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