When I visited Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, I was very aware of the boundaries I was expected to stay within while I was there, and to respect the customs and privacy of the residents.
The only way to visit is with a guide, and he gave plenty of interesting information about this remarkable place. He also said not to take photographs of people without first asking their permission. Fair enough, that seems only polite to me in the context of respect for their culture. And when asking it’s also fair to have no expectations – agreement or refusal – both are on the cards.
I’d already paid a modest photography fee and had the permit on display. I’d taken a lot of shots of this stunning, ancient village, and was enjoying views over the desert from the elevated Sky City, where the tour was.
I bought some beautifully hand decorated pottery from one of the stall holders selling his wares. I’d chosen a turtle motif and he explained that the turtle symbolises good health and long life, asking who the dish was for, wanting to know a little about the people I was buying it for.
I asked – quite tentatively – if I could take a photo of him with the pottery dish I’d chosen. No problem. He proudly held up the dish and posed.
I’d learned from the guide that the residents of Acoma come from different tribes, but had forgotten to ask which tribe the friendly potter belonged to.
As the visit drew to a close, we came upon some of the residents sitting in the sunshine, probably watching our group of tourists gathering for the descent (there was a bus to take everyone down to ground level, but we opted to walk down a rocky ravine used by the locals – more adventurous and scenic).
I asked – again tentatively – the three family members sitting together in the sunshine if I could take their photo as they looked an interesting family group. They said yes; again no problem, and they wanted to know something about me and where I was from. They were all members of the Roadrunner tribe – mother on the right, daughter in the middle and younger son on the left.
I learned names of some of the other tribes from them – all names, as I remember, relate to nature and the environment. Before leaving Acoma I bought a hand decorated pendant made by someone from the Cornstalks tribe. The turtle dish was for a gift, the pendant was for me, but the encounters, conversations and photographs are what really remain in my mind as the best souvenirs.