Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Some background history…
Taos is a remarkable example of a traditional type of architectural ensemble from the pre-Hispanic period of the Americas and unique to this region which has successfully retained most of its traditional forms to the present day. Thanks to the determination of the latter-day Native American community, it appears to be successfully resisting the pressures of modern society.
The culture of the Pueblo Indians extended through a wide geographical area of northern Mexico and the south-western United States. Taos is the best preserved of the pueblos north of the borders defined by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848). Located in the valley of a small tributary of the Rio Grande, Taos comprises a group of habitations and ceremonial centers (six kivas have been conserved), which are representative of a culture largely derived from the traditions of the prehistoric Anasazi Indian tribes who settled near the present borders of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.
Taos’s modest rural community appeared before 1400, characterized by common social and religious structures and traditional agricultural practices. In the modern historical period the two major characteristics of the Pueblo civilization were mutually contradictory: unchanging traditions deeply rooted in the culture and an ever-constant ability to absorb other cultures. (There is no running water or electricity inside the Pueblo. Water is hauled in vessels or buckets from the Red Willow River, which runs right through the Pueblo.) Outside the Pueblo Wall, members of the pueblo are welcome to build their homes incorporating modern amenities. The Pueblo members’ faculty for acculturation gradually began to appear following the first Spanish expedition of the Governor of New Galicia, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, in 1540-42.
The entire 18th century was a time of wars in which Taos played an important part in resisting the colonizers. The breeds of cattle and types of grain were introduced by the conquerors into their agricultural system. Attempts to convert the Pueblos to Christianity were ill-received but unconsciously the religious mentality of the people changed.
Taos Pueblo shows the traditional method of adobe construction: the pueblo consists of two multistory clusters of houses, each built from sun-dried mud brick, with walls ranging from 70 cm thick at the bottom to about 35 cm at the top. Each year the walls are still refinished with a new coat of adobe plaster as part of a village ceremony (the first week in September.) The rooms are stepped back so that the roofs of the lower units form terraces for those above. The units at ground level and some of those above are entered by doors that originally were quite small and low; access to the upper units is by ladders through holes in the roof. The living quarters are on the top and outside, while the rooms deep within the structure were used grain storage.
The roofs are made from cedar logs, their ends protruding through the walls; on the logs are mats of branches on which are laid grasses covered with a thick layer of mud and a finishing coat of adobe plaster. (Newer adobe homes use plywood in the roof.) It is a massive system of construction but one well suited to the climate of northern New Mexico.
In 1970 the people of Taos obtained the restitution of lands usurped by the U.S. Government, which included the sacred site of the Blue Lake. (For a brief while, this was part of the National Park Service.) The area around Blue Lake was restored to it’s natural state by members of the Pueblo. Many religious ceremonies are held at this site today by members of the Pueblo…
We went into a few of the shops (no photos inside) that were open to get a feel for how big a space a family would have been living in. I also made a few purchases, including some cookies and pie baked in the traditional mud ovens (I prefer today’s baked goods!)
We spent the afternoon looking for wildflowers and beautiful views in the mountains at Taos Ski Valley…