Sometimes, when wandering the internet (often late at night) I actually learn something! I was checking out some Hopi dances and videos recently, when I stumbled onto an article about the unveiling of a statue honoring Po’pay in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. The short story of Po’pay is this – in 1680 Po’pay (a Tewa religious leader) coordinated the successful revolt of the Pueblo Indians against Spanish colonial rule. Brutal treatment and European diseases had reduced the numbers of Pueblo people by more than half over the approximately 80 years of Spanish rule. Previous revolts had been isolated and easily quashed – a coordinated revolt was necessary.
Po’pay envisioned the revolt and worked hard at negotiating with other Pueblo leaders – often traditional enemies – to gain support for his plan. Amazingly, the plan was kept secret despite the large number of people and Pueblos aware of it. Po’pay apparently even murdered his own son-in-law for fear he was about to tip off the Spanish.
According to legend they coordinated the uprising by sending runners to each Pueblo bearing knotted deerskin strips… by untying one knot each day they would all begin the revolt on the same day – the day the final knot was loosened. In the process of distributing the deerskin strips two of the runners were arrested so it was decided to speed the revolt by two days. The Pueblo Indians were successful, completely surprising the Spaniards. The Spaniards took refuge in Santa Fe and the Indians cut off their water supply… eventually the Spaniards were allowed to escape to freedom.
This revolt led to the king of Spain recognizing the sovereignty of the Pueblo people, thus allowing them to keep their ancestral lands, languages and customs to this day.