If Pueblo Peak is the heartbeat of Taos, then Taos Pueblo is its soul
by Scott Gerdes
Taos Pueblo has been closed to visitors due to coronavirus precautions since March 11, 2020. For more information, check the website at taospueblo.com or call (575) 758-1028.
A world, a culture apart, no visitor should miss seeing the ancient pueblo — perhaps the world’s oldest apartment building. Here, life goes on much the same as it has for approximately 1,000 years. You may notice a shiny pickup truck parked nearby or see modern cell phones, but the customs and the unwritten Tiwa (pronounced TEE-wah) language have changed little over the centuries.
Splinter groups of prehistoric Puebloan people established a permanent settlement in Taos Valley around 1000 A.D. Those who settled in Pot Creek left the pueblo established there between 1320-1350. They are credited with building the multistoried structures that became Taos Pueblo.
They were farmers and hunters, and their geographic location made the pueblo a crossroads and trading center for other Indian tribes.
In 1540, the Spanish Conquistadors of the Coronado Expedition arrived at Taos Pueblo’s doorstep. They are said to be the first Europeans to see Taos Valley. They were looking for gold. Fifty-eight years later, Don Juan de Oñate colonized New Mexico for the Spanish empire.
In the beginning, while hesitant, the Tiwa Indians opened their doors to the strangers hoping for harmonious living. But the influential Catholic clergy’s main motive was to convert the Tiwa to the Catholic religion and enslave them to build a chapel in the name of Saint Jerome. Because of forced baptism, Natives were given Spanish surnames. Skirmishes periodically broke out.
Under the leadership of Po’pay, from San Juan Pueblo, the Spaniards — and the indigenous people they brought with them — were defeated during the 1680 Pueblo revolt and forced to retreat south.
The Spanish “reconquest” was carried out by Don Diego de Vargas in 1696. The Spanish colonists then returned to the valley for good. Over time, the faiths that divided the two cultures became blended. This is seen in the prominence of the Blessed Virgin Mary within the church and in the religion-inspired artwork since the Tiwa closely associate her with Mother Earth.
Taos Pueblo is not just a home; it’s a way of life.
The preserved, proud culture of the Red Willow people stands tall amid the large timbers and adobe bricks that make up the approximately 1,000-year-old multistory dwelling. Taos Pueblo culture inhales and exhales the warm smell of cedar wood and bread baking in hornos (outdoor adobe ovens). Its heart beats faster during the traditional dances and feast days — in the drum beats, ancient songs and handcrafted art. It lives in the faces of the more than 1,900 Pueblo members. The land base of Taos Pueblo is 99,000 acres. It is a sovereign nation.
The power of Native nations is as strong as ever, an energy that is clearly evident at the annual Taos Pueblo Powwow, cancelled this year due to COVID-19 precautions, as is entry to the pueblo at press time.
Celebrations of faith
Feast days are an integral part of the Pueblo culture. They were introduced by the Spanish colonization and represent the celebration of the Patron Saints of the Catholic religion. Feast Days also coincide with the traditional Pueblo spiritual beliefs, which allows the people of the Pueblo community to practice both the Catholic and Pueblo religions.
A typical Feast Day is a day of eating, visiting with family, friends and enjoying the traditional dances that are allowed to be witnessed by public spectators. Although feast days are open to the public, one must be invited into a home to visit and/or share a feast day meal. Please use common courtesy and do not walk into a home uninvited.
Other common courtesies include: After a dance is over please do not applaud for these are not performances. Native dances are part of a ceremony and it is an honor to see them. And while watching the dances, please refrain from talking to community members regarding what is the significance of the dance and don’t speak with the dancers.
Cameras and cell phones are not allowed during religious ceremonies; they could be confiscated and won’t be returned.
Please note that the Pueblo periodically closes to the public for tribal rituals. Call (575) 758-1028 before you plan to visit.
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Sun. 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (except for tribal ritual closures).
Entrance fees: Call for current fees for adults, students (11 and older, includes college ID), groups of six or more, children 10 and under, free.
• The Red Willow River that gracefully flows from sacred Blue Lake (see the Blue Lake 50th anniversary story) — hidden from view in the mountains — to the Río Grande is the Pueblo’s main source of drinking water. Therefore, please don’t walk in it. Blue Lake, the mountain areas and lands outside Pueblo walls are off-limits to visitors.
• Photography, cell phone use and recording devices are not allowed out of respect and to prevent exploitation during Feast Days.
• All photos are for personal use only. Any other commercial, documentary, educational use or artist renderings must have prior approval (inquire with tourism office).
• Because families still reside in the original structure, there are privacy issues. Only doors that are clearly marked as a business should be entered. The Pueblo has been a major place of trade for centuries, which is still evident by the various businesses. Most shops accept credit cards and all goods are tax free.
• Out of respect, please ask permission before taking a picture of a Taos Pueblo member.
• Any areas and pathways that are off-limits to visitors are clearly marked.
• Other rules state pets must be leashed, and climbing on ladders or buildings is strictly prohibited.