The Tuah-tah: Bending Like the Willows

About 8500 years ago, hunting/gathering humans, living in the most fertile river valleys on earth, simultaneously discovered agriculture.  And so modern civilization was born.  As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz brilliantly reported in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of The United States, there were seven fertile cradles from which the advent of plant domestication would sow the seeds of great cities, pyramids, temples, a surplus of food and, in some locations, a societal caste system.  Two in China, two in Africa, and three in the Western Hemisphere.  Minions of unwashed Europeans would spend several more centuries, clubbing squirrels and digging up wild roots, before discovering the magical synergy of the plow, the seed, and water.

An alpine breeze, a gift from The Sangre de Cristo Range, caresses my face as I sit here on the bank of Red Willow Creek, between Hlaauma (North House) and Hlaukkwima (South House). Milky glacial spring runoff babbles by enthusiastically, flanked by the two main structures at Tuah-tah (Taos) Pueblo.  Like the red willows for which the creek was named, the Tuah-tah People have lived on this land for more than a thousand years.  And like the willows, they’ve survived because they’ve been able to bend with the passage of time and the winds of change.

A shiver runs down my spine.  I’m awed and overwhelmed, contemplating the history of the Taos Pueblo.  4500 years after Central Mexico became one of the seven cradles of civilization, developing advanced agriculture with its basis in corn, beans, chiles, and squash, building the grandest pyramids the world would ever know, creating bustling cities, constructing a vast network of trade routes, and pushing knowledge of medicine, mathematics, and astronomy into unexplored territory, the alchemy of agriculture began to seep into territory which we now know as Arizona and New Mexico.  And finally, a thousand years ago, the Pueblo People would build their enduring civilization along The Rio Grande and its tributaries, with an emphasis on the same corn, beans, chiles, and squash that dominate today’s unparalleled and delicious New Mexican Cuisine.

Teotihuacan, a vision from the past:  A view down The Avenue of the Dead from atop The Pyramid of the Sun haunts me.  Five centuries before the Pueblo People began building their network of 98 villages, put plow to the soil, and began stacking adobe bricks, a revolution broke out in the glistening city of Teotihuacan within Central Mexico.  Legions of lesser, excluded, and poor inhabitants made a valiant attempt to burn the place to the ground.  The city was a template for modern day capitalist societies; a surplus of goods had led to an upper class of hoarders, living opulently in the city center, surrounded by a vast barrio of poor schmucks just trying to earn a few turquoise rocks (the accepted currency of the day).  The revolt ultimately failed, society became even more exclusive, the inner dynamic collapsed, and the city fell to ruin; its inhabitants scattered to the four winds.

It was no happenstance that the 98 Pueblos came into being quite late in this whole scenario.  In the river valleys of Central and Northern New Mexico there is little arable land.  Life is hard, elevation is high, winters severe, and rainfall sparse.  The Pueblos developed in a communal style, with religious practices and social structure varying widely from town to town.  One constant, however, was (and still is) the complete lack of an apparent class structure.  No ostentation.  No palaces and no slums.  Even the most revered and powerful members of society live modestly, and the poorest don’t go without basic needs.  Much like in modern day Cuba:  Everybody dances, or nobody dances.

A thousand years ago it began, and for the next 600 years, the Pueblo Culture flourished relatively unmolested.  The People farmed, built adobe houses and villages, mined turquoise for trade, procreated, and practiced their religions.  Then, toward the end of the sixteenth century, the Spanish/Catholic invaders arrived on horseback, armed with swords, guns, and a Papal bull, which decreed that Pueblo lands belonged to God, Spain, and The Pope.  Within twenty years, the 98 Pueblos had been reduced to a mere 21, the surviving Pueblo People had been marginalized, enslaved, stripped of their gods and rights, and the Pope’s emissaries had shoved Catholicism so far down their throats and up their asses, it would become a permanent and prominent part of everyday life.

The oppressed have to learn to set limits because oppressors have none, and by 1680 the Pueblo People rose up in revolt, driving the Spanish/Catholic invaders out of New Mexico for the next dozen years.  But, of course, the Spaniards returned in force, and would rule with an iron fist for the next 130 years.  Understanding they were outgunned, the Tuah-tah and the rest of inhabitants of the remaining (now 19) Pueblos did what it took to survive, obeyed their overlords, bending like the willows.

