Skip to main content

The Anasazi, The Navajo, and the Pueblo Tribes

Ancient Mysteries, Modern Culture

Native Americans or "Indians" as they are often called, have long had a profound effect on southwestern culture and trade, but understanding their culture and history always seemed a bit out of reach for me. Despite the high visibility of Navajo, Hopi, and Apache cultural contributions, their practices and beliefs remained relatively obscure.

Having been born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, I was exposed to many American Indian cultural artifacts, usually through tourist-targeted sales. Restaurants, truck stops, and the airport always seemed to have stores and kiosks with Kachina dolls, pottery, or silver and turquoise jewelry for sale. Old highways sported the occasional roadside stand selling more of the same.

I'd been acquainted with many Native Americans in my childhood and young adult years, but three factors prevented me from learning very much about them despite my interest. Either I didn't know them well enough to broach the subject, their families had left the reservation and abandoned their beliefs, or they (understandably) remained hostile to "whites" and were reluctant to share information.

As a result, my knowledge on their fascinating and admirable cultures has been culled from scholastic sources rather than personal interactions. However, I've long suspected that the "Anasazi" are closely related to the Hopi, Navajo, and other tribes. Keep reading to see if you find it plausible that these and other tribes might have more in common than even they realize.

Anasazi ruins in Mesa Verde, Colorado are made from adobe. Though the inhabitants disappeared, their buildings remain surprisingly intact two centuries later.

Anasazi ruins in Mesa Verde, Colorado are made from adobe. Though the inhabitants disappeared, their buildings remain surprisingly intact two centuries later.

Navajo hogans more closely resembled mound construction styles found in regions outside the American southwest.

Navajo hogans more closely resembled mound construction styles found in regions outside the American southwest.

Anasazi - "The Ancient Enemy"

The word Anasazi is offensive to some Native American tribes. "Anaasází" is a Navajo word that literally translates to "ancient enemies," and scholars have attached this name to the migratory peoples whose artifacts they studied at ancient pueblo ruins in the Four Corners area of the United States. The translation has shifted to mean "ancient ones" to remove some of the stigma.

The word "pueblo" is a Spanish one that means "village." Pueblos are multi-storied structures, usually made from adobe - a mixture of straw and mud - that dries to form walls. Many adobe structures have survived hundreds of years in the harsh desert climates of the American southwest. The earliest examples of pueblos started as pit houses sometime between 50 C.E. and 500 C.E., but the area had been inhabited for up to 6,500 years by then!

Before they adopted crude construction techniques, the archaic Anasazi lived in the open as nomads who hunted and gathered their food. Over time, they built more elaborate free-standing structures and eventually the multi-storied and cliff dwellings they are known for having built.

Today, pueblo dwellings have been correlated to about twenty-seven different tribes, including the Hopi and Zuñi tribes of New Mexico and Arizona.

Did You Know...

Native American tribes are considered "Domestic Dependent Nations" by the U.S. government? They have a right to govern themselves, enforce their own laws independent of the state in which they're located, and enjoy certain legal immunities, but also have restrictions that prevents some access to the U.S. court system.

Navajos migrated to Arizona much later than the pueblo peoples, around 1400. They are believed to have come from northwestern Canada and Alaska. They adopted agriculture techniques from the Anasazi, but had a different style of architecture, living in hogans. By the time of their arrival, the major Anasazi villages had been abandoned. Evidence suggests they traded pottery with the Anasazi, whose pottery was typically white with black decoration, gray, orange, or red, much like the Hopi pottery available today.

Two problems forced the Anasazi to migrate from their villages. Droughts hindered their ability to farm, and widespread anemia forced them to find abundant sources of meat. The last of the Anasazi villages was abandoned by 1300, about a hundred years before the arrival of the Navajo.

Although both groups migrated, it is possible that the two tribes had some animosity between them. It is known that even though the Anasazi villages had been abandoned, their cultures interacted regularly. The Navajo not only adopted the Anasazi farming methods, they started to raise livestock, a practice they learned from Spaniards who entered the area in the mid-1500s, and did not endure the same high rates of anemia as a result. They grew to become the largest Native American tribe, and have come to occupy lands once occupied primarily by pueblo dwellers.

In their early forays Spaniards met Navajos, Hopis, and Pueblo Indians, as well as Apaches and Comanches in Texas, but no tribes called "Anasazi." It seems likely that the Anasazi who did not fall victim to disease merged with the tribes encountered by the Spaniards.

Pueblo styles of pottery, as seen at the right, honor traditional methods and use fewer colors than the newer Navajo styles such as the one at left in this photo. Notice the glaze on the Hopi pot. The Navajo one his colorful but lacks shiny glazes.

Pueblo styles of pottery, as seen at the right, honor traditional methods and use fewer colors than the newer Navajo styles such as the one at left in this photo. Notice the glaze on the Hopi pot. The Navajo one his colorful but lacks shiny glazes.

