The Santo Domingo (Kewa) Tribe

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Mission church at Santo Domingo Pueblo, c. 1940


The Santo Domingo (Kewa) Pueblo is located on the east bank of the Rio Grande, 25 miles southwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Kewa people, and other Southwest Pueblo peoples, are descendants of an over two-thousand-year tradition of turquoise and shell jewelry making. Turquoise has long been a cherished material for these Southwest Native Americans. The Cerrillos turquoise mine in New Mexico, located just 30 miles north of the Santo Domingo Pueblo, supplied much of the turquoise for these Pueblo peoples in the pre-Spanish era. While turquoise was a nearby resource, the shells in their traditional jewelry came from farther away, by trading with the Hohokam peoples on the Gila River who gathered shells from the Gulf of California or made expeditions to the Pacific Ocean for certain shells, like abalone. Since the time of these ancient trade routes, the Pueblo peoples have utilized shell as a base for setting turquoise and mosaic designs. The Kewa/Santo Domingo people in particular have most consistently created shell and turquoise jewelry in the style of their ancestors. 

The Kewa/Santo Domingo people have always been creators and traders of jewelry. Even their people's creation story coincides with the origin of their jewelry making. According to this story, long ago three groups of people came to be in a place called Shipap, north of the current Santo Domingo home. The three groups eventually decided to go separate ways, but they decided to help each other out by each group providing a particular labor. The Kewa people had the responsibility to supply everyone with beads, earrings, and other forms of jewelry. Thus, jewelry has always been a part of the Kewa way.

After the Kewa resisted the Spanish colonization for several years, the first mission church was established at the pueblo by the late 16th century. The pueblo was named Santo Domingo by Portuguese colonist, Gaspara Castaño de Sosa in 1591. Today, the people of Santo Domingo celebrate a Green Corn Dance every year on the feast day of St. Dominic, the patron saint of the Santo Domingo pueblo. On August 4, the people dress in ceremonial attire to chant, drum, and dance the colorful Green Corn Dance in front of the old adobe pueblo. It is known as one of the largest Native dance ceremonies held annually in the Southwest. 

Santo Domingo continues to be an emergence place for beautiful artistry, pottery, and jewelry. In addition to the traditional mosaic inlay designs on shell, Kewa/Santo Domingo artists are well known for their hand rolled heishi beads. "Heishi" comes from the Kewa word meaning "shell." Some of the finest turquoise and shell necklaces are made by Santo Domingo artists. These heishi necklaces involve cutting stones or shells into square tabs, drilling holes (with a cactus spear in traditional times, but later a pump drill), stringing them on cotton or fiber strings, and rolling the squares against a rough surface (today, a grinding wheel) until they slowly become round beads. In more recent years, tufa casting silver has also been utilized by several accomplished Santo Domingo artists. Although it is a small tribe, the amazing amount of talent in this one group of people has ensured that the historic jewelry and art of the Santo Domingo pueblo will continue to have a vibrant future.

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1 comment

  • Carolyn Baczenski June 20, 2023 at 3:25 pm

    Wow!!! What natural beauty.. all three but the third, what a necklace to enhance any day!!! It just feels like all of earth’s beauty displayed for your eyes to behold.

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