Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Book Report!

I'm in the middle of reading The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest, by David Roberts. He seems like a delightfully macho flakey-hippy guy: "A day spent contemplating the ruins of an ancestral village, all but lost in the forest on top of a high plateau, conveyed to me the integrity of Pueblo life before the Spanish came better than some dry ethnographic report." Aww.

The most striking thing to me about this book (so far) is the destruction both sides wrecked on the other's sacred religious spaces. The leader of the revolt, Pope, had his reasons. "Pope had been one of forty-seven "sorcerers" arrested by Otermin's predecessor, Governor Jaum Francisco Trevino in 1675. For obstinately continuing to practice their "idolatry" (i.e. the Kachina religion, instead of the Catholicism that had bathed their souls in Christ's mercy) the medicine men were imprisoned in Santa Fe and severely flogged. Trevino hanged three shamans as an example to others; a fourth committed suicide by hanging." (Page 17) White man's destruction of sacred land has been well documented, and in August of 1680, the united pueblo tribes got their revenge. Burning churches as they came to them and murdering every priest in New Mexico, their 'hatred and barbarous ferocity went to such extremes that ... images of saints were found among excrement...there was carved crucifix with the paint and varnish taken off by lashes. There was also excrement at the place of the holy communion table." P 26

One of the first conquistadors to bumble and trample his way through New Mexico was Don Juan de Onate y Salazar. He pretty much destroyed the Acoma pueblo, and everyone he didn’t massacre, he sold into slavery, usually after chopping off one of their feet.

David Roberts writes: “That Acoma exists today is a profound testament to Puebloan resilience. It would take thirty years after the carrying out of Onate’s sentence before the survivors and their descendants were allowed to begin rebuilding the pueblo on top of the butte. Under the direction of Fray Juan Ramirez, after 1629 the Acomans were put to work erecting, with adobe bricks, one of the most grandiose mission churches in New Mexico.” (p 90)

Like any good land tromping investigative historical writer, Mr. Roberts pays a visit to the pueblo. “Inside the church, I admired once more the brown and red wall murals that mingled Puebloan rainbow and cloud symbols with Christian crosses, the painting of on buffalo hide of Saint Stephen’s (Estevan’s) stoning. Leo (the guide) mentioned that September 2 was the feast day of Saint Stephen, and then went on to say, ‘you come up and celebrate with us. The public is welcome.’ As if sensing the apparent paradox that stared us in the face inside the mission, now he editorialized (just as all my previous Acoma guides had), ‘There’s no contradiction at all between the two religions.’” P93

For some reason, this reminded me of a passage in another book I just finished reading- The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. Totally different, I know. He’s writing about “America’s National Eating Disorder.” Only he actually uses all capitals. He writes: “…It seems as though our eating tends to grow more tortured as our culture’s power to manage our relationships to food weakens. This seems to me precisely the predicament we find ourselves in today as eaters, particularly in America. America has never has a stable national cuisine; each immigrant population has brought its own foodways to the American table, but none has ever been powerful enough to hold the national diet very steady. We seem bent on reinventing the American way of eating every generation, in great paroxysms of neophilia and neophobia. That might be why Americans have been such easy marks for good fads and diets of every description.” P 299

In this passage, Michael Pollan hits on something that I’ve often felt myself and heard others gripe about- the U.S.’s lack of a cohesive, binding culture. We’re a nastily congealed melting pot, too much old bitterness, fear, and some laziness is keeping us from truly mixing it all together, and tapping into what could be the richest of cultures. I though of something I saw at the Indian market in Santa Fe- a Christmas tree, originally a European pagan tradition, appropriated by Christianity, completely covered in hand crafted traditional pueblo ornaments. Maybe Saint Stephen’s day (Estevan was, by the way, a black man, brought here by the Spanish as a slave) should be a national holiday, where Americans commemorate those massacred at Acoma, and all victims of genocide. We could have a big, locally grown free-range turkey dinner, make offerings to our household Kachina alter, and pray for peace on our prayer rugs. I know it sounds a little silly when I say it like that, but having all these different traditions into our daily life make us more tolerant and grounded.


Fiberista Nora said...

I love it! I'll celebrate St. Stephen's day with you, nell. It's like an America-specific Chrismikah. it could be brilliant.

America's pseudo-multiculturalism is really interesting. My friend Lily from highschool was telling me once about a class she was taking at Brandeis wherein they were discussing how multiculturalism is inherently disfunctional. In the US, it almost feels to me like our hatred of other races/religions/nationalities is as American as the many creeds themselves: We've never had the one without the other, y'know?

I love hearing about what you're reading. You are a smart cookie.

Anonymous said...

Do... do you need an intervention of some sort?