By the end of The Mexican War of Independence in 1821, and after 300 years of Spanish occupation, Mexico emerged triumphantly, a free but militarily weak country.  The Tuah-tah could now burn the flags of Spain, replacing them with Mexico’s version.  But the Green, White, and Red of Mexico wouldn’t fly for long.  Weakened by its war with Spain, Mexico found itself in a new war with its neighbor to the north, and lost its entire northern half to The United States in 1846.  The Papal bull of Spain had been replaced by Manifest Destiny.  Now living in the shadow of the Red, White, and Blue, the Tuah-tah would find it necessary to bend like the willow many times over the next 170 years.  And bend like the willow they would.

For a thousand years, the Tuah-tah have occupied many of the same structures at Hlaauma and Hlaukkwima.  In the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo, they have survived occupation by countless invaders, rising up each time, thriving through communal effort, working the land, and finding new ways to play the hand they’ve been dealt.  The individual units within their historic structures are passed down through the generations to eldest family sons.  Few are used as permanent housing, but the grounds are now open to tourists (for a hefty but bargain fee).  Local artists now sell their wares within these ancient structures, and the Tuah-tah welcome tourism with open arms.  Much like modern China, as artfully described by Jeff J. Brown in China Rising-Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations, the Pueblo People now use Capitalism to fuel their time-tested and preferred form of Communism.  When my wife and I handed over our $28 for admission to the Pueblo, all the Tuah-tah profited.

There are two tidbits of common knowledge possessed by those of us who regularly drive the long stretches of blacktop here in Northern New Mexico.  Whenever possible, buy gasoline and tobacco from any of the numerous roadside Pueblo purveyors.  Cheap gas, cheap smokes.  Not coincidentally, many of these buying opportunities are attached to opulent casinos, complete with all the latest slot machines and gaming tables.  I do what I can to atone for the sins of my ancestors.  I buy the gas, and try to leave a few dollars in the slots.  Haven’t smoked for over 30 years, so I don’t support the tobacco vendors.

Elsewhere, within the Pueblos, Capitalism has taken different forms.  Cochiti Lake, an enclave of mostly non-Pueblo people within the  Ko-tyit (Cochiti) Pueblo, is a pristine leasehold community in the foothills of the Jemez Range, complete with a world-class golf course.  Several Pueblos operate grand hotels, art galleries, and restaurants as well.  One thing remains constant throughout the Pueblos:  A strong, unwavering sense of community.  If you’re lucky enough to be counted among the Tuah-tah, Haak’u, Ko-tyit, Tue-l, Walatoa, Ka-waika, Nambe-o-ween-ge, Ohkay-Owingeh, Pe’-ewi, Po-suwae-geh, Na-fiat, Katishtya, Po-woh-ge-oweenge, Tamaya, Kha’ p’oo owinge, Kewa, Tet-sugeh, Tsi-ya, or She-wa-na, you’ll always know where your next meal is coming from, have a roof over your head, and the right to medical care.

The Pueblo People never fail to make me smile, and not just because they tend to be so kind and welcoming.  It seems such poetic justice that Nations of the original inhabitants of this country are thriving partly because the spawn of their oppressors are addicted to fossil fuel, gambling, and tobacco.  It also seems a righteous irony that the U.S. Government spends a trillion Defense/Intelligence dollars a year fighting the scourge of The Red Menace in foreign lands worldwide.  Neither assassination, coup d’etat, media control, election fraud, nor the red glare of rockets and bursting of bombs seem to be effective in eradicating the scourge of Communism abroad.  And all this time, right under their noses, the Tuah-tah, the other 18 Pueblos, and Indigenous Nations across the country are successfully practicing their own forms of Communism.  Apparently undetected by the United States Commie Police.  Bending like the willows in the breeze.

John currently resides, writes, and protests injustice in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and walks among the spirits of those who once occupied the 79 Disappeared Pueblos. He can be reached via email at: halls245@msn.com. Read other articles by John Rohn.