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Chaiwa, a Tewa girl with a butterfly whorl hairstyle, photographed by Edward S. Curtis in 1922
Tewa girls, 1922, photographed by Edward S. Curtis
A Southern Tewa (Tano) anthropomorphic figure with rattle, petroglyph in the Galisteo Basin, a major Tano homeland prior to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680

The Tewa are a linguistic group of Pueblo Native Americans who speak the Tewa language and share the Pueblo culture. Their homelands are on or near the Rio Grande in New Mexico north of Santa Fe. They comprise the following communities:

The Hopi Tewa, descendants of those who fled the Second Pueblo Revolt of 1680–1692, live on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, mostly in Tewa Village and Polacca on the First Mesa. Other Hopi clans are known to be descendants of Tewa people.[1]

Tewa is one of five Tanoan languages spoken by the Pueblo people of New Mexico. Though these five languages are closely related, speakers of one cannot fully understand speakers of another (similar to German and Dutch speakers). The six Tewa-speaking pueblos are Nambe, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, Ohkay Owingeh, Santa Clara, and Tesuque.

Demographics (Population)[edit]

In 1630, Fray Alonso de Benavides reported eight Tewa pueblos with a total population as high as six thousand. But, in other reports, about 2,200 Tewa were living in the six New Mexico pueblos, which might not include the other two pueblos mentioned by Fray Alonso.

In 1988, the U.S. took a demographic census concerning Native American populations in New Mexico, and the number of Native Americans on New Mexico's Tewa reservations was 4,546. In sections of pueblos:

  • San Juan Pueblo - 1,936
  • Santa Clara Pueblo - 1,253
  • San Ildefonso Pueblo - 556
  • Nambé Pueblo - 396
  • Tesuque Pueblo - 329
  • Pojoaque Pueblo - 76

Compared to the 1975 population of 625 Hopi-Tewa at Hano, Native American development over time had increased. In retrospect, most Tewa lives on or near their home pueblo, but they slowly moved towards more urban communities.[2]

In a 1991 census, a new record of the population of Tewa and even the number of speakers of the Tewa language was documented. In terms of the Pueblo population:

  • Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo - 1,438
  • Santa Clara Pueblo - 1,057
  • Nambé Pueblo - 558
  • San Ildefonso Pueblo - 539
  • Tesuque Pueblo - 511
  • Pojoaque Pueblo - 209

The demographic of how many people speak the Tewa language raises shocking results.

  • Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo - 495
  • Santa Clara Pueblo - 207
  • Nambé Pueblo - 50
  • San Ildefonso Pueblo - 349
  • Tesuque Pueblo - 172
  • Pojoaque Pueblo - 25

Today, hundreds of these Pueblo ruins in New Mexico have been identified and marked as ancestral sites for the complementary Rio Grande Pueblos; in historical times, at least sixty of them were abandoned. Since most of these sites weren’t investigated, they can't be directly traced to early Tewa origins. But through DNA analysis, scientists were recently able to trace the early DNA of domesticated turkeys that lived inside the Tewa settlements. They discovered that DNA samples taken from the Tewa's site in Colorado's Mesa Verde are similar to those from the Northern Rio Grande region, where the tribe is settled today. The Mesa Verde region was a hub for Southwestern Puebloan society in the 13th century, but following a severe drought in 1277, the tribe's economy and social relations crashed. This devastating event corroborates why the Tewa had early traces in the Mesa Verde region but was discovered by the Spanish in the northern Rio Grande region.[3]

Demographics (Population Density)[edit]

Between the arrival of the Spanish and the early 1900s, population densities within the pueblos fluctuated but also included times of decline. This could be because of diseases introduced by the Spanish, warfare, or even the abandonment of villages because of the Tewa's desire to escape European expansion and oppression.

But, population density for the Tewa Pueblos began to slowly rise in the 1900s following the establishment of the Pueblo Lands Board. Between 1950 and 1964, the population in all six main Tewa pueblos almost doubled. Maternal and infant mortality rates were reduced through better health care inside the communities and improved nutrition (due to increased job opportunities), also contributing to lower mortality rates.

History of the Tribes and Pueblos[edit]

In 1598, a Spanish conquistador named Juan de Oñate established the Spanish capital of New Mexico at Yungue, a Tewa village located across the river from San Juan Pueblo. Later, the capital was moved to San Juan Pueblo, another Tewa Pueblo native to the region. From then on, Oñate and his other men subjected the Tewa and other native peoples to harsh conditions and rule. They forced the religion of Catholicism onto them, which was the predominant religion in Spain during these early years of colonization.[4]

In the early years of Spanish colonization, the Spanish established missions in all the pueblos. Subsequently, the capital was moved again in 1609, from San Juan Pueblo to Santa Fe, which has remained the capital of New Mexico since then. The previous colonizer, Juan de Oñate, stepped down and was replaced by Pedro de Peralta.

