Acoma Pueblo

Acoma Pueblo

ACOMA PUEBLO is a native American Pueblo.  The word “pueblo” is the Spanish word for “town” or “village”.  It comes from the Latin root “populus”.  The Word “Acoma” is from the Acoma word ACOMA or ACU which means “the place that always was” or “people of the white rock”.

Acoma Pueblo is approximately 97km west of Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The historical land of Acoma Pueblo totalled roughly 5,000,000 acres and the Acoma have continuously occupied the area for more than 800years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States.

Acoma Pueblo scenery

The Pueblo lies on a 365ft MESA.  The isolation and location of the Pueblo has sheltered the community for more than 1,200years, which sought to avoid conflict with neighbouring Navajos and Apaches.  Francisco Vazquez de Coronado’s expedition (in 1540) described the Pueblo as “one of the strongest places we have seen”.  Upon visiting the Pueblo, the expedition “repented having gone up to the place”.  The only access to the Acoma Pueblo, during this time, was a set of almost vertical stairs cut into the rock face.

Today about 300 two and three-storey abode buildings are on the Mess with exterior ladders used to access the upper levels where residents live.  Access to the Mesa is by a road blasted into the rock face during the 1950s.  Approximately 30 or so people live permanently on the Mesa, with the population increasing on the weekends as family members come to visit and tourists, some 55,000 annually.

Acoma Pueblo streets

Acoma Pueblo has no electricity, running water or sewage disposal.  A reservation surrounding the Mesa, totalling 1,600  Tribal members live both on the reservation and outside it.  Contemporary Acoma culture remains relatively closed, however.  According to the 2000 Us census, 4,989 people identify as Acoma.

The buildings here are constructed  from abode bricks with beams across the roof that were covered with poles, brush and then plaster.  The roof of one level would serve as a floor for another.  Each level is connected to others by ladders serving as a unique defensive aid.  The ladders are the only way to enter the buildings, as the traditional designs have no windows or doors.  The lower levels were used for storage.  Baking ovens are outside the buildings, with water being collected from two natural cisterns.  The Acoma also has 7 rectangular KIVAS and a village Plaza which serves as the spiritual centre for the village.

Acoma Pueblo houses

Before contact with the Spanish, Acoma people ate corn, beans and squash, primarily .  MUT-TZE-NEE was a popular thin corn bread.  They also raised turkeys.  They hunted deer, rabbits and antelope.  Wild seeds, berries, nuts and other foods were gathered.  After 1700, new foods are noted in the historical record.  Pudding, corn mush, corn balls, wheat cake, peach-bark drink, flour bread, wild berries and prickly pear all became staples.  After contact with the Spanish, goats, horses, sheep and donkeys were raised.

In contemporary Acoma, other foods are also popular such as apple pastries, corn tamales, green-chilli stew with lamb, fresh corn and wheat pudding with brown sugar.
Irrigation techniques such as dams and terraces were used for agricultural purposes.  Farming tools were made of wood and stone and harvested corn would be ground with hand and mortar. Today, the Acoma produce a variety of goods for economic benefit.  Agriculturally they grow alfalfa, oats, wheat, chillies, corn, melon, vegetables and fruit.  They raise cattle and have natural reserves of gas, geo-thermal and coal resources.  Uranium mines, in the area, provided work for the Acoma, until their closings in the 1980s, after that, the tribe has provided most employment opportunities, however, high unemployment rates trouble the Pueblo.  The legacy of the uranium mines has left radiation pollution, causing the tribal fishing lake to be drained and some health problems within the community.

Acoma Pueblo pottery

Tourism is a major source of income for the tribe.  In 2008, Pueblo opened the Sky City Cultural Centre & Haak’u Museum at the base of the Mesa, replacing the original which was destroyed by fire in 2000.  Films about Acoma culture are shown and a café serves traditional foods.  The complex is fire-resistant, unlike traditional Pueblos, and they are painted light pink and purple, to match the landscape surrounding it.  Traditional artwork is exhibited and demonstrated at the centre, including ceramic chimneys crafted on the rooftops.  Arts and crafts also bring income into the community.

Acoma Pueblo women

The Acoma Pueblo has a Casino and a Hotel, the Sky City Casino Hotel which are alcohol-free and it is maintained by Acoma Business Enterprises, which oversees most Acoma businesses.  Acoma Pueblo is open to the public by guided tours for most of the year.  Photography of the Pueblo and the surrounding land is restricted.  Tours and Camera permits are purchased at the Sky City Cultural Centre, while photography may be produced, with permit.  Video recordings, drawings and sketching are prohibited.


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