Pueblo Projects Aim to Teach Traditions
ZUNI PUEBLO, N.M. (AP) _ Adobe walls and stick fences stand guard against the elements, protecting a maze of gardens along the Zuni River from New Mexico’s fierce wind and wildlife.
Pueblo members kneel next to the waffle gardens _ carefully planting corn, cilantro and other vegetables in the sunken square beds.
``Amazing,″ said Roman Pawluk as he studies black-and-white photographs taken a century ago.
``You can see there were squares within squares within squares,″ said Pawluk, head of Zuni’s conservation project. ``Some of these were nurseries for young trees, some of them were nurseries for perennial plants like grapes and stuff and some of them were annual crops like onions and things.″
For now, these photos and tribal elders’ memories are all that remain of Zuni’s renowned waffle gardens, corn fields and peach orchards. But Zuni and other American Indian pueblos are reconnecting with their past through community gardens and other teaching projects.
Zuni is building four community gardens, each with its own watering tank. The goal is to revitalize Zuni agriculture and encourage more people to garden by making it easier.
``It’s hard living here,″ said Pawluk. ``You can’t ask people to do things that require a day of labor. There’s TV now, bills and all the things of the modern world.″
Pawluk has designed a more modern garden that makes mixing soils and maintaining the water-holding depressions of the traditional waffle gardens unnecessary.
``Old principles, new methods,″ he said.
The pueblo plans to expand the gardening program to schools next year and build a greenhouse of native fruits and vegetables.
Pawluk was concerned a decade ago that Zuni’s farming traditions were ``flickering like a small flame about to go out after 3,000 years.″ More young couples are now farming, but he said tribal leaders and others need to continue pushing agriculture’s importance.
In the hills south of Zuni, Zuni Christian Mission School teacher Andy Newell and his students have transformed part of the nearly vacant village of Ojo Caliente into a working farm, complete with two horses, 54 chickens and a dog.
Newell said it was in the fields and gardens that pueblo children of the past learned the benefits of work, the lessons of responsibility and respect for others.
He brings a group of boys to the farm four days a week. They plant, build fences, feed the animals and fish at a nearby lake.
``Once they get here there’s an excitement, kind of like this new life has been breathed into them,″ said Newell, who moved into one of the village’s abandoned rock and mud houses.
North of Albuquerque, Sandia Pueblo approaches the fifth year of its community garden. This spring, children are helping water and weed rows of onion and bean sprouts after school. Sandia elders talk to the children in Tiwa while working in the field.
``The drive is mainly trying to preserve our culture and our history and our traditions of who we are as Native American people,″ Sandia Pueblo Gov. Stuart Paisano said.
The garden brings Sandia together, Paisano said, especially during harvest time when the pueblo turns out to pick vegetables and have a picnic.
Archaeologists have determined that waffle gardens built by ancient puebloans spanned up to 40 acres.
Agriculture was traditionally a community effort. Everybody shared the burden of clearing the land, planting and harvesting. They also shared the bounty.
That began to change when tribes were forced onto reservations and later when many American Indian men left their fields to fight in World War II. They returned with new skills and left farming behind.
At Zuni, farming still ties the community together. Pawluk hears stories about children bringing vegetables home to grandparents and even he has been rewarded with fruit for chopping wood for Zuni elders.
``They would give me a melon and they would carry it like it was a treasure,″ he said.
On the Net:
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center: www.indianpueblo.org
Intertribal Agriculture Council: www.a-i-c-online.org