

Raphael made it clear to me that the Natives do not worship the kachinas.  He said they believe there is only One God who created us All, as well as All that is Living and All that have Died.  He said that they have no fear of their own Creator, who gave them every good gift.  He said it is their aim in life to stay in prayer with the Great Spirit and to see All as One, to respect the gift of the Earth, Sky, Wind, Water.  The Creator does not micromanage their lives.  He said that we have in each heart everything we need and that it is our decision how to use those gifts.  He said he believes that is why we are all individuals and still the same spirit works within us.

He had brought five of his doll carvings, each around nine inches tall and decorated with colorful paint and feather, all of them beautiful.   He carefully explained to me the meaning of each one.  I was most interested in Rainbow Woman, a colorful doll who represents peace and harmony, especially between different tribes and cultures.

The one that had caught my eye as I walked up was not a doll, but what they called an ornament, bright blue with red ears and a tube nose.  What is this one?  Raphael answered that it was Early Morning, representing new beginnings, leaving the past and not worrying for the future, being grateful for each day and walking fully alive in it. I knew it was the Kachina for me.  He prayed over the figure that he had created, asking the Creator to place peace, love, and harmony in my heart and I felt the power of his prayer.

I thanked Raphael profusely and we talked more about the Pueblo culture. He said when the the Spanish killed nine of their medicine people, the towns had immediately sent people to Hopi where the Spanish hadn’t yet found them.  There the sacred stories and ceremonies were preserved and passed down.  He said that though many had convereted to Catholicism, their own traditions had been interwoven into a blended religion of their own.  He said that still Hopi Pueblos are the center of the training that they receive, as each ceremony must be done just-so.   Long uncomfortable with calling them indians, unimpressed with native-americans (they weren’t americans until 1848), I asked him what to call his people.  He stood proudly and said, “We are Natives.”

Raphael smiled as he told me that he feels it was a lack of communcation, two different languages that had caused the trouble.  “I think if we had been able to discuss it, we would have shared with them and there was no need to kill us.  They thought we were pagans, worshiping these idols, but we could have explained that we no more worship them than they worship their saints.  We believe in only One god, there is only One, and it is the same for All.”

I thought of the Angry White Lady, who judges people by the color of their skin.  How does she tell the Hispanic from the Natives or the legal from the illegal?  She felt no kinship with these brown-skinned people, regardless of where they were born.  I don’t think she would have listened…and I’m certain that Coronado wouldn’t have. That Raphael still had such a hope was touching.

After I got my kachina home, I learned that he plays an important role in the the most important festival ceremony of the year, Powamu, the Bean Planting Festival.  He is Early Morning Singer, who stands on the rooftops at dawn singing the village awake to greet the New Day…

 Now he sits on my altar and encourages me each day to Be Here Now.







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