Native Americans- Revisiting the Struggles of 1680
What were the causes of the Pueblo revolt of 1680?
In the year 1680, Native Americans known as the Pueblo revolted against their Spanish conquerors in the American South West (Calloway, 2003). The Spaniards had dominated their lives, their souls and their lands for over eighty years. The Spanish colonists conquered and maintained their rule with terror and intimidation from the beginning when their troops under the command of Juan de Onate invaded the region in 1598 (Countryman 2013). When the natives in Acoma resisted, Oriate commanded that for all men over the age of 15 one leg should be chopped and the rest of the population should be enslaved, setting the tone for what was to be a brutal rule for the next 8 decades. The Pueblo people then rose as one community united by their resolve to unshackle the chains of domination, and succeeded in driving out the Spaniards. The Pueblos allowed many Spaniards to escape with their lives, however one of the most tragic fatalities of the war was the death of 21 Franciscan priests at the hands of the rebels, and the rebels also ransacked the mission churches that had been built across their lands. It took the Spanish troops over 12 years to re-conquer the whole of the Pueblo lands. However, the Spanish troops never managed to re-conquer the Hopi in the westernmost parts of the Pueblo country (Countryman 2013).
The Pueblo rebellion of 1680 was one of the most important, yet misrepresented events in history of Native Americans. After decades of oppression under the Spanish rule, the Pueblo Indians across the North American Southwest united and organized a widespread rebellion in the summer heat of 1680. The Pueblos were successful in their revolt and gained freedom from the Spanish rule by spring of the same year (McHugh 2015). When investigating the causes of the rebellion, the lack of authentic Pueblo written accounts of the event questions the validity of the available data and makes one wonder if we will ever come to know the actual sequence of events. Even though in the widely accepted narrative, the Spanish were seen as missionaries who were sent by God to save and convert the "primitive and barbaric" Pueblos, the event seen from the natives' perspective was nothing other than an invasion by foreign overlords that were full of self-interests and thus the retaliation against the Spanish oppression. The Pueblo revolt, from the burning of churches to the violent deaths of Catholic priests shows that spiritual abuse was the main cause of the uprising. Furthermore without any written accounts from the natives, we can rely on other forms in which they stored information to get valuable insight into the reasons behind the revolt and what helped them overcome the powerful Spanish troops (McHugh 2015).
Now, three centuries later, the Pueblo people still live in traditional ways in villages across the southwest region of North America. A statute that commemorates the leader of the rebellion, Po'pay is one of the two parts from the state of New Mexico in the National Statutory Hall in Washington DC, United States. The Pueblo revolt is the most significant and successful rebellion in the history of North American natives. This essay investigates the reasons behind the revolution, what occurred? What did the revolution signify? And what did it achieve in the end?
Role of religion in the conflict
Without a doubt, one of the main dimensions of the revolution was religious. From the Zuni and Acoma in the western edges of New Mexico to the Pecos Pueblos of near the fringes of the Great Plains, the Pueblo people had had enough of the missionaries, after eighty years of what renowned historian Ramon Gutierrez had described as a forced theocratic utopia. Backed by the Spanish troops and with no hindrance or reluctance to crack the whip, Catholic missionaries had gone on to destroy the traditional world of the Pueblos in almost every way, including what they should believe, how they should live, work, marry and pray. When the revolt began, the rebels specifically had a grudge with the Franciscan priests and whenever they captured them, they first tortured them before killing them. They destroyed all the vestiges of the Catholic Church; they annihilated mission...
They forbade marriages on catholic terms. Then after they were done destroying all symbols of Christianity, they restored the Kivas-places where their ancestors had honored their ancestral gods. With all Spanish practices and catholic symbols gone, they set out to continue living their lives the way their ancestors before them had lived.
Although the Pueblo people highly valued their spiritual rituals, the Catholic missionaries wanted to immediately destroy the 'pagan' practices. After the Spaniards had failed to find the much sought after golden city of Quivera in the latter half of the sixteenth century, they turned their focus to converting the natives. From the turn of the century they penetrated deeper into the lands that currently form the state of New Mexico, which were the heartlands of the Pueblo country (Liebmann, Revolt: An Archaeological History of Pueblo Resistance and Revitalization in 17th Century New Mexico 2012). Backed by the whip and the cross, the missionaries sought to completely eliminate the natives' religion. Any rebellion or resistance to the Spanish rule was responded to with torture, imprisonment or even death. For instance, records indicate that in 1655 Fray Salvador De Guerra whipped a native for worshiping idols to the extent that he was bathed in blood (Liebmann, Revolt: An Archaeological History of Pueblo Resistance and Revitalization in 17th Century New Mexico 2012). Furthermore, the catholic priests destroyed approximately 1600 native praying sticks and Katsina spiritual masks. The evidence not only reveals how the conquerors physically tortured and abused the Pueblo for their religious beliefs but also completely destroyed most of their spiritual practices. Instead of perceiving the natives as equals, the Spanish conquerors regarded them as idolaters, which further pushed their resolve to forcibly convert them (McHugh 2015).
Slavery a core factor leading to the conflict
Besides religious differences, slavery was perhaps the factor that provided the final push for the locals to revolt against their Spanish overlords. Legal enslavement of the natives had already been forbidden by royal decree from the Spanish King since the mid 16th century; however that had not put an end to the actual practice. The so-called "just wars" offered one loophole, and on that basis the Utes, Apaches and other Native American tribes that had resisted the Spanish conquerors then became fair game to the enslavers. Settled Christian native-Indians such as the Pueblo people could be put under slavery for certain durations if they refused to acknowledge the Spanish authorities. Compulsory encomienda labor, which was supposedly given by the natives in return for the "benefits" that the Spanish conquerors had brought, was quite similar to slavery. Enslaved Indians frequently ended up in huge, labor-dependent silver mines in Chihuahua. Some of them were taken as far south as Cuba to work alongside enslaved Africans in plantations. Native women and children were also sold across the plains for domestic labor and sexual exploitation. Outside the Spanish controlled lands, slaving frontiers were advancing westwards towards the plains both from the British Colonies (particularly South Carolina) and from New France. The Apache, Navajo and Pueblo country lay an ocean away from the European capitals, but its natives were caught up in a giant web whose most common shared institution was that of human slavery (Countryman 2013).
Cause of Misconception about the conflict
With only a handful of exceptions, studies of the Pueblo revolt era have all been based on the same collection of documentary evidence, mostly consisting of accounts from Franciscan ecclesiastical correspondence (Hackett 1937; Espinosa 1988) and Spanish military journals (Hackett and Shelby 1942; Kessell and Hendricks 1992; Kessell et al. 1995, 1998). These collections of written records have mainly resulted in histories portraying the Pueblo revolt mainly through the perspective of the Spanish conquerors, and the few Pueblo perspectives are included only through European translators and interlocutors (Weber 1999b:9). These written records have been relied upon even though there are obvious and significant biases in their accounts, as the Spanish writers tried to rationalize their defeat and justify their subsequent attempts at reconquering the territory. Primary texts tend to portray the event as an unusual anomalous event and refute the long periods of resistance of the locals to the Spanish religious persecution and economic oppression (Liebmann, Matthew & Preucel 2007).
Moreover, these texts contain very little in terms of the changes that were made to the Pueblo social and cultural formations between 1680 and 1692. The Spaniards who had been pushed out of the region during the period were only making brief and poorly recorded forays into the region, while the locals did not record their events in writing (Hackett 1937; Espinosa 1988). As a result, historical…
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Calloway, Colin. One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West Before Lewis and Clark . University of Nebraska Press, 2003.
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