New Posts on Wednesdays and Saturdays -- er generally

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Sinagua

"...for us life is shrouded in mystery and the world defies explanation... humans do not need to know everything there is to be known. The human past, we feel, is a universal past. No one can claim it, and no one can ever know it completely."
Kina Swentzell, Pueblo Santa Clara


Basically I am curious about people. There is not much more fascinating to me than human interactions with each other, how cultures are made, relationships broken, connections made. Why do humans often do things that are actually against their own self interest? How do they react when change happens? What works long term versus short term? And on the questions go.

Most of why I find politics interesting is because it represents human dynamics, how decisions are made, leaders chosen, emotions stirred, and people work together to achieve (or block achievement). Politics, in a church, neighborhood, club, or government is all about human interactions.

As much as today's politics interest me, that from earlier cultures always draws me to spend time trying to imagine what it would have been like, how they managed to stay a cohesive group or why they broke apart.

The Sinagua fit into this because they, like the other prehistoric peoples of the Southwest (Hohokam, Anasazi, Mogollon, Salado) lived in different but sometimes overlapping Southwestern regions, developed their cultures along with complex religious traditions as they went from no permanent homes, to pit houses, then to stone or adobe buildings, before they left most of them for somewhere else.

Some likely stayed in the Southwest to become today's Hopi and Pueblo people; some may have gone down into Mexico to join with other Meso-American peoples, some may have joined together with the Paiute and Navajo. Whatever or wherever they went, why they left, archaeologists and anthropologists debate.

When artifacts are left behind, there is no debating them. They can often be pretty accurately dated based on the layers in which they were found, but where conjecture comes into play is interpreting what they mean. Whatever happened, the people known to us today as the Sinagua, which means without water (who knows what they called themselves), left what had been their homes along with the Hohokam (those who have ceased) and Anasazi (ancient ones). They were there and then they left.

They weren't strangers to leaving as some of the stone homes, elaborate homes, were only occupied for a hundred years. All that work and then off to build another one nearby.  It cannot be because someone died there as they sometimes buried their dead under their floors.

Whatever caused them to abandon these villages permanently, it is unlikely they were all killed there as no evidence of that remains. It wasn't the volcano that forced them out as Sunset Crater had erupted from 1064-67, where the people had left for awhile but returned as they found the ash improved the growing of their gardens. They were facing a time of a long, intense drought. Whatever their reasons, they must have made sense to them as the people made a decision to leave and did.

From what is identified as the Sinagua's earliest appearing as a defined cultural group in 500 AD until 1300 AD when they abandoned this region, for 800 years, they had lived, loved, bore children, fought with each other and outsiders, made music, died, and created a culture that is recognizable as being uniquely theirs although enhanced by ideas from their neighbors from all around them.

By the 12th century, the Sinagua of the Sunset Crater and Sedona regions had synthesized into their culture ideas from those around them. Native American peoples before the Europeans were not as isolated as some might think. They traded far and wide and when they saw good ideas, they adapted them to their own use.

For the Sinagua, there were arrow points from the Yuman peoples. From the Mogollon, came pithouse architecture and ceramic styles. There appeared Meso-American type ball court while their crafts sometimes reflected the Mogollon people's styles. Directly or indirectly, they acquired parrots, copper bells and mythology from Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America). Like the Zuni and Hopi, the Sinagua likely established clans, and they seem to have adapted several different religious beliefs, which can be seen through changing burial customs.

Archaeology, by finding things in certain specific layers, can tell when the Sinagua learned improved usage of pueblo masonry and built kiva like structures. What archaeology cannot tell us is how they used them. Perhaps their kivas were meeting places to hold dances and ceremonies as they didn't have roofs like the Anasazi did and the Hopi do today. They may not have had the secretive element or maybe they did. What archaeology can do is find evidence left behind. Interpreting it comes under educated conjecture.
'Like some Puebloan neighbors, the Sinagua developed an organized and stratified social system. According to National Forest archaeologist Piter Pilles (writing in Ekkehart Malotki’s and Michael Lomatuway’ma’s Earth Fire), the Sinagua built upscale villages at prominent locations, incorporating prestige architectural features such as community ceremonial chambers, courtyards and ball courts. They buried high status individuals, for instance, the well-known "Magician" at the Sinaguan site called "Ridge Ruin," with elaborate grave offerings such as ceramics, wands, baskets and jewelry.' from Sinaguans of Arizona.

The petroglyphs might tell some of their stories if we knew what the symbols meant. There was Kokopelli in some of the drawings, actually many places, but was this flute player, who is not humpbacked, Kokopelli or might he have been The Magician? Some petroglyph sites are off by themselves, nowhere near the homes; while others, like this one at Honanki, are next to the dwellings. Do they tell the story of these peoples? The Hopi sometimes say that they do and explain what the symbols mean.


Our imaginings, of what life might have been like a thousand years ago, grows stronger as we walk through their homes, travel what could have been their same trails and look at the red rock that hasn't changed much since they looked up at it. We see the remnants of a way of life that is gone but the energy is still strong.

It is impossible for me to be such places and not wonder how a culture can seemingly have so much going for it and yet lose it all. Doesn't it serve as a warning to us today? By the time most Europeans arrived in these places, the villages had been deserted. Only the ravens stayed behind and it is said they will always be where the people once lived. Are they waiting for their return?

More photos at: [Sinagua Country Northern Arizona]

The name Wupatki derives from Hopi words that translate literally into 'it was cut long,' and recalls an event in the histories of the Hopi clans. It is said that people prospered here. In time men began gambling and ignored their crops and prayers for rain. Concerned their leader severed a ritual object and then went into exile. When he returned, the people awoke from their decadence.     From Wupatki Pueblo Trail Guide
Anything sound familiar about that?

8 comments:

Annotated Margins said...

The peoples of the Americas carried long memories through their stories, art, rituals and magic. And then the Europeans came and took their memories away, instead of learning what they could have known.

Wonderful post, Rain.

20th Century Woman said...

Beautiful pictures and beautiful writing. There are certainly many lessons here. One lesson is that life cannot exist without water.

mandt said...

Absolutely stirring. How wonderful to hear someone relate experiences so near my own in those powerful vortex places. I spent much of my youth up in the highland mesas of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. The 'viable spirit of those indigenous peoples helped form my own visions and keeps close to the heart---even now, after these 60 years and then some. Great post!

Keaton said...

Nine post...why is it that the older I get the more I look to wilderness for peace? Why is it that I reject industrial consumption? Why is it?

Rain said...

Yes, where I find human interactions fascinating, interesting to observe, I also need time in nature as part of feeling spiritually alive.

Ingineer66 said...

Beautiful stories and photos. It is interesting to learn about ancient peoples and to learn that they were not as isolated as once thought. The Chinese were exploring California hundreds of years ago and northern Europeans were exploring the north east regions of Canada and the US years and years before what we all learned in our history classes in elementary and high school.

Dick said...

I've found those peoples lives to be fascinating and loved visiting some of the places where they lived. I've bought a few books on them but find that there really isn't much that is known about them. One thing for sure is that they had a far more advanced civilization than our society usually credits them with.

Ugich Konitari said...

I have always been intrigued by the native American Indian culture, and found your post very interesting.

On my first visit as a grad student to the US, I visited the Grand Canyon in December 1970, and was absolutely astounded to know that certain parts of it were named after the Hindu Gods, Shiva, Vishnu, Bramha etc. These were actually marked on the map.

Just found an interesting write up on that. Just thought you might be interested :

http://www.hvk.org/articles/0700/22.html