Saturday, November 22, 2008

(3) The Ancients

Having met my Park Service guide at the Chaco Canyon museum,
we headed off to see some of the most formidable sights I have
ever seen when it came to American Indian culture. There were
pueblos: one--the Pueblo Bonito--could hold up to 800 inhabitants;
another pueblo spanned some two blocks. (Pueblos are multi-storied
houses.) The Center of Chaco Canyon appeared to be a religious
center, boasting an incredibly large kiva accompanied by many other
smaller kivas. (A kiva is a wholly or partly underground chamber,
used for religious rites.)

There were also a number of quite wide roads that linked the
various pueblos spread out over miles from the Center. Since the
Anasazi hadn't discovered the wheel, it seemed these roads were
not meant for ordinary traffic. Rather, scholars speculate that these
roads were built for vast religious pilgrimages.

The religion of the Anasazi has mostly been gleaned from their
symbolism, from petroglyths (rock carvings) and their kachina dolls
(that represent a spirit). Like other ancient Indian cultures, the
Anasazi believed they emerged from the Earth--as did their
deified spirits. There's some speculation, too, that they may have
followed what is deemed the "Scarlet Macaw Sun Religion."
The Scarlet Macaw is well known in Mesoamerica. It's a scarlet
colored, parrot-like bird with additional blue and yellow feathers.
(As for my own speculation, I have to wonder if the Scarlet Macaw
might represent the "Sunbird," long alluded in stories and dreams.)

Additionally, it's well known that the Anasazi were more than
fledgling astronomers. They used what is call the "sun dagger"
to determine the seasons. It was a shaft of sun that hit upon special
stone drawings, and at certain times the Anasazi could figure the
onset of the Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring Solstices. Interestingly,
it reminds me of a story once told by the famous psychologist
Carl Jung. During his travels, Jung once stopped and interviewed
an elder at the famous Taos Pueblo. The elder told him that he
helped the sun across the sky. Jung has another interpretation for
the Pueblo's statement, but I suspect it may have had a connection
with the astronomical observations of the ancient Anasazi.

Talking to visiting archaeologists as well as the Park interpreters,
I learned more about the farming practices of the Anasazi, about
their art work and pottery. They were famous for their "black on
white" motifs on their pottery, and they traded for turquoise that
also factored into their art. As for their farming, importantly focused
on corn (to make flour), in their early period the Anasazi had
reservoirs and irrigation ditches--so at least in their earlier days
the climate was more amenable when it came to available water.
But in their later period drought surely assisted in their
disappearance and perhaps their demise.

However, the contemporary Pueblo Indians still have their
connection with Bandelier. Occasionally they would come to
the park to perform their dances, explain their ceremonies,
and relate their thoughts about their ancient ancestors. And
they would tell of their myths that link their way of life
with Nature, the Earth, plants and animals.

Though I did not visit the Hopi and Zuni reservations, the
Pueblo tribe was very open to visitors viewing their ceremonies.
Mostly I spent much of my spare time nearby, either in Taos or
in Santa Fe. In Taos, there was the world-famouse Taos Pueblo,
still a living pueblo, composed of adobe, rising several floors in
height. Parts of it was open to visitors.

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