"A place prepared" Top 5 Page for this destination Acoma Pueblo by toonsarah

Acoma Pueblo Travel Guide: 67 reviews and 122 photos

Kiva ladder, Acoma

To visit Acoma is to be transported to a time and place that has existed for centuries. You turn off busy Interstate 40, drive a few miles across an empty, dusty land, and suddenly you are in a different world.

In a landscape dotted with sandstone columns and mesas it is hard at first to pick out the one that has a pueblo on its summit. The only giveaway sign are the twin adobe towers of the church of San Esteban on one side of the village, but even they blend into the warm hues of the sandstone and only become distinct when you are just a couple of miles away.

The name of this place, Acoma, is derived from the native word “Haak’u” which means “a place prepared”. The ancestors were told by the spirits that a place had been prepared in which they would live and the tribe wandered through the American Southwest, pausing from time to time to call out “Haak’u,”. When they arrived in this particular valley, their call reverberated off the mountain peaks and returned to them in an echo, telling them that they had at last found their “place prepared”.

Life here has been touched only superficially by the twenty first century, and indeed by all the other centuries that have passed since the village was founded in around 1150. Houses may have been modernised (although only a little) and access improved (one road now ascends to the mesa’s top), but the traditions, the sacred beliefs and much of the life-style of the Acoma people is as it has always been.

Of course there have not always been tourists here but others have come, some much more invasive than the current bus-loads of visitors. The first white visitor to the Acoma Pueblo was Francisco Vasques de Coronado on his 1536 expedition to the Indian pueblos. He and his soldiers were in awe of the seemingly impenetrable fortress at the top of the mesa, and left the Acoma people alone. But that could not last.

In 1598, the Spanish conquistador Don Juan De Oñate, under orders from the King of Spain, invaded this region and raided the native American pueblos, with his troops looting anything of value. They tried to steal grain from a granary and the Acoma fought back, killing several Spaniards in the defense of their crops. De Oñate ordered his soldiers to conquer the pueblo, and in the ensuing battle the indigenous population, which had been approximately 2,000 people before the Spanish attacked, was reduced to just 250 survivors. These were herded to Santo Domingo Pueblo, which the Spanish had previously defeated and were now using as a base. There children under the age of 12 were taken from their parents and assigned them to Spanish missionaries to be raised. Most of the adult Acoma were sold into slavery. Of the few dozen Acoma men of fighting age still alive after the battle, Oñate ordered the right foot chopped off each one.

As you tour the pueblo and listen to your guide you will learn that although such injustices may, we hope, have been confined to the pages of history, they are not forgotten. The past has shaped this people and in this almost mystical place past, present and future seem largely indistinguishable from each other.

And to continue with us on our road trip through New Mexico, please visit my Albuquerque page.

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  • In a nutshell:Another world
  • Last visit to Acoma Pueblo: Sep 2011
  • Intro Updated Dec 24, 2011
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Reviews (13)

Comments (10)

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    Jun 10, 2012 at 2:58 AM

    Sarah, another outstanding page about your adventures in New Mexico. - It was great meeting you and Chris in Bergamo. Just yesterday we got home from two exciting weeks in Italy.

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Feb 9, 2012 at 10:52 PM

    Interesting page!

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Dec 10, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    Hello, Sarah! I've got to know a lot about this tiny pueblo and its customs.. Thanks for your great virtual tour about that remote place making it closer to us...

  • LoriPori's Profile Photo
    Nov 30, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    Really enjoyable page to read Sarah. Even tho you have to take the tour, undoubtedly it's the best way to see and experience the Pueblo. You were also blessed with a beautiful sunny day.

  • yumyum's Profile Photo
    Nov 26, 2011 at 8:15 AM

    Interesting to read about the matriachal society.

  • Dabs's Profile Photo
    Nov 15, 2011 at 8:59 PM

    Coming from the land of Henry VIII who divorced and beheaded to get a male heir, you must find the concept of property passing to a female, not to mention the youngest female, quite odd! Imagine using a portapotty (portaloo in Brit speak) every day...

  • goodfish's Profile Photo
    Nov 15, 2011 at 4:44 AM

    Very well done, Sarah - and lovely photos! *sigh* It was overcast and drizzling the day we were there so no beautiful blue skies for us!

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Nov 12, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    A fine new page, Sarah! This really does look like another world. Interesting that land and property are passed down to the youngest daughter (not the oldest son as in European societies) and that in the three-story houses the use of the floors varies according to the season.

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Nov 12, 2011 at 9:52 AM

    Oh wow, what a fascinating read! You have managed to describe the inside of the church and the cemetery in a way that I feel I can see it :-) Thanks :-) Adobe is a wonderful building material! And thanks for giving us insight to this fascinating culture! It is a bit similar to the Hopi, both live on mesas.

  • Yaqui's Profile Photo
    Nov 12, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    You've packed in so much wonderful information and the visitor etiquette is needed. Thank you for all the wonderful photography and very detail tips. Excellent page Sarah!

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