Isleta Paintings

Isleta Paintings

Isleta Paintings

Isleta Paintings

Excerpt

Isleta is a town of the southern Tiwa, Tanoan-speaking Pueblo Indians on the Rio Grande about 13 miles south of Albuquerque, N. Mex. The population numbers around 1,200 persons. All houses have one story, some with Spanish portico, and there is a large plaza, rather poorly defined, which the townspeople still refer to as "laplaza." On the north side stands the Catholic church with its high-walled grounds. Orchards and fields surround the town and its suburb toward the railway, about half a mile to the west.

This suburb, Oraibi, was settled about 1880 by a small group of Laguna immigrants, Pueblo Indians also, but speaking Keresan, a language entirely different from that of their hosts. Why the settlement is called Oraibi, the name of a Hopi Indian town in Arizona, no one seems to know, but this name may well be connected with the Isletans' return in 1718 from their long visit to the Hopi. Although the Isletans did not participate in the great Pueblo Rebellion of 1680, at the time of the reconquest they had already abandoned their town and were seeking refuge from the Spaniards in the safe Northwest.

A description of Isleta is included in the 47th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (Parsons, 1932). A copy of this publication came into the hands of an Isletan townsman, and in 1936 he wrote to the Bureau:

I have read the magazine printed by Washington in 1932. The history is true and exact, but the pictures to complete it are missing. I have drawn some of them. . . .

These drawings you will never see anywhere because no one [else] could do them, it is too hard. They are afraid to die if they do them. I don't want any soul to know as long as I live that I have drawn these pictures. I want good satisfaction because they are valuable and worth it. They [the subjects of the pictures] are most secret. No one can see them but Indians who believe.

I have no way of making a living, no farm. . . . If I had some way to get help in this world I would never have done this. I expect to get good help.

Felipe (this is not his true name) did get help. And over a number of years he delivered the paintings reproduced here. His remarks penciled on them have been incorporated in the captions and commentary [cf. Foreword]. His letters, in which relevant matters are explained and elaborated, are on file for the interested student.

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