Kiva’s Ghost

Kivas, of course, were present in almost every Pueblo, and central to so many different aspects of life. They came in all sizes, but they all shared some basic features; they had reasonably tall walls, they were often built into the ground, and, most importantly, they were covered. They typically had ladders into them.

Imagine, then, the anticipation that one must have felt waiting for an elder to come down the ladder. The ladder would stand empty, patiently waiting. At first, the slightest tremble might be seen, and then a foot, and then two, and then the elder himself. And sometimes, in just the right lighting and circumstances, one might feel, even today, the presence of the elder there upon the ladder. Echoing throughout time, the rituals and ceremonies continue.

This particular ladder, and “ghost”, is in a reconstructed kiva at Pecos National Historic Park in New Mexico. Since kivas are dark, a very long exposure was used late in the afternoon; this brought out the deep, rich tones. During the exposure, a man began his ascent on the ladder; by happenstance he had white hair and a white shirt. In the final photo, his ghostly presence serves as a further reminder that the elders are still here among us. And the kivas are far from empty.

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