If you are traveling between Albuquerque and Santa Fe on I-25, you’ll most likely pass the Pueblo of Santo Domingo (Kewa). It is a historic pueblo steeped in tradition. One of the traditions is the age-old art of making Heishi beads.
Heishi and Slab Jewelry
When people think of Native American jewelry they often think of the silver and turquoise Navajo-made jewelry. While the Navajo jewelry is beautiful, the tradition is fairly new to the Navajo people. They were not silversmiths until after contact with the Spanish. They then learned how to make jewelry from coins and, eventually, from silver.
The Kewa people have always worked with shell. The shell was a trade item, brought from far away on the coast. The tradition of making Heishi is as old as the Kewa people themselves. The beads of today are made much like they were generations ago, by hand. The only difference now is that a mechanical grinder or other tool may be used by the artist.
In the 1920′s the people of Santo Domingo Pueblo found that materials used to make necklaces to sell to tourists were becoming cost-prohibitive. Interestingly, they found that they could make attractive necklaces and jewelry from found materials. A recent exhibit at the Wheeler Museum in Santa Fe, featured the Thunderbirds of Santo Domingo, and showed how the Kewa people found useful materials in automobile battery casing, phonograph records and more. They fashioned inlay and slab jewelry, much of it rather beautiful, from these found objects. At roadside stands, on railroad platforms, and in curio shops, Thunderbird necklaces sold by the thousands!
Now the traditional Thunderbird symbol can be found in the jewelry of Santo Domingo but the materials used have returned to the traditional turquoise, shell and jet… all natural. And the Heishi is hand made from natural materials.
Labor Day Arts and Crafts Market
The best time to see the Pueblo is during the Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day when visitors are greeted by artists, food vendors and pueblo dignitaries. The Labor Day Arts and Crafts Market takes place in the square next to Santo Domingo’s beautiful church.
Throughout the day you’ll enjoy Indian dancers, Native American music, drumming and singing. Door prize drawings fill in the gaps.
Visiting Santo Domingo Pueblo
Santo Domingo Pueblos is an open Pueblo, except during ceremonial times. Approaching the pueblo on the access road you will see some beautiful rolling hills, new pueblo buildings and homes. In the Plaza you’ll find the Pueblo’s beautifully painted church. Usually photography is not allowed at the Pueblo but rules seemed to be relaxed during the arts and crafts festival.
The New Mexico Rail Runner stops at a new train station located on Kewa Pueblo, making it easier to visit this well-known pueblo.
Some of the Feast Days and dances are open to the public. According to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, the Santo Domingo Dances attract many visitors. Among others, the Corn Dance of the patron saint’s day is very popular, as well as the Sandaro, which is a burlesque with lots of clowning.
There are other ceremonies during the Christmas and Easter holidays. Here is a list of the Pueblo Feast Days.
When you visit the Pueblo, it is important to behave respectfully and follow any rules given (such as no photography.) It’s helpful to read the rules of etiquette before visiting any pueblo.
Finding Santo Domingo Pueblo (Kewa)
I-25, 33 miles north of Albuquerque, exit 259, north 4 miles on NM 22, west 1 mile on local road. There is a sign. Phone: 505-465-2214
Photo Credit: Elizabeth R. Rose