Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tapeworm Architecture: Quarai

This is the second of a series of posts about the Salinas Missions.  Part 1, about Abo, was posted on July 11.

Here's a picture of the ruins of the mission church at Quarai.  Of the three Salinas pueblos, Quarai had the most benign location, with plenty of water from a nearby creek, and large open fields on which they could grow crops.  Nearby salt lakes provided a valuable resource that could be harvested and traded with other Indian groups.  The Indians did an amazing amount of trading back and forth, considering that everything had to be carried on peoples' backs.

Here's an outside view of the church.  Of the three mission churches, this one is the most intact.  This church was active between 1629 and 1674.  All three churches were abandoned during the 1670s, due to drought and increasing Apache raids.

The inside of the church must have been a source of awe for the native inhabitants of the pueblo, who had never experience such an impressive indoor space before.  Imagine this large room with a ceiling, dramatic shafts of light shining through the clerestory windows, a choir singing in the choir loft, incense burning, a priest in his vestments doing his priest routine at the altar -- an impressive spectacle all around, which is exactly what the Spanish had in mind.  Soften them up with awe, and punish or kill those who misbehave -- an effective two-pronged strategy.

The Indians were hardy people, living in a harsh environment, always close to the edge.  Death was never far away.  There was little to be done for a broken bone or an aching tooth.  Still, they had managed to survive and even thrive during good times, and they always had the tribe and their accumulated wisdom that had gotten them through everything thus far.

The first Spaniards to appear must have seemed as gods.  Imagine, people who had never seen a horse before, or refined metal, to suddenly see mounted soldiers, resplendent in their armor, carrying swords and lances.  What sort of magic was this?  And what are those strange animals, horses, cattle, sheep and goats?  Tame animals that you could ride, or milk, or walk right up to and kill for their meat?  And those strange priests in their robes, carrying crucifixes, speaking of their Savior who had defied death -- such powerful magic they must have!

The Indians must have had a complex range of feelings about the Spanish:

The magic of technology must have induced feelings of awe and envy.  The Spanish brought a whole new way of being with them.  In addition to soldiers, priests, horses and livestock, the Spanish brought new crops such as wheat and fruit trees, new ways of building, musical instruments, an entire technological infrastructure that seems primitive by today's standards,  but must have been mind-blowing to the native inhabitants.

Sucking up to power is a hard-wired human characteristic.  Sucking up to the alpha male or the dominant clan has always been a good survival strategy.  Hide in the shadow of the strong one, and perhaps you will be spared.  Whatever the Spanish had, the Indians wanted it, too. 

Fear of being brutalized also played a role.  The Spanish could kill at a distance with their guns, and up close, stone spears were no match for razor-sharp swords and lances.  When Onate had the left feet of all the surviving males at Acoma Pueblo amputated, word must have quickly spread through all the pueblos:  the Spanish will extract retribution beyond your wildest nightmares.  It's best to cooperate and do what they say.  You might even get to sing in the church choir!

The drought of the 1670s was no worse than previous droughts the Indians have survived.  One difference, I suspect, was overgrazing from newly-introduced livestock, which reduced the land's capacity to absorb water like a sponge during wet years, and slowly release it during drought.

Before the Spanish arrived, the Pueblos had a relatively peaceful relationship with the nomadic tribes -- they were useful trading partners with each other.  The Spanish upset this equilibrium through their ineffective persecution of the Apache, which only served to rile them up.

The Spanish were stern taskmasters, demanding tribute in the form of goods and labor.  The Indians were already living on the edge to begin with, and these additional demands from their parasitical overseers proved to be too much.  Overwork, loss of cultural integrity, Apache raids, and severe drought were simply too much to cope with.  Eventually the Indians were forced to abandon their pueblo, and retreat to the relative safety and civilization of the Rio Grande.


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