Acuma and the Kiva

“Acuma and the Kiva,” Friend, Jan. 1971, 20

Acuma and the Kiva

Kiva: A Pueblo Indian ceremonial structure that is usually round and partly underground.

“When is your uncle Tanolo going to take you into the kiva?” Little Brown Bear asked. “I am four moons younger than you, yet I was taken into our kiva this day.”

Acuma pulled his rabbit robe closer around his shoulders and sat huddled by the fire, watching the smoke curl upward to add more blackness to the sooty ceiling of the big cave.

“I don’t know,” he said sadly. “I have done everything I am supposed to do.”

“A boy must prove he is now a man before he can enter a kiva,” Little Brown Bear continued. “Have you gone on a hunt?”

“Oh, yes. We stalked the deer through snow and drove him to the edge of our flat mountain. It was my arrow that brought meat to our fire.”

Little Brown Bear shook his head. “I cannot understand. Surely Tanolo is not so cruel that he would tease you.”

Acuma shrugged but did not answer. He had done everything that was required. He knew the legends, his arrow points were well made, he could make fiber from the yucca plant and weave it into heavy sandals, and he could shoot a straight arrow. All these things his cousin from the big cave village had done too, and this day he had been taken into the kiva.

This was an honor for which every Indian boy lived. Yet Acuma could not go. His father said he was well prepared, but Tanolo would not take him. An Indian boy could not be taken to the kiva by his father. At birth an uncle is chosen to be his teacher, and it is this uncle who must take him to the kiva, where he will go through the rituals to become a man.

Acuma glanced at his cousin, wishing Little Brown Bear could tell him what had happened down in the kiva in his own village. But, of course, it was a secret.

When Little Brown Bear left for his own cave village, Acuma jumped up and called his brown dog. He threw off the rabbit blanket. He would be running and his body would warm on this winter day.

“I will not shed tears like that foolish Popeta,” he exclaimed, and he dashed off to chase rabbits. Maybe he would kill one with his throwing stick and show his uncle how skilled he was. Acuma’s dog romped along beside him as they scrambled down the side of the canyon to the creek below.

Then he stopped in surprise. Popeta was filling a water jug to carry back up the steep canyon wall to the cave. She seemed small although she was his own age. Her father could not till his cornfield properly because of a lame leg, so the family did not have enough to eat. And because the father could not run fast, he could not kill enough rabbits to make new blankets. The one over Popeta’s shivering shoulders was badly worn.

“You wear no blanket,” Popeta said in surprise, her teeth chattering. “It is cold.”

Acuma squared his brown shoulders. “I am a man, and I do not feel the cold,” he boasted. “I shall run and catch a rabbit for our dinner.” He started off.

Popeta lifted the heavy water jug. As she did so, the blanket fell from her shoulders. Immediately the brown dog grabbed it in his teeth and raced off, dragging it through the thorny bushes.

“Come back, come back!” Popeta cried out. “It is my only blanket.” She spun angrily on Acuma. “Your horrible dog has stolen my blanket. Go get it.”

Then her shivering grew worse and she began to cry as she climbed the canyon wall with the water jug on her head.

Acuma tried to find the dog, but it had raced down the canyon, dragging the blanket. He could see torn scraps hanging on bushes.

“It is no good now anyhow,” he said as he raced along, feeling warm. Soon he threw his curved stick at a rabbit and proudly carried the dead animal home.

“We already have meat for stew, my son,” his mother said while she stirred something in a clay pot over the fire. “You are a great hunter, and my heart is proud. But why not give it to one who has none?”

Acuma strolled over to Popeta’s fire. “Here, you will have meat.”

She thanked him, then asked, “Did you find my blanket? Without it I will have nothing to warm me tonight.”

Acuma shrugged. “No, I could not find it.”

He forgot about Popeta as he ate his hearty stew that night and sat huddled by the fire, his own warm blanket over his shoulders.

During the night he awoke feeling cold and pulled the rabbit fur blanket up closer. Somewhere he could hear crying.

It is probably that foolish Popeta, he thought. She always cries.

The next day he could not see her by her fire. “She is not well,” his mother said. “She needs food and warm blankets. But I have none to spare.”

Too bad, Acuma thought carelessly and ran off. But every now and then he remembered her crying.

“It is the fault of my dog,” he grumbled to himself. And the more he thought about it, the less he enjoyed the games he played with his friends.

That night he could not sleep. Finally he got up and went to the small dark room behind the cave where Popeta slept.

“Here is my blanket,” he said. “Use it.”

“But it is not yours to give,” she said in surprise.

“I will lend it,” Acuma said, and he hurried back to his room. He was shivering. How cold it was! He found an old feather blanket that was so worn it could not cover him well. But if he curled up in a tight ball in the very corner of his room, the blanket kept out a little of the cold. Popeta had been right—he could not give away his blanket, since all things in the family belonged to the mother. Though he used it, the blanket was his mother’s property.

Then I must make Popeta one, he decided.

For many days his friends called him to play games, but he could not because he was hunting rabbits. He had no idea it took so many to make a blanket. He gave the meat either to his mother or to Popeta, and he sat late into the night cleaning and tanning the skins. He sighed wearily. There was so much work and no fun. At times he was tempted to quit, but remembering Popeta’s tears during that cold night kept him going.

And the few hours he slept, he was always cold. He longed for his own rabbit fur blanket again.

After he had collected enough skins, he had to make many, many arrow points—the very best he could. Then he hurried to his cousin’s village, to the Blanket Maker.

“I will give you these fine arrow points if you will make me a blanket,” he said. “But I must have it quickly. The nights get colder and snow is now on the ground.”

Soon the blanket was finished and Acuma took it to Popeta. “This is yours. It should keep you warm.”

Popeta handed him back his own. “You are kind and it is a beautiful blanket. You have brought us so much meat that I am well. My mother and father do not feel hunger either.”

“I shall see that you have meat in your pot,” Acuma said in embarrassment, then hurried to his own campfire.

That night his uncle came to him.

“When the morning sun rises, you will come with me. It is time for you to enter the kiva to learn the things that will make you a man.”

Acuma’s heart leaped With joy. “I am pleased, my uncle. But tell me, why have you chosen the time as now? For these many moons I have been ready—knowing the making of arrow points, yucca fiber, and the hunt.”

“But the one thing you did not know, my son, you have learned,” Tanolo replied. “A boy plays and gives no thought to others. A man gives up his playing when there is work to be done. Because your dog caused misery to another, you did what was your duty to do, and you did it without complaint. I have watched you and my heart is proud. You shall be known as Acuma, the one who has the heart of a man, though his body is still that of a boy.”

Illustrated by Ted Nagata