Native American Trivia

  • Always ask before taking a photo of a Native American. Some believe that if their likeness is captured on film, they will lose part of their soul.
  • Vintage silver and turquoise jewelry has a higher value than the jewelry made today. There is very little high-quality blue turquoise available today.
  • Native American crafts normally bear a stamp or marking to designate the artist. These stamps are easily identified within a tribe, but are harder to identify for a lay person unfamiliar with them.
  • Native Americans often feel a close kinship with the earth and the plants and animals that inhabit it.

Cultural Traditions

Over the last six and a half centuries, the pueblo peoples retained much of their cultural identity, partly because they were less aggressive and confrontational than the Apache and Navajo tribes. Despite avoiding some of the brutalization that all Native American tribes endured from the whites and Spaniards who invaded their territories, the puebloan cultures have come to face a greater threat from their own people in recent decades - indifference to the old ways.

Amidst fear that their languages, rituals, and beliefs will become lost, pueblo pottery continues to thrive. The Anasazi were basket-weavers and pottery makers from about 1200 B.C. until their disappearance. Whether or not they merged with other tribes in the area, Anasazi styles are still evident in the products created by the Hopi, Acoma, Laguna, and Zuñi tribes.

Navajos also produce pottery, but with a very distinctive look that is remarkably different than the work produced by the pueblo tribes. The Navajo are better known for their weaving, particularly the dense, colorful blankets that are widely sought by collectors.

Scroll to Continue

For both the Navajo and the pueblo peoples, silver-smithing also proved to be instrumental for their tribe's ability to conduct trade. Turquoise and silver jewelry, particularly vintage pieces, can command high dollars.

Though their traditions have both merged and diverged along the way, Native Americans of the American southwest continue to reflect lessons they learned centuries ago from their Anasazi predecessors.


jellygator (author) from USA on September 13, 2012:

I wonder how much he might've known of the old ways himself. Many of the younger generation haven't learned them, if I understand correctly. I see a lot of people who say they're part Indian, but none of them today seems to know anything substantial. :(

Thanks for reading and commenting, wilderness!

Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on September 13, 2012:

A very interesting and well written hub. One of my co-workers in Virginia, a good friend, was Native American, but I never found out much about the old ways or beliefs; as you say, his family had left the reservation long before I met him. Unfortunate, as I would have been interested in learning more.

jellygator (author) from USA on September 04, 2012:

Thanks, Teaches! I like both art forms, too. I started collecting a few years ago and really enjoy the wide variety of art forms.

Dianna Mendez on September 04, 2012:

This was very interesting information. I love the pottery photos as the end. I think the comparison is evident, but both art forms are pleasing. I have never been to this area and would like to visit some day.

jellygator (author) from USA on September 03, 2012:

Thanks, UnnamedHarald! :)

David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on September 03, 2012:

Very nice article, jellygator- full of interesting info.

jellygator (author) from USA on September 03, 2012:

Thanks, TT2! I find it sad that our elementary and secondary schools don't cover more of this topic as part of our American history classes.

Karen Lackey from Ohio on September 03, 2012:

Great information. I enjoy learning and I learned quite a bit during this read. I went to college in Oklahoma and learned quite a bit about Native America. Thanks for an informative hub!

jellygator (author) from USA on September 03, 2012:

Oh, most definitely!!

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 03, 2012:

I'm not sure that was a choice :-) They were forced to change their way of life. Maybe they wanted to change. Maybe they did not want to change. It must have been hard for all of them.

jellygator (author) from USA on September 03, 2012:

Wow, lots of comments this morning! Thank you everyone!

Like the Etruscans, the Anasazi archaelogical records show very little sign of wars or violence, but when their world was invaded first by the Navajo and later by the Spaniards, they would have to assimilate, leave, or fight. It seems they chose the first two.

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 03, 2012:

Excellent narrative and probably correct about the Anasazi being integrated among the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and other pueblo tribes. They had to unite to survive. I just don't see how all of the Anasazi could die out when there were other people around to intermarry. It was possible that there were many Romeo and Juliet type stories along the way.

Judi Brown from UK on September 03, 2012:

Always great to read about other people's culture and history - thanks for an interesting hub.

Natasha from Hawaii on September 03, 2012:

I'd read about the anemia problem before, but I'd totally forgotten! Thanks for reminding me.

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on September 03, 2012:

Fascinating history. These Anasazi peoples remind me of the Etruscans who were absorbed into the Roman population - simply faded as a population. I wonder what made them 'hostile'? (The Etruscans were peaceful, contrarily). There is so much to learn about Native Americans, thanks.

Mustang34 from Texas on September 03, 2012:

Great outline. For those interested in the Puebla tribes and art there is no better place to start than a quick trip to Santa Fe - here's a Hub guide you might find helpful

BizVT34 from USA on September 03, 2012:

Well done, good introduction to what is a fascinating part of North American history.

Bev G from Wales, UK on September 03, 2012:

Fascinating history... Sometimes, looking back at the things British people did to indigenous peoples all over the world makes me feel very ashamed.

Related Articles