Acoma Pueblo



In New Mexico, Cibola, Socorro, and Catron counties. Closet city or town: Grants; Albuquerque. Reservation occupies parts of three counties and covers 594,996 square miles (1,540.033 km2). Acoma borders the Laguna Indian Reservation to the east and is close to El Malpais NM in the west. Altitude: 7,000 feet (2,130 m)

34.89640°N 107.58058°W

Kindly note: Unlike most of the other sample diaries in this site's listings, this diary's pictures did not preserve its cache of photos. Ergo, it's all informative verbiage from here to the end. Regrets!

The pueblo is also known as Sky City. Likely, Acoma is the second oldest continuously inhabited village in America. One of twenty-one Puebloan sovereign tribes (most tribal villages in New Mexico). Numbering some three thousand inhabitants, they are famous for decorative pottery. The Acoma people form a matriarchal society. The three hundred or so structures on the mesa pass down from mother to daughter and are entirely owned by women.

Human history and pottery.

The People of the White Rock, a possible meaning of the name Acoma, built a lofty citadel sometime around 1150. Because this stronghold was likely built for defense, another suggested name origin for these people––haaku––means to prepare. Before the 20th Century access to the pueblo was a challenge to raiders and nearly always invincible. It was also the only approach to the summit by way of a hand-cut staircase chiseled into the mesaʼs foundation. The entire Acoma Pueblo comprises several villages, including Acomita, Anzac, McCarty's, and the latest subdivision––Sky Line. Acoma people are expert farmers, who cultivate crops in the valley below Aaʼku. Irrigation canals extend from the nearby Rio San Jose, a major tributary of the Rio Puerco.

Guided Tour Essentials
The Acoma Pueblo, popularly known as Sky City, is built on top of a 367-foot-high (112 m) mesa. Continuously occupied for more than eight hundred years, it is one of the oldest settlements in North America. Linguistically, the people speak Keres (sometimes written “Keresan”), which is also spoken by Puebloan people from Cochiti, Laguna, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Santo Domingo and Zia pueblos. Their language is not related to all the Kiowa-Tanoan languages spoken by most of the other Puebloans living in New Mexico. Acoma's Inside Chief maintains power within the village. Beyond the village boundaries tribal power was passed to one or more war leaders. Namely, the Outside Chief, who constructed defenses and kept watch against invaders. This steep-sided sandstone mesa was principally chosen as a defense against enemies of the puebloʼs inhabitants.

Human History
In 1598, the Spanish conquistador, Don Juan de Oñate Salazar (1552–1626), invaded New Mexico, marking the first major attack by an outside force. The staging raids were well-timed on various pueblos in the region. Anything of value was literally up for grabs. When the soldiers reached the San Juan Pueblo (25 miles/40 km north of Santa Fe, and now known by the name of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo near Española), all the people living in the pueblo were forcefully removed from their homes. The pueblo was then used as a base to stage more raids on other pueblos scattered throughout the region. Most of the villagers under attack were overrun. At Acoma, the people chose to fight. For a time, they even recovered the pueblo from the Spaniards, but their victory was short-lived.

By far the stronger force, Oñate's better equipped, and well-trained soldiers, proved unbeatable. They took back the pueblo when the Acoma defenders failed to guard their back door to the village. The Puebloans were also tricked by a diversionary frontal attack. Thus a fateful advantage for the soldiers. Originally some two thousand in number, only two hundred to two hundred seventy-five survived the march to the Santo Domingo Pueblo (some 25 miles/40km south of Santa Fe) after the fight was lost. Under Oñateʼs policy all surviving children under the age of twelve were taken from their parents and raised by Spanish missionaries. Most of the adults were sold into slavery. Of the few dozen men of fighting age who managed to survive the battle, Oñate ordered their right feet chopped off and a hand removed from each of two Hopis who were visiting the pueblo. He was determined to have all the Puebloans submit to Spanish rule. His merciless policies eventually led the Puebloan Revolt in 1680.

Bonus Details
The revolt led by Popé (pronounced, “po-pay”), a native of the San Juan Pueblo, though at the time he had already moved to the nearby Taos Pueblo, was an uprising of most Puebloans against Spanish colonization in the province of Santa Fe. The Puebloans killed some four hundred Spaniards and ousted the remaining two thousand settlers out of the province. However, twelve years later the Spaniards returned and were able to reoccupy New Mexico with new forces and with little opposition. As for Oñate, who acted as the Colonial Governor of the New Spain province of New Mexico, he was later tried and convicted of unmitigated cruelty to the Puebloans and colonists alike, then banished from New Mexico. However, he was ultimately cleared of all charges on appeal and lived out his life in Spain.

Cultural Traits
Today, the people of Acoma continue the traditions of their ancestors as farmers and artisans who wield a strong, proud community. They are widely known for distinctively decorative pottery: a monochrome and polychrome design famous for its thin walls, engaging motifs, and stylistic fluted rims. Most Acoma people practice their traditional native religion, while some practice the Catholic faith assimilated by Spanish settlers in the 1500s. Between 1629 and 1640 worshipers built the San Estévan del Rey mission church at the pueblo village––still standing. Apart from traditional and Catholic beliefs, the people of Acoma have peacefully interacted with neighboring Puebloans for centuries, some of which extend well beyond the regional pueblos. For instance, trade with Aztec and Mayan people from the south was common before European settlement. Long-standing alliances continue to exist between the Puebloans, who often speak different dialects or different languages. The Acoma Puebloans and nearby Laguna Pueblo (45 miles/72 km west of Albuquerque) have many cultural ties, including location and language.

Todayʼs Acoma culture is modern, yet maintains traditional ways. Acoma conventions are also transmitted orally. A variety of traditional themes are practiced and shared through music, dancing, theology, astrology, art, philosophy and history. These are taught to each generation and create a bond to their historical roots. For sustenance, the Acoma plant traditional foods: corn, beans, chile, onions, squash, pumpkins, and a small variety of fruits (apples, apricots, peaches, plums and cherries). Keeping with tradition, all the sowing is done as a group in order to maintain strong community ties that hold the Acoma people together.

Recommended Reading
  5. MEXICO-NEW MEXICO supplements.
From Albuquerque go west on I-40. Take Exit 102. Drive 15 miles (19 km) south on Indian Road 23. Take Exit 108.

Contact Information
Acoma Pueblo of Acoma (Tribal Administration), P. O. Box 310, Acoma Pueblo NM 87034. Phone: 505-552.6504 or 888- 747.0180. Fax and Email: non-listed. URL:

Additional Bonus Details
Traditional dances during Governor's Feast Day, St. Lawrence Day and St. Stephen Feast Day. A visitor center and museum is nearby (Sky City Casino & Hotel). Guided tours are available with the exception of the following dates: 6/24 and 6/29, 7/10 to 7/13 and 7/25; also, the first and/or second weekend of October and first Saturday of December. The Luminaria Tour (Christmas Festival at the mission church) is especially recommended. The Luminarias or farolitos (i.e., candles lit inside paper bags weighed down by sand) extend for miles to the top of the mesa.

Remember: permits for photography are necessary! Unauthorized photos of the villagers is also considered a cultural faux pas.

As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcomed.

Happy Trails!



Parting Shots