By 1680, the Pueblo people had a plan to remove colonial oppression. This plan succeeded when they forced the Spanish south of the Rio Grande in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. In 1692, Diego de Vargas resumed the conquest of the Pueblos, which secured Santa Fe as the Spanish capital again in 1694. But in 1696, a second pueblo revolt happened, but instead of the Indians reestablishing freedom again, Spanish officials and the military were able to put it down. Later on, Apache and Navajo raids for food and captives, which were steadily increasing during this period, escalated, which led the Pueblos to take advantage of the Spanish military in terms of protection.[5]

When Mexico gained Independence from Spain in 1821, Christianized Indians were given citizenship. In 1858, when the United States gained New Mexico and other Southwestern regions, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (which gave the U.S. the previously mentioned territories) promised citizenship to all Mexican citizens who wanted it, including the Pueblos and the Tewa.

In 1912, the Pueblo of San Juan was determined to sue the U.S. government to secure the status of American Indians, which would subsequently secure the native land and water rights and protect their religious and individual rights. Later, Hispanic and Anglo-Americans moved into these Pueblo lands where Tewa Pueblos lost many agricultural areas due to urban expansion to account for the new population size. In 1920, the United States established the Pueblo Lands Board to settle disputed claims between the government and the Tewa. Eventually, the Tewa gained full citizenship status while retaining their previous rights to land, water, and religious expression, secured only through litigation in federal courts.[5]


Commercial Economy[edit]

The Tewa were primarily cultivators, using irrigation to sustain and grow maize, beans, and squash. While they could be considered nomadic, as they followed herds of deer, bison, and elk to hunt while gathering berries and nuts, they were mostly not nomadic and preferred to settle in an area and farm. They were also proficient at crushing plants and other natural flora to make herbal teas and sometimes even "potions," as their tribe believed in the shaman or works of witchcraft.

Through the early colonization of Spain in their settlements, they were introduced to a variety of new animals, including cows, pigs, and chickens, while also being introduced to new crops like wheat, tomatoes, apples, pears, peaches, and spices like chili.[6] While they knew how to use fire to create pottery, the innovation of iron kettles and pots was readily accepted as a means of cooking, but the tribe stuck with pottery as means of storage and dishes.

Before Spanish colonization, like most other indigenous people in the U.S., they mostly sold pottery, which accounted for most of their income but also included jewelry and woven goods as alternative ways to make money. But following the development of the Pueblo Lands Board, most of these people depend on wage labor, Social Security, or other pensions for their income.[5]


The primary forms of art in the tribe were shown through pottery, weaving, and wood carving, but the most influential was pottery, as the tribe used it for storage, eating, cooking, and trading. Also, cotton and hides from the animals hunted by the tribe (which included deer, rabbits, and others) were made into clothing and shoes for the tribe. After a decline in the development of pottery in the economy, the rise of the commercial revolution, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries, revived this craft, and even today, needlework, pottery, jewelry, and woven garments make up the tribe's modern-day economy.[5]


Surrounding the Mesa Verde and Rio Grande region, the Tewa had developed an extensive trade network. Areas as far as California, central Mexico, the Mississippi Valley, the eastern Great Planes, and the Great Basin to the north made up this trade network and were observed to have remnants of Pueblo ruins. This trade network continued through the twentieth century, including Basketry from the Apache and Papago and feathers, shells, and beads from Mexico. Through markets like the Santa Fe Indian Market and shows like the Northern Indian Pueblos Arts and Crafts Show, trade continued to increase.[5]

Gender Role and Labor[edit]

Like the European notion or the cult of domesticity, women were in charge of the household and held responsible for building and maintaining them until the mid-1970s. They also gathered different types of flora, processing and producing a variety of meals. Following this idea of the cult of domesticity, men were in charge of the farm. They were expected to plant, tend, and harvest crops grown on the farm while hunting in the surrounding forests and meadows.[5]


Pueblo and Tride members are assigned a piece of land, but the land technically belongs to the tribe. Once one person might pass away, like an elder, the children can be given  the land as an “inheritance.” While land trade is allowed or permitted inside the tribe, tribal members aren’t allowed to trade land with non-tribal members.



