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Shared values, and peace

By Popovi DaPopovi Da was a member of the San Ildefonso Indian tribe of New Mexico. An eminent ceramist, he worked within the most subtle traditions of the American Indian artist. Following are parts of a talk he once gave to the School of American Research. / July 28, 1981



Our culture and within it our creative arts are woven and insperable. Everything in our life is all-inclusive. We must preserve what has been created and what can be created.The force continues. . . .

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Time is the limiting factor in the endless spirit of our people that shortens what I have to say. Indeed, the clockwork time which you have invented can be disastrous. And there is another matter which distrubs me: the way that we are often treated as academic curiosities. This indeed is sad. You have written too many books and papers about us without having the experience of the feeling within us.

We believe we are the first conservationists. We do not destroy or disturb the harmony of nature. To us this is beauty; it is our sense of aesthetics. We care for and husband our environment, trying to be all-for- bearing like Mother Earth. We feel ourselves trustees of our environment and of our creative values. And this gives us a union with all existence, all the creatures which live in the world: wild animals, little crawling things, and even men.

We have multitudes of symbols -- corn blossom, squash blossom, eagle and deer , rainbow and fire, and storn cloud; the design of plants, of all living things; the underworld which gave forth man and all the creatures -- symbols whose secret meanings are only secret because they are within and cannot be easily expressed. This symbolism is perpetuated through memory alone, because we have no written language.

Our symbols and our ceremonial representations are all expressed as an endless cadence, and beautifully organized in our art as well as in our dance.

In our pottery we have many distinctive styles within historic periods. As our society changed throughout the ages, there appeared variations in our art related to the life of the people. In time of high prosperity, pottery styles and our artistic talents were directed to forms showing our affluence: detailed lines, fine in form and of many colors and styles. Abundant harvests called for new, original creations. The years when our culture was appreciated by those in power resulted in a more reflected in our art by intricate patterns in design, in basketry, painting, and petroglyphic drawings.

During droughts and periods of trouble, we created less than at other times. This was not due, as is often believed, to the lack of facilities, but because these were periods of oppression and frustration when the mind was controlled by anxiety.

Fine art within our lives has been balanced and directed in a positive sense by the forces about us. If life is unbalanced, as it is now, by the pressure of mechanical things all about us, life seems to lose man in a cold world of steel where we are frustrated and afraid. This frustration will be reflected in our art. Should our civilization terminate today, future anthropologists would be puzzled by finding in our pueblos Japanese artifacts, complex distorted patterns of abstract paintings, and other evidence of the confusion of the world about us.

But the best in pueblo life is reflected by paintings and designs which tend to be four- dimensional. They point to rhythm and the motion in the dance, the action of the horse, the speed of the antelope, the heat of the desert. We have a form of art which is distinctively North American Indian, and we must preserve our way of life in order for our art to contiue. From this part of us comes our ability to create, as can be seen from the thousands of designs found on ceremonial and cooking pots from prehistory, dating back to time immemorial. I doubt that the designs improved the cooking, but they were created because they had to be created; it is our role to create.

Except for our ritualistic dances and our way of life, our efforts are related to the care of our environment and what we create. Our pueblo people eat gently, recognizing with inner feelings that the corn or the squash were at one time growing, cared for, each a plant alive, now prepared to become part of us, of our bodies and our minds, quite sacred. We reflect on the plant.

There is a design in living things; their shapes, forms, the ability to live, all have meaning. We must cling to our Indian traditions which exalt beauty. To the white man, religion is a method, a system which he can employ or even use at times when necessary. But to us there is no word in our language for an isolated dogma: all we can say is that we have a way of life, and that this is life itself. If we fill our minds with pure materialism and accept a convenient religion, then the backbone of our way of life, of our perception of beauty, will be broekn and we will disappear as unseen winds, gone. You, too, are not secure. You may be the victims of your own dissolution, undermined by customs, air pollution, in fact by unremovable pollution of all kinds, material and spiritual.You can come to us for our message. We must not let ourselves get caught up in the onrushing vanishing years or the results of an overefficient society, highly mechanized, streamlined, rapidly moving at a rate and in a way that to most of the Indians represents a panic.

Our values are indwelling and dependent on time and space unmeasured. This in itself is beauty. Our first great value is our trusteeship of nature, and this is beauty also. Then there is an order and direction of our lives, a unity , the ability to share the joy of sharing, creativeness and minimum competition. This too is beauty.

Come to our dances or our homes; we share our meals with you. We feel then that we can be part of each other, confluent human forces, sharing, giving. It is not the disease known as obligation, but exists because it exists and that is enough.

From "Maria," by Richard Spivey, published by Northland Press, Flagstaff, Arizona. Copyright (c) 1979 by Richard Spivey.m