The Pueblo of the Southwest: Facts, Culture & Daily Life

Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

As one of the only Native American people to remain on their ancient homelands, the Pueblo people have a rich culture based on agriculture and religious beliefs. This lesson explores where they lived, how they lived, and how they got the name Pueblo in the first place.

The Pueblo People

When recounting history's treatment of Native Americans, phrases like 'stripped of their land', or 'forced from their homes', are often used. However, there is one Native American people group who held onto their native land. They are the Pueblo of the Southwest United States, an ancient culture which some believe dates back to 12th century BCE. In today's lesson we'll take a look at this group, and discuss where and how they lived.

For starters, the Pueblo people consist of many different Native American tribes located primarily in the Mesa Verde region, made up of parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. Because the Mesa Verde sits where the four corners of these states meet, it is often also referred to simply as the Four Corners region of the U.S. Some of the most familiar Pueblo tribal names are the Hopi, the Zuni, and the Acoma. Some of the less familiar are the Jemez, Isleta, and Cochiti.

Four Corners region

Homes

Gaining their name from the structures in which they lived, the Pueblo historically lived in adobe, or clay homes. Multi-storied, made of clay, stone, and wood, and often nestled into cliffs, these ancient homes looked like the forerunners of our modern condo complexes. Rather than just housing one family, they often accommodated entire clans, with ladders and ropes being used to gain access to the upper levels. Stumbling upon these rather ingenious flat roofed structures, 16th century Spanish explorers aptly referred to them as pueblos, the Spanish word for village or town. In some contemporary circles, the Pueblo are also referred to as the Anasazi, a name given to them by other ancient tribes.

Pueblo village

Agriculture and Religion

Like in many ancient societies, the Pueblo women were consigned to taking care of the family and the home, while the men were the warriors and protectors. During times of peace, Pueblo life and the economy centered on religion, trade and agriculture. Because of the intense heat, they relied on crops which could weather droughts. Often referred to as the Three Sisters, their staple crops were corn, beans, and squash.

Highlighting the importance of agriculture in their society, corn was also used in Pueblo religious ceremonies. In fact, during prayer white corn meal often symbolized blessing. Whether sprinkled over a child or a parcel of land, the corn, sort of like the waters of baptism, symbolized cleansing and consecration. Along with the sprinkling of corn meal, Pueblo religious ceremonies honored gods like Mother Earth, or the Sky Serpent who brought rain. These ceremonies were often held in kivas, which in ancient times were underground rooms, but in more modern times evolved into ground level rooms with a fire pit in the middle. Whether under or above ground, the kiva served as the center of religious life. Of course, like many Native American cultures, the Pueblo also honored their gods through lively dancing, singing, plenty of drums, and brightly colored clothes topped off with feathered headdresses.

Pueblo tribal dance

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