Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Acoma: The Oldest Continuously Inhabited City in North America -- Bet You Didn't Know That!

Acoma is off the beaten track.  Not far.  And there's a casino, to tempt you -- if you are tempted by things like a casino.  But it definitely involves a detour, one that I might never have taken if Christopher hadn't wanted to visit Acoma.
At least, it's a paved road -- although I must say, it is not what you'd call a promising paved road.  In the distance, there was what looked like a huge something.  A rock, maybe.  But it was too big to be a rock.  It was a mesa.  It's 400 feet high, but from the ground, it looks higher.  You'd feel pretty safe, living in a village built on top of something like this. One wonders how the Spanish managed to conquer these people.
There's a Visitor Center at the base of the mesa.  And tours, because you can only visit Acoma on an accompanied tour.  The road that runs up the side of the mesa was built in 1940, for a John Wayne movie.  Today, it's used by the bus that takes visitors like us to the top.
"But I don't know how safe your dog will be", we were warned by the woman who sold us our tickets.  "There are dogs running around loose up there."
We zippered Xingxing into his stroller and boarded the bus.  Xingxing had never been zippered in, before but he didn't seem to mind.  He is a very laid back dog.  However, this is something to bear in mind if you are traveling with a dog and planning to visit pueblos -- a stroller comes in handy.
So there we were, on top of this mesa.  Adobe dwellings.  A few people still live here, although there's no electricity and no running water.
Our guide -- an Acoman -- told us that all the buildings still belonged to individuals.  He pointed out his own family home,  and told us that when his parents died, it would go to his youngest sister.  All the real estate is owned by the women, and it is always passed down to the youngest daughter -- the idea being that she's the one who will live the longest, and thus be able to care for other family members. His grandmother was sitting outside, selling slices of cherry pie. She gave him one.
Most of the tour was about Acoma history -- and in particular, how it was interrupted by the Spanish conquest and corrupted by Franciscan priests, who proscribed the Acoma religion and executed Acoma shamans.  From the vehemence of our guide, you would think all of this happened last year, instead of 500 years ago.  Acoma memory runs deep.
One of the things they are particularly touchy about is photographs.   There is a church (built by the Franciscans and no longer used for Christian worship) and an adjacent graveyard, in which people are buried in layers. There are four layers, but there won't be any more, because four is a sacred number to the Acoma.  No photographs are allowed of the church, or of the graveyard, or of any living person.  A hapless tourist who was trying to photograph birds flying above the church and accidentally captured a distant Acoman repairing his roof had all her photographs deleted by our guide.  As I say, he took all this very seriously.  This was his home. This was his life. These were his people.
There were no dogs.  It was very hot, and they were probably all inside.  Xingxing slept through the whole thing.
Acoma is one of those places where there are more ghosts than people.  At one point, when the tour group got a bit ahead of us and we paused in the shade, the ghosts were palpable.  You couldn't see them, but you could feel them.  And of course, the views from up here are spectacular.  Again, I found myself wondering how the Spanish ever managed to defeat these people in the first place.  Or why they'd even want to.
I also wonder how many more years it will be before the Acoma claim sovereignty once more, and again become masters of these lands they ruled for so many centuries.  
We left Acoma in a quiet, thoughtful state of mind and got as far as Holbrook, where we spent the night.  By noon the next day, we were back in Scottsdale.

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