Friday, July 5, 2013

John Reyna, Taos Pueblo

Anthropologist John Reyna came to speak to our CRIZMAC group this morning.  Before he arrived, we watched a documentary called Surviving Columbus which John's sister was involved in creating.  The film focuses on the resiliency of the Pueblo people and their point of view of the arrival of the Conquistadors and subsequent battles between the Pueblo people and the "white man."  The Conquistadors were greedily looking for the "7 cities of gold" (which didn't actually exist).

John Reyna grew up in the Taos Pueblo and has studied many different cultural and religious traditions throughout the world through his roll as anthropologist.  He spoke to us about his personal connections to his Pueblo traditions as well as the Catholic traditions that are embedded in their culture and belief systems.  Beyond that he discussed interesting parallels and connections between Tibetan Buddhist traditions. He drew interesting connections between the way the Pueblo locations were chosen because they were central to the 4 sacred mountains.  This is similar to the 4 cardinal directions of the Tibetan mandala.

He also shared with us that the term adobe is actually an Arabic word and that cotton was domesticated in Peru over 3,000 years ago.  I had no clue!  

John's father, Tony, has had a fascinating life to say the least.  He is 97 years old and also is the oldest living survivor of the Bataan Death March of WWII.  Tony also served as the governor of the Taos Pueblo, a honored position.  In the picture below you can see him holding the revered canes that signify his esteemed position.  John shared with us that one of the canes was a gift from Mexico, another from King Charles (from over 400 years ago), another from Abraham Lincoln and the most recent a gift from the State of New Mexico.

Apparently each Pueblo village is autonomous and has it's own distinct language.  Even within each Pueblo there are differentiations.  For example, within the Taos Pueblo there is the distinction between the North and South.  In other groups these differentiations might be between the farmers (hunters) and solstice (hunters).  This would also be obvious because of the colors of their clothing.  John told us that the Taos Pueblo people have kept a close relationship with the Apache for many years.  This relationship included trading (many baskets seen at Taos are actually Apache made).  The Apache would also warn the Taos Pueblo people of Comanches and other possible dangers.  

One of my favorite parts of his talk is when he told us about the Koshares, or Pueblo Clowns.  Koshares are sacred people who wear ceremonial black eyes paint and two pronged hats. John said that they use humor to expose hypocrisy within the village; so many people avoid them in feat they will call them out. Since I don't have a lot of knowledge of Native American history they reminded me in some ways of court jesters and also seemed reminiscent of court jesters.  However, the Koshares seem to have many more healing and honored places within the Taos Pueblo society from what little I could tell.  Koshares are not born into their roles or elected, rather the task or roll chooses them.  It is very respected to serve as a Koshare.  They are also believed to have healing qualities.  Again, my connections to other cultures and religious traditions caused me to draw on the dualities seen within many of the Hindu deities.

Sculptural Koshare I saw in the gift shop area of the  Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Towards the end of the talk he made some beautifully spiritually aware and succinct statements that were so eloquently spoken that I will just share them with you:

"Art, ritual, dance, are their own form of communication...if a ritual is done right, you don't need an interpretation."

"...people create mythologies to make sense of the tragedies of their surroundings."

"Having a negative side doesn't make you bad, it just means you're balanced."


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