Matriarchs at the Heart of Pueblo Families

IPCC's Virtual Culture Guide

A special blog from our Curator of Exhibitions, Rachel Moore (Hopi).

We are a people who were formed from the clay and emerged from the bosom of Mother Earth. Honoring that creation story, we recognize our origins through our mothers. We each are born into our mother’s clan. Clans are passed from grandmother to mother, to daughter, to granddaughter. They provide us a way to trace our family connections, inheritance rights, and identity gifted to us by our ancestors.

In our way of life, women hold the characteristics of the Earth from which we rely. Women nurture life, and are creators of bodies and homes. Calling the Earth our mother, we show great respect not only for the Earth but also for the women who represent her.

When approaching the subject of Pueblo women, I like to think about their leading Pueblo values—I think of Humility, Love, and Wisdom. Pueblo women are so humble (“She won’t say anything; it is up to us to brag about her,” Stanley Lucero told me when speaking about his wife, Cecelia, for our HERitage exhibit.), yet it is time to acknowledge that our people have had a way of being and acknowledging the power of women long before the current movements.

I say pueblos celebrate matriarchs daily. Our way of introducing ourselves includes being named as a part of our maternal clans, and a lot can be said to dissect and discuss matrilineal and matriarchal societies, which all pueblos are one or both. However, I also consider the woman’s role in mud-plastering the homes, and dividing and processing food for the community, and of course, in carrying forward traditional ways.

Conceptually, Mother’s Day as a way to celebrate our mothers, wives, and other matriarchs is commendable, especially when those roles are often taken for granted in mainstream Western society. However, when we truly consider the breadth of contributions matriarchs make that shape our everyday lives, why not choose the Pueblo way, and incorporate honoring our matriarchs into each and every day?

As I wrap up my thoughts on matriarchs and Mother’s Day, I’d like to leave you with the two quotes below. May they resonate with you as they did with me.

“Mother said ‘[motherhood] takes strength. A different kind of strength [than being a teacher or nun]. But you have someone helping you, and you are in your own pueblo and with your own relatives all the time, and that helps you, too. Every woman has her own strength to do what she needs to do. You have to know what kind of strength you have and how to use it.” – Maria Martinez, renowned San Ildefonso Pueblo potter

“…It was the woman’s part of living to hold things together. Men could build up or tear down houses and ditch banks; but women put clay and sand together to make pottery, or cooked several foods at one time to make one dish. That was part of a woman’s life, to make things whole.” – Alice Marriott, in her book Maria: The Potter of San Ildefonso

2 responses to “Matriarchs at the Heart of Pueblo Families”

  1. Gregory Ortiz says:

    ‘Thank you’ Ms. Moore, your words wonderfully took me back to my childhood growing up in a matrilineal/matriarchal family and Pueblo. There is also the comfort in knowing Pueblo culture enables the practice of ‘extended family’ through ceremony, rites and ritual. Thus, we always have a mother to give us Love, Nurturing, Guidance and Strength throughout our lives. “Thank you” to all our mothers…we love you, forever.
    Respectfully, Gregory T. Ortiz (Eagle Clan), Pueblo of Acoma.

  2. Hendon Harris says:

    Ms. Moore, Thank you for your article. I am of
    European descent. I respect your culture and I recognize love and appreciation when I see it.
    I have a mother, wife, five sisters, three daughters,
    many granddaughters and a great granddaughter. My world has also been richly enhanced by these female’s many loving contributions to my life and the lives of our families.
    Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts online.
    Hendon Harris