Friday, October 7, 2011


Eagle head, Three Rivers, New Mexico. Photo
November 1988, John and Esther Faris.
One category of images commonly seen in rock art in almost all areas of North America represents sky themes. This is especially true in the American Southwest where climatic conditions are generally dry and desert-like, and people relied upon regular rain for their food supplies. In the southwest numerous petroglyphs and pictographs of birds (especially eagles who are the beast deities of above) can be found, and one is a kachina figure seen in Puebloan Kachina dance rituals representing Kwahu, the eagle kachina. The eagle ruled the sky, and was thus in charge of the source of the rain needed for crops. Eagle petroglyphs are particularly common in areas near the region of the upper Rio Grande where dense populations of Pueblo peoples relied heavily on agriculture for subsistence.
The first illustration (above) is a grand naturalistic eagle head from the large petroglyph site at Three Rivers, New Mexico.

Eagle, star, and lightning. Galisteo dike,
New Mexico. Photo: Peter Faris.
The petroglyph of the eagle with a star and lightning is from Galisteo dike. This combination of sky themes in one composition covers all the bases toward the source of rain. The mixture of eagle and star themes is very common in Galisteo, and also at Petroglyph Park west of Albuquerque. Adding the lightning in this example reinforces the water connection as lightning usually occurs in conjunction with rain.
As a kachina, Kwahu wears a case mask painted blue-green although older examples were sometimes brown. It possesses an eagle-shaped beak with a black inverted “V” or chevron above it. Occasionally, in one of the night ceremonies in March or during the Powamu, one may have the satisfaction of seeing a performance of the Eagle Kachina. Usually the performer imitates the step or motion and cry of the eagle to absolute perfection. Eagle Kachinas will sometimes appear with Mudheads at night ceremonies in March.

Eagle (Kwahu) kachina mask, Three Rivers,
New Mexico. Photo: Peter Faris.
This petroglyph from Three Rivers, New Mexico, appears to represent an eagle mask seen from the side. It shows the hooked beak of the eagle pointing to the left, with a large eye, and a double diagonal line beneath the eye like the common tear motif which can be related to the inverted “V” or chevron seen above the beak of the eagle kachina illustrated. Given the location of Three Rivers there are basically three birds that have this natural marking and that this petroglyph might represent. The three are Prairie Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, and the American Kestral, all of which can be seen in the area and which have the natural “tear marking” below their eye as seen in the petroglyph. This feature is, however, also an attribute of the mask representing Kwahu, and has probably become a generic symbol for the raptors in general, thus its use on the Eagle kachina.

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