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About Taos Pueblo

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Tua’tah, or the old village at Taos Pueblo, has existed for more than one thousand years, making it the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. The word “Taos,” for which the surrounding county and adjacent town are named, is a corruption of “Tua’tah,” which the people used to refer to inhabited area of the village itself itself, and which European invaders were unable to pronounce. Members of the Pueblo are known in their native language as “People of the Red Willow,” for the indigenous red willow plants that adorn Pueblo lands and line the Rio Pueblo de Taos. Pueblo members’ native language is “Tiwa,” a term that also refers to their ancestry, cultural identity, and spiritual traditions.

For the members of Taos Pueblo, the very word “pueblo” has multiple meanings. “Pueblo” is actually a Spanish word, bestowed upon the village by the conquistadores in the 16th century; it comes from the same Latinate root as the English word “people,” but is translated as “town” or “village.” “Pueblo” is used to refer both to the ancient multi-story buildings that comprise the core village and to the larger area that encompasses both the core village and the newer privately-owned residences that surround it. Finally, the term “pueblo” is also used by its members to refer themselves as a group: Unlike most other Native peoples, members of Taos Pueblo tend to refer to their lands and interests as “pueblo,” rather than “tribal.”

Construction began on the ancient buildings of the core pueblo around 1000 C.E. These multi-story buildings, which still stand today, were completed some 450 years later – and nearly half a century before Columbus (or any other European) set foot on the lands of North America. These two multi-story core structures, separated by the Rio Pueblo de Taos, are known as Hlauuma, or North House, and Hlaukwima, or South House. Both buildings are made of adobe, a mixture of earth and straw, using a local clay containing mica. Taos Pueblo was one of the infamous “Cities of Gold” (such as Cíbola and Quivira) that Coronado and other Spanish conquistadores sought throughout the 16th century: At an altitude of 7,200 feet, the brilliant sunlight on the earth-colored Pueblo walls highlights the metallic glints in the micaceous clay, and does indeed resemble gold.

Of the roughly 1,900 enrolled members of Taos Pueblo, approximately 150 still live in Hlauuma and Hlaukwima. Many of the ground-floor sections of the two buildings have been converted into galleries and shops that are owned and run by members of the Pueblo, and these are the only areas of the buildings that are open to the public. Outsiders are not permitted to enter other areas, including the residences, the kivas, and the private lands outside the core Pueblo. Pueblo members maintain the buildings in the traditional fashion, using the same adobe for repairs that their ancestors used a millennium ago. There is no electricity or running water inside the core Pueblo, including those portions of the buildings still used as residences.

Because Taos Pueblo represents such a significant landmark in North American culture, the federal government has designated it a National Historic Landmark. In 1992, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also named the Pueblo a cultural World Heritage Site, one of only eight such sites in the United States and the only living Native community so designated.



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