The sudden disappearance of the powerful Anasazi could be described as “…a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…” Visitors to Mesa Verde National Park see the remains of their fabulous condos carved from the rock of the La Plata Mountains, and wonder: where? why? But, there are no written histories. Only oral legends give us a hint of what happened and why the Pueblo people began a mass migration at the end of the 13th century.
Even “Anasazi” (often translated as “Ancient Enemy”) is an applied term. And yet, their stories still whisper in the desert winds, teasing dreamer and scientist alike with clues hinting at the “Why”? Why does the Sun Temple have two separate circular areas? Is there more than myth in the power struggle between Man the supernatural Kachina?
Craig Overton, Mesa Verde Park Ranger, relates the legend of the Sun Temple. In the early 1920’s a young medicine man from the Blue Bird clan, came to the park to share the oral story about why Sun Temple was abandoned before it was completed.
Human Medicine Men began to feel they were more powerful than the Kachinas (gods). They began using their power the wrong way and decided they didn’t need the gods any more. They planned to build a trap to trick the pesky gods. The humans built two kivas, one for the Kachinas and one for the humans. In the corridors the humans stationed assassins.
The contest began. Both the gods and the humans worked their medicine. Chaos seemed to break out. The humans said, “What is that?” But, when they began to speak, they realized they could not longer communicate with each other. Each person spoke a different language. The humans began to run down the mountain.The Kachinas transformed the women and children into blue birds and the men into turkeys. Kachinas taught the humans a lesson in humility.
Why do holes dot the interior walls of the cliff dwellings? Historians have speculated that the holes held sticks wrapped with a baby’s umbilical cord perhaps a way to bind the human spirit to the earth.
Why was Kokopelli’s Cave situated on a sheer cliff? Was this a look-out station so guards could warn the community of imminent danger? The cave, the cliff village and the Tower form an observation triangle.
This oral tradition of storytelling was the Pueblos’ way of passing down history to the next generation. The legends kept alive a sense of community, teaching the culture, mores, and morals of the clan.
There’s nothing more magical than seeing a place through the artist’s eye.
While I was visiting Mesa Verde I noticed a young man working diligently in his sketch book. We talked briefly about his work and exchanged information.
See Mesa Verde from an artist’s perspective in Nicholas Reti‘s sketches and paintings.