December 24, 2010

Matachines dance at northern Pueblos

Matachines DanceThe Matachines dance (Spanish matachin, or religious dancer) is found in northern Mexico especially in the La Laguna Region (Coahuila and Durango), Sinaloa and Chihuahua. It is also very popular in Northern New Mexico and along the Rio Grande River. People who join the Matachines do it for a religious purpose, since the dance is intended to venerate either Mother Mary, a saint, Christ, or God the Holy Trinity.

Dressed in fantastic Indian costumes, the chief characters are El Monarca, the monarch (Montezuma); the captains (Montezuma's main generals); La Malinche, or Malintzin, the Indian mistress of Hernán Cortés; El Toro, the bull, the malevolent comic man of the play is dressed in buffalo skins with buffalo horns on his head. Characters also include Abuelo, the grandfather, and Abuela, the grandmother. The Matachines dance portrays the desertion of his people by Montezuma, Malinche luring him back with her wiles and smiles, the final reunion of king and people and the killing of El Toro, who is supposed to have made all the mischief. The most basic symbol of the dance is good vs. evil, with good prevailing. Montezuma and la Malinche represent good, and the bull represents mischief. Hernan Cortes, represents Satan or evil.

The costumes, rattles, and the arch and bow are all blessed by a priest, and as he blesses the equipment of that group, it signifies that the priest has agreed to adopt the specific dancing group for that specific church.
Los Matachines:  A blend of cultures, a colorful dance into the past at Taos Pueblo

By Rick RomancitoOne of the more curious aspects of this dance to the uninformed observer is the fact that although this dance is Hispanic in origin, it is performed by Native people, along with a few Hispanic participants. The distinctive fiddle and guitar music is obviously non-Native and the regalia is certainly not that of ancient Pueblo Indian tradition.

According to historians, the dance evolved over hundreds of years, starting with the Moors and borrowed by Spanish colonists who brought it with them to the New World. By the time the dance made its way into New Mexico, it is thought that Spanish priests used it to help convert Native people to Christianity by illustrating spiritual ideals through its essential morality play.

Over time, like many things here, an assimilation took place, blending elements from both cultures that resulted in the performance taking on a life of its own.

While many Pueblo Indians here follow the Catholic religion, they also maintain extreme loyalty to their ancient Native religion, evidence that the initial motive behind the dance was not entirely successful
Comment:  For more on Pueblo Christmas celebrations, see Three Kings Day at Pojoaque and Pueblo Christmas Dances.

Below:  "Ruben Romero leads dancers through the alleys of Taos Pueblo's north-side homes." (Rick Romancito)

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