This section is from the book "Grand Canyon Of The Colorado River - John L. Stoddard's Lectures", by John L. Stoddard. Also available from Amazon: John L. Stoddard's Lectures 13 Volume Set.
Estufa And Surroundings.
The only other notable structure in Acoma is the Roman Catholic church, the walls of which are sixty feet in height and ten feet thick. One can realize the enormous amount of labor involved in its construction, when he reflects that every stone and every piece of timber used in building it had to be brought hither on the backs of Indians, over the plains, from a considerable distance, and up the desperately difficult and narrow trail. Even the graveyard, which occupies a space in front of the church, about two hundred feet square, is said to have required a labor of forty years, since the cemetery had to be enclosed with stone walls, forty feet deep at one edge and filled with earth brought in small basket-loads up the steep ascent from the plain below. The church itself is regarded by the Indians with the utmost rev-erence, although it must be said that their religion is still almost as much Pagan as Christian. Thus, while they re-spect the priests who come to minister to them, they also have a lurking reverence for the medicine man, who is known as the cacique. He is really the religious head of the community, a kind of augur and prophet, who consults the gods and communicates to the people the answers he claims to have received. This dignitary is exempt from all work of a manual kind, such as farming, digging irrigation-ditches, and even hunting, and receives compensation for his services in the form of a tract of land which the community cultivates for him with more care than is bestowed on any other portion of their territory, while his crops are the first harvested in the autumn. He also derives an income in the form of grain, buckskin, shells, or turquoises, from those who beg him to fast for them, and to intercede with the gods in case of sickness. On the other hand, the cacique must lodge and feed all the strangers who come to the village, as long as they stay, and he is, also, the surgeon and the nurse of the community.
The Old Church At Acoma.
While, therefore, the Pueblos go to church and repeat prayers in accordance with Christian teaching, they also use the prayer-sticks of their ancestors, and still place great reliance on their dances, most of which are of a strictly religious character, and are not only dedicated to the sun, moon, rainbow, deer, elk, and sheep, but are usually performed for the specific purpose of obtaining rain. Formerly, too, when their lives were far less peaceful than they are to-day, the Pueblos indulged in war and scalp dances; but these are now falling into disuse. The most remarkable exhibition of dancing, still in vogue, is the repulsive Snake Dance of the Moquis of Arizona, which takes place every year alternately in four villages between the 10th and the 30th of August according to the phase of the moon. The origin of this extraordinary custom is not intelligible now even to the Indians themselves, but the object in performing it is to obtain rain, and the dance, itself, is the culmination of a religious ceremonial which continues for nine days and nights. During that time only those who have been initiated into the Sacred Fraternities of the tribe may enter the estufa, on the floor of which weird pictures have been made with colored sand.
Dance In The Pueblo.
Three Snake Priests.
In the tribe of Moquis there are two fraternities known as the Antelopes and the Snakes. Each has from twenty to thirty members, some of whom are boys who serve as acolytes. When the open air ceremony of the Snake Dance begins, the members of these brotherhoods appear scantily clothed, with their faces painted red and white, and with tortoise-shell rattles tied to their legs. The Antelope fraternity first enters the square, preceded by a venerable priest carrying two bags filled with snakes. These serpents, which have been previously washed and covered with sacred meal, are deposited by the priest in a small leaf-embowered enclosure called the kisi. Around this the Antelopes now march, stamping with the right foot violently, to notify the spirits of their ancestors (presumably in the lower world) that the ceremony has begun. After making the circuit of the enclosure four times, they halt, and stand in line with their backs turned toward it. Then the Snake fraternity appears, headed by its priest, and performs the same ceremony. Then they too form a line, facing the Antelopes, and all of them, for about five minutes, wave their wands and chant some unintelligible words. Suddenly one Antelope and one Snake man rush to the kisi, and the priest who is presiding over the serpents presents them with a snake. The Snake man immediately places the wriggling reptile in his mouth, and holds it by the centre of its body between his teeth, as he marches around the little plaza, taking high steps. Meantime the Antelope man accompanies him, stroking the snake continually with a wand tipped with feathers. Then all the members of the two fraternities follow in couples and do the same thing. Finally, each Snake man carries at least two snakes in his mouth and several in his hands; and even little boys, five years old, dressed like the adults, also hold snakes in their hands, fearlessly. Once in a while a snake is purposely dropped, and a man whose special duty it is to prevent its escape rushes after it and catches it up.