Marriage inside the tribe was primarily arranged through negotiation between the families and was usually accompanied by the exchange of gifts. The marriage ceremony included a variety of expectations. Usually, it included a native (but might have also included) a nonnative ritual. Inside the community, marriage is monogamous and sexual fidelity is an expectation between the two, although divorce and infidelity have been observed. After marriage, the families would usher the couple to stay in the husband’s mother’s home, where, after the first year, the couple would establish a permanent home inside the community.


From a very young age, the Tewa tribe would create or enter individuals to progress through stages, the last regarding becoming a “Tewa.” From birth, children are tribal members and are raised rather tolerantly. When the children are ten, the boys and girls are split into two groups to learn about their roles in the community. If the children’s families are primarily Catholic, the children will also attend their First Communion.

Modern Day[edit]

Instead of splitting into these two groups and learning in kivas, tribal leaders encourage youths to strive for higher education. This idea is promoted through educational grants and subsidies to private or public colleges via the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council. Parents are still held accountable for their children, and all reside in their respective communities.


In the Pueblo community, religion is a crucial aspect of their lives. It is a way by which the people aspire to live and encompasses mythology, cosmology, philosophy, and a worldview for the Tewa. Religious sodality leaders know more details of their respective systems of belief, and, to the general population, this is a sensitive aspect of Tewa life. Some sodality environments or of worship could include:

  • Respect and Revenance to the Earth (where everyone is born)
  • The Mountains (where spirits of the Towa’e are found)
  • The Hills
  • The Water
  • Certain Animals, Birds, and Plants

In contrast to many other tribes, the Tewa possesses a polytheist belief regarding supernatural spiritual force and entities. Because of this distinction, Catholicism has been seamlessly applied to the tribe.



As with speakers of Tiwa, Towa and Keres, there is some disagreement among the Tewa people as to whether Tewa should be a written language or not. Some Pueblo elders feel that Tewa languages should be preserved by oral traditions alone. However, many Tewa speakers have decided that Tewa literacy is important for passing the language on to the children.

The Tewa pueblos developed their own orthography (spelling system) for their language, Ohkay Owingeh has published a dictionary of Tewa, and today most of the Tewa-speaking pueblos have established Tewa-language programs to teach children to read and write in this language.

Modern-Day Conservation Efforts[edit]

With a decline in the Tewa population, many questions were raised regarding the Tewa language. People, including the Tewa, were worried about the practicality and learning of the Tewa language. Students and professors at Worcester Polytechnic Institute recognized this issue and designed TewaTalk.[7] TewaTalk would allow many people to learn the language.

Virgie Bigbee, one of the many “voices” of TewaTalk, spent countless hours recording and uploading his talking in the Tewa Language. In addition to simple learning, to entice or appeal to the younger generation, the app also features learning games where one can apply their knowledge.[8]

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ J. Walter Fewkes, The Butterfly in Hopi Myth and Ritual. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1910), pp. 576–594
  2. ^ "Indian Census Rolls". National Archives. 2016-08-15. Retrieved 2023-05-23.
  3. ^ "Ancient DNA used to track abandonment of Mesa Verde in 13th century". CU Boulder Today. 2017-08-10. Retrieved 2023-05-23.
  4. ^ "Tewa Pueblo". Family Search. Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Tewa Pueblos | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2023-05-23.
  6. ^ "Tewa Puebloans – Legends of America". www.legendsofamerica.com. Retrieved 2023-05-23.
  7. ^ "TewaTalk Website - SF12-LANG". sites.google.com. Retrieved 2023-05-23.
  8. ^ "SF12-LANG". sites.google.com. Retrieved 2023-05-23.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ortman, Scott G. (2012) Winds from the North: Tewa Origins and Historical Anthropology. ISBN 978-1647690281
  • Curtis, Edward S. (2022) The North American Indian Volume Seventeen: The Tewa.  ISBN 979-8-8475-8337-4
  • Dozier, Edward P. (1996) Hanoi A Tewa Indian Community in Arizona. ISBN 978-0030551154
  • Dozier, Edward P. (1970) The Pueblo Indians of North America. ISBN 978-0881330595
  • Ortiz, Alfonso, ed. (1969) The Tewa World: Space, Time, Being and Becoming in a Pueblo Society. ISBN 978-0226633077
  • Ortiz, Alfonso, ed. (1972) New Perspective on the Pueblos. ISBN 978-0826303875
  • Ortiz, Alfonso, ed. (1979) Handbook of North American Indians. ISBN 978-0160045790
  • Sando, Joe S. (1976) The Pueblo Indians. ISBN 978-0940666078
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute. TewaTalk: Preserving the Tewa Language through Mobile Technology

External links[edit]