August 10, 2015, marked the 335th anniversary of the Pueblo Indian uprising, during which they expelled the Spanish usurpers and tormentors from New Mexico. Modern Pueblo Indians call August 10 Independence Day. While the Spaniards returned and re-subjugated the Puebloans 12 years later, they were able to re-establish and keep their religion and culture, which have endured to this day. No other Native American uprising as successful as the Pueblo Revolt happened before or after.
The Pueblo people are a Native American tribe centered around the Four Corners area of the Southwest United States, consisting of two major cultural and linguistic groupings – those based on matrilineal kinship systems (Hopi, Keres, Towa, and Zuni), and those with a patrilineal system (non-Towa Tanoan).
In 1540, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and other Spanish conquistadores arrived among the Zuni people in southern New Mexico. Coronado claimed all the territory of New Mexico for Spain. In the ensuing decades, missionaries, soldiers and settlers arrived among the Zuni people in southern New Mexico. Coronado claimed all the territory of New Mexico for Spain. In the ensuing decades, missionaries, soldiers and settlers followed to subjugate the Indians, usurp their lands and attempt to destroy their cultures.
Coronado dispatched Pedro de Tovar with seventeen horsemen, a few foot-soldiers and a Franciscan friar named Juan de Padilla to the so-call province of Tusayan, a hundred miles farther north, which was said to contain seven more villages,” says The Book of the Hopi by Frank Waters.
At first to the Hopi, it seemed the long-awaited Pahàna, the prophesized white savior figure, had arrived. A telltale breach of protocol at the first meeting of the Hopi and the Spanish gave the first clue that the Indians were mistaken. Waters wrote about this meeting:
“Hopi tradition supplements this account by relating that Tovar and his men were conducted to Oraibi. They were met by all the clan chiefs at Tawtoma, as prescribed by prophecy, where four lines of sacred meal were drawn. The Bear Clan leader stepped up to the barrier and extended his hand, palm up, to the leader of the white men. If he was indeed the true Pahàna, the Hopis knew he would extend his own hand, palm down, and clasp the Bear Clan leader’s hand to form the nakwàch, the ancient symbol of brotherhood. Tovar instead curtly commanded one of his men to drop a gift into the Bear chief’s hand, believing that the Indian wanted a present of some kind. Instantly all the Hopi chiefs knew that Pahàna had forgotten the ancient agreement made between their peoples at the time of their separation.”
The Hopi treated the Spaniards as guests. At Oraibi, the Indians explained the ancient agreement and prophecy to the Spaniards. Waters wrote:
“It was understood when the two were finally reconciled, each would correct the other’s laws and faults; they would live side by side and share in common all the riches of the land and join their faiths in one religion that would establish the truth of life in a spirit of universal brotherhood. The Spaniards did not understand, and, having found no gold, they soon departed.”
The Hopis knew then that Tovar was not the true Pahàna and that they could expect trouble. … Spanish conquest and settlement of all New Mexico followed slowly but remorselessly, bringing the trouble expected by the Hopis to their remote province of Tusayan.
In 1598, the Spanish “received the formal submission of the Hopi villages to the King of Spain,” Waters wrote. Some tales of Spanish abuses have survived the long arc of time from the 16th and 17th centuries. Priests raped young girls. One priest insisted runners bring him water from 50 miles away instead of using local spring water. Another priest beat a Hopi in front of the entire village when he caught him in what the priest called an “act of idolatry.”
It is important to understand in this story that to the Hopi, religion, with many deities and beneficent spirits called kachinas, was very important. According to The Indian Heritage of America by Alvin M. Joseph:
“Religion was a daily experience, permeating all of life, and acting as a principal integrating force among the people. Associated with all acts, it was rich in myth and symbol and was dramatized by a year-round succession of elaborate ceremonials that utilized imaginative and beautiful costumes and paraphernalia, and included dances, songs, poetry and rites based on mythology. … Religion, and the ceremonies associated with it, was orderly and meticulously prescribed by tradition to achieve results that would benefit the entire pueblo. Observing religion occupied much of the people’s time; Pueblo men, indeed, are said to have devoted at least half their time to religious activities.”
The website of the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo people says if the natives resisted Spanish rule, the Spaniards imprisoned and tortured them or amputated their limbs. In 1626, the infamous Spanish Inquisition was established in New Mexico.
Under this terrible yoke, the Puebloans adopted Christianity and abandoned their ancient religions. But Waters wrote that the rains stopped and famine struck when the Hopis no longer ceremoniously invoked their gods. So some Hopis began again to conduct their mid-summer Niman Kachina ceremony. “Four days later the rains began again, proving to the Hopis that their own ceremonies brought rain and the Christian religion of the Castillas [Spaniards] was not good for them. Slowly they gathered strength to revolt.”
Popé, a Tewa Indian of the San Juan Pueblo on the Rio Grande, was the leader of the revolution. He gained support of the people of 70 towns, including Hopis, Zunis and the northern Tiwa, Tewa, Towa peoples and the Keres-speaking Pueblos of the Rio Grande, though some tribes did not join the rebellion. Popé lived in the “always obdurate pueblo of Taos,” wrote Waters. “Knotted cords were sent to each village indicating August 12, 1680, as the day to strike.” But the secret got out, and instead Popé called for an immediate strike, on August 10. “Every pueblo revolted: the Indians killed nearly five hundred Spaniards, including twenty-one missionaries at their altars, tore down churches, destroyed government and church records, sacked Santa Fe, and drove the surviving Spaniards [about 2,000 people] back to Mexico.”
“The Pueblo Revolt of 1680, then, completely ejected for a time all the hated Castillas. The true Pahàna, the symbol of all America’s deep-rooted need and vision of the universal brotherhood of man, was yet to come,” Waters wrote.
The Indians re-established their governments and religions. Their independence lasted more than a decade, after which the Spanish re-imposed their rule. But the revolt forced the Spanish to observe religious tolerance, and “since the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Kiva and the Cross have existed side by side in Pueblo Communities,” the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo site says.
Waters’ book’s full title is Book Of The Hopi – The First Revelation Of The Hopi’s Historical And Religious World-view Of Life .