Pueblo Indian Social and Religious Organization

Social and religious organization. Every Pueblo tribe is composed of a number of clans or gentes, these terms here being employed to indicate descent in the female or the male line, respectively. The clans vary greatly in number. The little pueblo of Sia, for example, with only about a hundred inhabitants, is represented by 16 existing clans, while 21 others are traceable though extinct. Among some of the Pueblos, notably the Hopi, there is evidence of A phratral grouping of the clans. Most of the clans take their names from natural objects or elements, especially animals and plants, and are divided into regional or seasonal groups, depending more or less on the habits and habitat of the related animals, plants, or other objects or elements from which they take their names, and on various religious beliefs. There is evidence that originally a priest or religious chief presided over each clan. (For the names of the clans, see under the several tribes.)
     Of the mythology, religion, and ceremonies of the Pueblos comparatively little has been recorded thus far except in so far as the Zuni, Hopi, and Sia are concerned. Among the Zuni there are many organizations embracing secret orders whose functions pertain to war, healing, hunting, agriculture, magic, religion, etc., although it should be said that the religious motive enters largely into all their activities. In these ceremonial organizations the cardinal directions play a prominent part, each important society, according to Cushing, representing a distinct region; for example, the Pihlakwe, or Bow priesthood of the Zuni, represent the west, the Shumekwe the east, the Newekwe or Galaxy people the upper region, the Chitolakwe or Rattlesnake people the lower region, etc. Each society has its own series of rites and ceremonies, some of which are performed in secret, while others, in the form of public dances, are elaborate and impressive. The origin of these organizations and the mythology and religious beliefs underlying them are too complicated to admit of even am outline here.
     All the Pueblos are monogamists, and the status of women is much higher than among most tribes. Among the tribes in which descent is reckoned through the mother, at least, the home is the property of the woman, and on the marriage of her daughters the sons-in-law make it their home. Marriage is effected with little ceremony, and divorce is lightly regarded, the wife having it in her power to dismiss her husband on a slight pretext, the latter returning to his parents’ home, sometimes for a trifling cause; in such cases either is free to marry again. There are many instances, however, in which men and women marry but once, spending their lives together in perfect accord and happiness. Labor is divided as equitably as possible under the circum stances. As among other tribes, the women perform all domestic duties as well as some of the lighter farm work, especially at harvest time; but unlike most Indian women those of the Pueblos are helped by the men in the heavier domestic work, such as house-building and the gathering of fuel, while men also weave blankets, make their wives’ moccasins, and perform other labors usually regarded in Indian life as a part of women’s work. Like the houses, the small garden patches are the property of the women, who alone cultivate them, and the carrying of water and the making of pottery are also strictly women’s functions. The children are spoken of as belonging to the mother; i. e., among most of the Pueblos they belong to the clan of the mother; and in this case, at least, if the father and the mother should separate, the children remain with the latter. Children are very obedient and only on very rare occasions are they punished.
     Originally the government of the Pueblos was controlled by the priesthood, the various functions of government, as war and peace, witchcraft, hunting, husbandry, etc., being regulated by representatives of the societies pertaining thereto. On the advent of the Spaniards the outward form of the government of most of the tribes was changed by the establishment of a kind of elective system and the control of strictly civil affairs by a governor, a lieutenant-governor, and a body of aldermen, so to call them. All the Pueblos except the Hopi still successfully maintain this system of local government; but all affairs of a religious or ceremonial nature are controlled by the priesthood.

The books presented are for their historical value only and are not the opinions of the Webmasters of the site.   Handbook of American Indians, 1906

Index of Tribes or Nations


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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