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Guardian of water
Tsirege Petroglyph depicting Awanyu.jpg
Rock art at Tsirege depicting Awanyu.
Abode Rio Grande
Symbol plumed serpent

Avanyu (also Awanyu), is a Tewa deity, the guardian of water. Represented as a horned or plumed serpent with curves suggestive of flowing water or the zig-zag of lightning, Avanyu appears on the walls of caves located high above canyon rivers in New Mexico and Arizona. Avanyu may be related to the feathered serpent of MesoamericaQuetzalcoatl and related deities. Avanyu is a frequent motif on Native American pottery of the Southwestern United States.

"The Avanyu, as it is pronounced in Tewa, or horned serpent, is not a myth. The pueblo people of Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, believe that the great horned serpent lives in the waters and tributaries of the Rio Grande river. It is a common belief that there a vast underwater tunnel systems that run under the ground and that natural springs are "sipapu," or gateways to these underground places where the serpents live. These are not unlike the great anaconda of South America, often depicted and described as being more than a hundred feet long when fully grown, the difference being that the Avanyu has a single or several horns protruding from the back of its head. Judging from several eyewitness accounts, it is my personal theory that the younger ones have one horn and grow more as they age, with the adult specimens having several. Sometimes the serpent is depicted as being "feathered," although, those that have claimed to see the creature describe it as having smooth or scaly surfaces, no feathers being noted. Many important and trustworthy people among the descendants of the people known as the "anasazi" have seen this legendary creature with their own eyes, my great-grandmother, Margaret Tafoya, being one of them. They are often described as having a horse-like head, and grey skin with red markings running over the front of its face to under its eyes. The common belief is that they are able to release energy in the form of lightning from their mouths, as well as control the water in which it resides.

Bowl from Santa Clara Pueblo depicting Awanyu

Although they may be labeled as a deities, and other entities such as the many various kachinas, are seen as "gods", the pueblo people as well as our relatives, the Hopi, only worship ONE deity, the creator who made everything that is and everything that is not. The Avanyu and various kachinas are known to us as "parts" of the one true god, much as Jesus once was. Yes, we believe in him as well.

The creature or "feathered" serpent of the Aztecs, as well as Quetzalcoatl, may very well be all the same creature, however Quetzalcoatl was often depicted or described as taking the form of a humanoid and teaching mankind knowledge, whereas, the Avanyu of the pueblo people is an actual cryptozoological animal, known to exist even today, with the last sighting being about 40 years ago.

The month of July is when the pueblo people do not go swimming in the lakes and streams of our land, as it is then that we believe that the Avanyu feeds. Out of respect for us, the Avanyu only feeds at this time, so that humans can use the waterways without fear of being eaten. This is an ancient truce between the people and the great horned serpent. It is during this time that people go missing when they ignore or are not aware of this pact. Many have drowned in the month of July, their bodies never found. It is commonly believed that they were eaten by the great snake.

The now abandoned pueblo of Pecos, or Cicuye, as it was known by the locals, was home to a society of tribal community members whose clan animal was the snake. The site of the pueblo itself, has archaeological evidence that suggests it has been a continual place of human habitation for more than 7,000 years. Legend claims that they possessed an avanyu of tremendous size. It is said that they would feed it human sacrifices, probably criminals or volunteers, to the great snake in exchange for favors, such as rain or good fortunes. Legends also say that they HAD to feed it in order to keep it from eating the community members and running amok. According to those same legends, the serpent was in fact an avanyu, and grew to such gigantic proportions that eventually they had to keep the serpent trapped inside of a cave somewhere in the vicinity of Pecos pueblo. They were forced to keep a bonfire burning in the entrance to the cave, as it was the only thing that ket the great serpent contained. In the 1920s a woman named Helen Roberts spent some time amongst the indians of San Ildefonso Pueblo where she befriended a 70 year old man by the name of Ignacio Aguilar. He told her a tale that was related to him by his grandfather, who had witnessed an incident while on a hunting trip along the Rio Grande. He said that one day while his grandfather was hunting with his friends, a very excited band of Pecos indians appeared out of the foliage. They were about 35 miles from Pecos, and when asked why they were so far from their pueblo, the Pecos indians said that they were searching for their Avanyu, which had escaped from its den near their pueblo. They showed Aguilar's grandfather and his friends the trail of flattened brush the creature had left behind. Aguilar's grandfather and his friends agreed to help the Pecos indians follow the trail and look for the gigantic serpent. Before long they found the place where the serpent had slithered into the river and had apparently vanished forever. The loss of this avanyu by the Pecos indians is believed to have led to its downfall, as the pueblo, which is located near Santa Fe, NM, was abandoned sometime in the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Perhaps the serpent is still in its lair, a mountain cave somewhere in the hills near Santa Fe.

As you travel along highway 30 towards Los Alamos from Española, NM, you enter the reservation of Santa Clara Pueblo. On the left hand side of the highway, about a mile from the boundary sign for the reservation, there is a small stand of cottonwood trees that are extremely old. They surround a natural spring, which, about eighty years ago, was once the residence of a young, or smaller avanyu. It was described to me, by my grandmother, as being a juvenile, or baby. It was around fifteen to twenty feet long and had a single horn growing out of the back of its head. The color was the same as the one which my great-grandmother saw in the early 1920s, although much smaller. It had lived in this spring for a long time and suddenly, overnight, it vanished. Several weeks later, in Nambe pueblo, just west of Santa Fe, where many of the descendants of Pecos pueblo had migrated to and live to this day, it was reported that the indians there had "captured" a baby avanyu and were keeping it in a kiva within the village. Could this be the same serpent which formerly resided in Santa Clara? Either way, it is believed that the Nambe Pueblo indians still keep this horned serpent to this very day, hidden away and fed regularly, to be revered and displayed during very sacred, and very secret ceremonies.

It has been scientifically proven that many species of reptiles can age limitlessly, given they do not succumb to disease or injury. It is also been accepted that size is directly related to age in most reptiles, therefore the logical deduction would presume that a serpent of extreme age, should be quite large. Rattlesnakes in the southwest United States, have been rumored to grow over fifty feet in length, not to mention the enormous size of other species, such as boas and anacondas(100+ ft.) Therefore, would it not be plausible that a serpent of such size be in existence, able to hide very well, and has a regular appearance in the histories of humanity? Much like the Loch Ness Monster, Mokele Mbembe, Bigfoot, and other cryptozoological creatures that have yet to be proven real, the Avanyu is legendary and very real creature that has become a centerpiece around which the pueblo beliefs and traditions keep their roots. The old people say that not believe in the avanyu is likened to not believing that the sky is blue, or the wind that blows through your hair. Not only does the myth of the creature teach our children of morality and symbolism, but it also teaches them that in the deep and remote parts of the world, there are still wonders, waiting to be rediscovered. Just hope that you run faster than your friends."
—Ryan Roller-Kha'-Po' Owingeh,  Santa Clara Pueblo, NM[full citation needed]

2014 sightings of the Avanyu are in the form of spray painted renditions on and around the cement walls and tributaries of the Rio Grande in Albuquerque. New Mexico. Hikers, bicyclists, and urban explorers have located several of these updated images of an ancient animal. The beginning of the year in New Mexico was one of the driest yet, according to the National Weather Service. At one point, the continuously flowing Rio Grande was completely dry. Around May 2014, these graffiti style Avanyu began to appear around the South Valley, so much in fact some young people in the area now refer to the area around Rio Bravo Blvd and the Rio Grande as "Serpent City." Correspondingly, the rainfall in the Albuquerque Metro reached catastrophic proportions in May 2014. The rest of the year has experienced adequate rainfall.

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