a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Women rule this tribe

It might not be wise to cross paths with Acoman women, especially their youngest daughters. They hold the truth and power among siblings in families that make up the 4,000-member Native American tribe in New Mexico. It’s a cherished tradition in this matriarchal society that maintains the oldest continuously inhabited pueblo in the United States. Females also own all of the property.

Acoma, Sky City

“A woman was the first person to rise from the ground,” says Dean, shown above, a mesa landowner and tour guide at Sky City, their rustic village on a mesa rising 357 feet above the “enchanted” lowlands about an hour’s drive west of Albuquerque. The female messiah sent fourth four warriors in separate directions, representative of north, south, east and west, as well as the changing seasons. They returned to report to her that it was safe for humans to inhabit the world, Dean says, repeating a story told by generations of woman who came before her.

“The people of the white rock” were likely drawn to this high ground for added security, that has outlived an invasion by Spanish conqueros in the 1500s. The Acomans had decided to put just one small door on the first floor of their adobe houses. In times of great fear, women would stand guard inside these entries, ready to club the first intruders over the head, Dean says. They also may have helped to toss 13 Spaniards off the cliffs when the men attempted to steal the village grain supplies in 1598.

Acoma, Sky City

Today, about 30 people live on the mesa that, each year, attracts thousands of tourists, who have included actor John Wayne and former First Ladies Jackie Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. The presidents' wives must have honored the rules that place strict limits on photography and against wandering on the cemetery, where Acomans are buried five deep in soil brought to the rock. If a white person ignores tribal rules, the violation can be settled with a .45-calibre handgun, Dean says. She claims to be joking.

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