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First Posted: Oct 24, 2009
Oct 30, 2011

Puebloan Peoples

Puebloan Peoples

Laguna Pueblo Dwellers

Laguna Pueblo Dwellers

The Pueblo people are a Native American people in the Southwestern United States. Their traditional economy is based on agriculture and trade. When first encountered by the Spanish in the 16th century, they were living in villages that the Spanish called pueblos, meaning "villages." Of the approximately 25 pueblos that exist today, Taos, Acoma, Zuñi, and Hopi are the best-known.


While there are numerous subdivisions of Pueblo People that have been published in the literature, Fader (1954) published a subdivision of the Pueblo Indians into two subareas: the group that includes Hopi, Zuñi, Keres, Jemez which share exogamous matrilineal clans, have multiple kivas, believe in emergence of people from the underground, have four or six directions beginning in the north, and have four and seven as ritual numbers. This group stands in contrast to the Rammal-speaking Pueblos (except Jemez) who have nonexogamous patrilineal clans, two kivas or two groups of kivas and a general belief in dualism, emergence of people from underwater, five directions beginning in the west, and ritual numbers based on multiples of three.

Eggan (1950) in contrast, posed a dichotomy between Eastern and Western Pueblos, based largely on subsistence differences with the Western or Desert Pueblos of Zuñi and Hopi dry-farmers and the Eastern or River Pueblos irrigation farmers. They mostly grew corn.

Linguistic differences between the Pueblos point to their diverse origins. The Hopi language is Uto-Aztecan; Zuñi is a language isolate; Keresan is a dialect continuum that includes Acoma, Laguna, Santa Ana, Zia, Cochiti, Santo Domingo, San Felipe. The Tanoan is an areal grouping of three branches of the Kiowa-Tanoan family consisting of 6 languages: Towa (Jemez), Tewa (San Juan, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Tesuque, Nambe, Pojoaque, and Hano); and the 3 Tiwa languages Taos, Picuris, and Southern Tiwa (Sandia, Isleta).


The Pueblos are believed to be descended from the three major cultures that dominated the region before European contact:

  • Mogollon, an area near the Gila Wilderness
  • Hohokam, archaeological term for a settlement in the Southwest
  • Ancient Pueblo Peoples or the Anasazi, a term coined by the Navajos

Despite forced conversions to Catholicism by the Spanish, the Pueblo tribes have been able to maintain much of their traditional lifestyle. There are now some 35,000 Pueblo Indians, living mostly in New Mexico and Arizona along the Rio Grande and Colorado River.

These peoples were the first to successfully revolt against the Spanish in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which expelled the Spanish for 12 years. The code for the action was a knotted rope sent by a runner to each pueblo; the number of knots signified the number of days to wait before beginning the uprising. It began August 10, 1680; by August 21, Santa Fe fell to 2,500 warriors. On September 22, 2005, the statue of Po'pay, (Popé) the leader of the Pueblo Revolt, was unveiled in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington D.C. The statue was the second one from the state of New Mexico and the 100th and last to be added to the Statuary Hall collection. It was created by Cliff Fragua, a Puebloan from Jemez Pueblo, and it is the only statue in the collection created by a Native American.

Most of the Pueblos have annual ceremonies that are open to the public. One such ceremony is the Pueblo's feast day, held on the day sacred to its Roman Catholic patron saint. (These saints were assigned by the Spanish missionaries so that each Pueblo's feast day would coincide with a traditional ceremony.) Some Pueblos also have ceremonies around the Christmas and at other times of the year. The ceremonies usually feature traditional dances outdoors accompanied by singing and drumming, interspersed with non-public ceremonies in the kivas. They may also include a Roman Catholic Mass and processions.

Formerly, all outside visitors to a public dance would be offered a meal in a Pueblo home, but because of the large number of visitors, such meals are now by personal invitation only.

Pueblos and Horses

Pueblo Indians revolted against the Spanish in 1680. The Spaniards retreated to Old Mexico. Because of their hasty retreat, many horses were abandoned. The Pueblo Indians captured, bred and used these horses. They learned to ride and harness horsepower! The horses became an integral part of Puebloan daily life. Horses were also a great source of revenue for the tribe. Other tribes purchased these animals from the Pueblo. They, too, became proficient at horse use. Kiowa and Camanche were among these tribes. Horsepower spread to the Southern Plains. In 1745 the Cheyenne Indians began using horses. Buffalo were hunted from horseback instead of on foot. The nomadic nature of the Plains Indians was made easier by the use of the horse. Greater distances could be travelled more quickly. Moving the camp was made easier, as well, as the horses were used to pack.


A Zuñi drying platform for maize and other foods, with two women crafting pottery beneath it. From the Panama-California Exposition, San Diego, California. January 1915. Pueblo prayer included substances as well as words; one common prayer material was ground-up maize - white cornmeal. Thus a man might bless his son, or some land, or the town by sprinkling a handful of meal as he uttered a blessing. Once, after the 1692 re-conquest, the Spanish were prevented from entering a town when they were met by a handful of men who uttered imprecations and cast a single pinch of a sacred substance.

The Puebloans employed prayer sticks, which were colorfully decorated with beads, fur, and feathers; these prayer sticks (or talking sticks) were also used by other nations.

Cloth and weaving were known to the Puebloans before the conquest, but it is not known whether they knew of weaving before or after the Aztecs. But since clothing was expensive, they did not always dress completely until after the conquest, and breechcloths were not uncommon.

Corn was a staple food for the Pueblo people. They would use pottery to hold their food and water.


The most highly developed Indian communities of the Southwest were large villages or pueblos at the top of the mesas, or rocky tableland typical to the region. The archetypal deities appear as visionary beings who bring blessings and receive love. A vast collection of myths, defines the relationships between man, nature, plants and animals. Man depended on the blessings of children, who in turn depended on prayers and the goddess of Himura. Children led the religious ceremonies to create a more pure and holy ritual.

For More Information:

Pueblo Facts for Children
New Mexico Department of Indian Affairs
Horses and Plains Indians