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Acoma Pueblo Things to Do: 34 reviews and 58 photos

- Acoma Pueblo
The cemetery

I have no pictures of the cemetery, as all photography of it is strictly forbidden, but it is too interesting a place not to mention it here. It lies in front of the church (out of shot on the left of my photo) and is even older than it. It was not part of the Acoma tradition to bury their dead, but with the adoption of some of the Spanish conquerors’ Catholic beliefs came also the introduction of burials. There is of course no soil on the mesa top, so earth for the cemetery has had to be carried up from the plains below in woven baskets. There are now five layers of graves here, and when this one is full no more will be added. Places in the cemetery are reserved for tribal elders and for those who have made the pueblo their year-round home – most Acoma are now buried elsewhere in the reservation, in the churchyard they share with the neighbouring Laguna tribe.

At one end of the cemetery, in front of the church, is a raised area with a large cross, a memorial to all the unknown ancestors buried here in unmarked graves. The walls around the cemetery have humps, which in the inside can just be made out to contain faces. These are the guardians of the dead. One wall has a hole in it, to allow the spirits of the deceased an exit route out into the afterlife.

Review Helpfulness: 5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Nov 12, 2011
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San Esteban - Acoma Pueblo

San Esteban

Church of San Esteban

The most prominent building in the pueblo is the Church dedicated to San Esteban, that is St Stephen. It was built between 1629 and 1641 by the Acoma people under the direction of their Spanish conquerors. Some accounts say that the Spanish forced them to build the church, others that the people were grateful to the Catholic friar, Juan Ramirez, after he saved the life of a local child, and thus built the church willingly. A legend tells that just as Friar Juan arrived at the mesa this child fell from its edge and was assumed to be dead. But as the people grieved for their loss, the stranger arrived at the top of the stone steps carrying the lost child in his arms, safe and well. The people took this as a miracle and a sign that they should welcome this man and the new religion he preached.

The adobe structure remains largely unchanged over the centuries. The left-hand of its twin towers contains an ancient bell (the one on the right is newer). According to the Spanish account, the Acoma people traded four children for this older bell, but according to the people of Acoma, the Spaniards gave the bell as reparation after stealing four children from their families.

My third photo is of Chris and me at the edge of the mesa with behind us Mount Taylor, known as Kaweshtima to the Acoma people. It was from this distant and sacred mountain that the Acoma were forced by the Spanish to bring wood to construct the church, including the large logs of the traditional viga ceiling. The wood was not permitted to touch the ground between Kaweshtima and Acoma – if a log fell or was dropped it had to be left where it was rather than be used for the building.

Photography of the beautiful interior of San Esteban is not allowed by tribal rules. Its stand-out features include a traditional viga ceiling, with the characteristic parallel rows of heavy timbers, and a wooden altar carved by the Acoma in the 1630s, its twirled columns painted red and white – red, the colour of sandstone and adobe, to symbolise the Acoma and their traditional beliefs, and white to symbolise Catholicism, the two intertwined here as they are in the spiritual lives of the people. Most Acoma believe in and practice both religions, but a few only one or the other.

Mass is celebrated in the church on special feast days. One of these is the feast of St Stephen, after which the statue of the saint is paraded around the village. Another is on Christmas Eve, when Midnight Mass is said. On these and on other feast days all the people return to the pueblo from their homes elsewhere as it is important for the tribe to celebrate together. As the church was built on the pueblo’s former plaza (lending credence I think to the version of the story that claims the people were forced to build it here), its dirt floor is kept largely bare and is used on native feast days for dancing.

Review Helpfulness: 5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Nov 12, 2011
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At the Cultural Centre - Acoma Pueblo

At the Cultural Centre

Cultural Centre and Haak'u Museum

The Acoma Cultural Centre is not only the starting place for tours, it is also worth a visit in its own right. I loved the building itself, with its heavy doors (carved to resemble 19th century textiles) and restful interior. The Haak'u Museum displays not only traditional Acoma wares, especially pottery, but also hosts changing exhibitions of more modern art and crafts. When we were there in September 2011 there were two excellent photography exhibitions, one of photographs taken across New Mexico by Craig Varjabedian and the other, which we found the more interesting, of photographs by local Acoma residents. The latter, although amateur, were very accomplished and in some cases powerful works. There was also a very interesting display of modern interpretations of traditional native art.

The Cultural Centre also has a café, where the food is reputed to be very good although we only had a cold drink so can’t really comment (it looked good though!). There is the inevitable gift shop, with some very good quality merchandise including the traditional Acoma pottery, but I would only recommend buying this here if you are unable to do the pueblo tour for some reason (e.g. if you are a wheelchair user, or if you come in winter when tours aren’t available). Otherwise save your cash for the sellers in the pueblo itself, as it’s much more interesting to buy direct from the artist, and probably a little cheaper too.

Directions: Several exits from I40 lead to Acoma – best to take exit 96 if coming from Grants and 108 or 102 if coming from Albuquerque (we arrived via exit 96 and returned to I40 at 108). The Cultural Centre is signposted all the way from the Interstate.

Website: http://museum.acomaskycity.org/

Review Helpfulness: 5 out of 5 stars

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Street in Acoma Pueblo - Acoma Pueblo

Street in Acoma Pueblo

Taking a tour

To visit Acoma you have to take a tour, which start from the Cultural Centre. Tours cost $20 for adults, $12 for children and $17 for seniors and college students (late 2011 prices), with other discounts available for families and large groups. This fee includes permission to use one camera. Your camera will be tagged to show that you have paid, so don’t think you can use multiple devices for the one fee – and note that no video photography is allowed. We weren’t challenged however about the fact that our digital cameras can take videos (not that we tried to do so, naturally).

Having paid your fee you join a small group (we were seven in number) in a minibus for the short ride to the top of the mesa with your guide. You are then escorted around the pueblo – the tour lasts about an hour and a half and is accompanied throughout, so no wandering off on your own. All guides come from the pueblo and really know their stuff – ours was excellent. The tour winds through the village streets and you will see the traditional houses, ovens, water cisterns and more. You finish in the simple but beautiful church of San Esteban (no photos allowed inside), having had a fascinating glimpse of Acoma culture and learnt much about the life-style, beliefs and customs of these people.

When the tour finishes you have the choice of returning to the Cultural Centre in the minibus or on foot. I would like to have done the latter but decided that it would be wiser to save my still-dodgy back for places where there was no alternative but to walk, so we got the bus back. Others from our group who walked arrived about 15 minutes later while we were enjoying a cold drink in the courtyard and said that the walk was steep but not difficult, though they didn’t seem to have found it especially interesting (I have read otherwise here on VT however). Whether you plan to walk down or not, do wear sensible shoes for the tour as the ground even within the village is rough in places.

Directions: Several exits from I40 lead to Acoma – best to take exit 96 if coming from Grants and 108 or 102 if coming from Albuquerque (we arrived via exit 96 and returned to I40 at 108). The Cultural Centre is signposted all the way from the Interstate.

Website: http://sccc.acomaskycity.org/overview

Review Helpfulness: 5 out of 5 stars

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