Dancing Gods, by Erna Fergusson, , at sacred-texts.com
The Rio Grande pueblos are the Indian villages of New Mexico from Acoma eastward to the Rio Grande and north to Taos. Zuñi and the Hopi villages are of the same type, but they are so different and so distinctive in their ceremonial life that they can best be handled separately.
The Rio Grande Pueblos are divided, linguistically, into four groups. The Keres include the people of Acoma and Laguna, in western New Mexico, and those of the Rio Grande valley: San Felipe, Santo Domingo, Santa Ana, Zia, and Cochiti. The Tewa language is spoken in the villages north of Santa Fe: Tesuque, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, San Juan, and the dying Nambe. Isleta and Taos, set so far apart, and Picuris belong to the Tanos group and speak the Tiwa tongue. Jemez speaks its own language, its only related pueblo, Pecos, having been abandoned in 1838 when the survivors moved to Jemez. Their descendants still maintain some autonomy, and certain old Pecos ceremonies are celebrated at Jemez in their honor.
In spite of differences of language, these people all show a close similarity of ceremonial form and organization,
and their dances may be considered as a group. All these pueblos are divided into clans, groups related through the mother, and intermarriage within the clan is still prohibited. When the extinction of a clan is threatened, as recently happened at Tesuque, a woman of the failing clan may be introduced from another village, so close is the association. Besides the clans there are esoteric societies, into which one is initiated and not born. These are very secret, and most Indians, in casual conversation, will deny knowledge of them. Women belong to certain of the men's societies, and there are societies exclusively for women. Such societies have their leaders, called fathers or chiefs, and they are responsible for certain ceremonies. They vary somewhat in the different pueblos, but every village seems to have its societies in charge of war, of the hunt, of curing, and of the weather. All pueblos also are divided into the Winter and the Summer People, sometimes called the Turquoise and the Squash People. These groups have general supervision of the ceremonies of their respective seasons and often each of them has a cacique.
The dance is only a part of a long ceremony, which may include visits to secret shrines in the mountains, days of secret ritual in the kivas or in the society rooms, and the public finale in the dance. Even the dance may be secret; probably the most important dances always are. In that case they are performed in bidden places or in the plaza, which is then protected from intruders by guards posted along all roads. In a few places, as at Cochiti and at Jemez, white people are permitted to witness certain dances in the kivas. Dancers usually fast for four days before the dance,
which means that they omit certain foods, such as salt or meat. During that time they remain continent and purge themselves daily; sometimes a daily emetic is used. During this time the society altar is built, costumes for the dance are made or refreshed, prayers are chanted, and prayer-plumes are made ceremonially. Prayer-plumes are small sticks, painted and decorated with feathers, often laid on with a skill which a milliner might envy.
Each pueblo has a society of fun-makers: Koshare or Kurena among the Keres, Kossa among the Tewa, Chiffonete at Taos. The Chiffonete probably come closest to being a purely fun-making group. Among the other peoples the clown societies are able to cure certain diseases; and their membership is increased by those whom they have cured, or by the initiation of anyone they catch crossing a mystic line of corn-meal drawn about their house on certain occasions. They can control waters by making floods recede or rain fall. Also they can increase fertility in man or beast or plant; and therein lies their license to joke as obscenely as they wish. Whenever they appear in a dance, these fun-makers are privileged to do or say anything, and nobody may resent it; the dancers do not even appear to see them. It is said that the jokes usually are censorious; the Koshare use their privilege to correct the foibles of their people by salutary laughter. They often do this in pantomime, bits of drama which might well be the beginnings of an indigenous theater. These formless scraps are in fact so like the earliest Greek drama as to be startling. No development along this line can be hoped for, however. The government grudgingly permits these ceremonies to continue as
they are, but Indian school training has so successfully throttled the Indian's native fertility of imagination that he will go no further. But if the heavy hand could be lifted, imagine what a gorgeous contribution he might make to drama--this Indian with his gift for the grotesque, his sly sardonic humor, and his perception of human frailty which is witty without being bitter!
The usual explanation of the Koshare is that they represent the spirit of the dead or of "the ancients"; hence their invisibility and their supernatural powers. Ordinarily their costumes consist only of a gee-string and a coat of whitewash with which faces, bodies, and hair are smeared, an effect weird and dirty in the extreme. Black-ringed eyes add to the ghostly effect, and sprays of dry corn-husks tied to the hair, and strings of rabbit-skins, typify death to the Indian. Bunches of pine on the arms mean life everlasting. The serious powers and purpose of this society never appear during a dance. Then they are fun-makers purely. Often they alter their costume to suit the pantomime or dialogue of the occasion, especially when they make fun of white people, when their costumes are a sad travesty of the American dress.
Whenever these clowns take part in a dance, it is safe to say that the ceremony is a Katchina dance, which means that the spirit they invoke is actually present. Originally, no doubt, all Katchina dances were masked, as they still are at Zuñi and in the Hopi villages, but wherever the Catholic Church has attained any power, they are performed secretly, or without masks. Even in the Rio Grande villages a quiet investigator may sometimes find the little
[paragraph continues] Katchina images, dolls made in the likeness of the masked figures. They are carved of cottonwood, painted, dressed, and feathered just as the dancers are. Often Katchinas are playthings for children, but they have a sacred significance and they are usually hidden from white people. This use of images probably facilitated the introduction of Catholic saints. In fact, one Indian was heard to refer to a certain Catholic image as "the Jesus Katchina."
Many new-comers and many insensitive people state that all Indian dances are alike; "when you have seen one, you have seen them all." This is a great protection to those who like the dances, for the mob stampedes to certain well-advertised fiestas and leaves the others to the few who appreciate the distinctions. As a matter of fact, the similarity ends with certain points of costume and of form. The usual costume consists of Hopi garments for the men: a white hand-woven kirtle embroidered in red, green, and black, a sash of the same material, either embroidered or finished with a heavy knotted fringe. A fox-skin dangles from the waist-line at the back, its full tail almost sweeping the ground. A turtle-shell rattle is tied under the left knee, a string of shells hangs over one shoulder, the moccasins are edged with skunk fur to keep away witches. If the man's hair is long, it hangs loose, having been freshly washed in amole suds and brushed in the sunshine until it shines. He wears all the family wealth of silver, turquoise, wampum, and coral around his neck. In different dances variety is introduced in head-dresses, feathers, shields, and the paint on his upper body.
The typical woman's dance costume is the squaw dress,
a black one-piece garment of hand-woven wool. It covers the right shoulder, leaves the left one bare, hangs straight to the knees, and is tied at the waist by a red squaw belt. Usually women dance barefooted in order that they may receive from the earth the spirit of fertility. Their hair, too, hangs loose and they wear jewelry. Variety comes in the use of over-garments, head-pieces, feathers.
Why certain people dance on certain occasions does not appear; the Indians simply will not tell. It seems, however, that every Indian, man or woman, owes obligation to take part in certain ceremonies each year. This is powerful enough to bring back to the pueblos many Indians who actually live away from them. The dance groups are probably based on the clan and society affiliations, and apparently a man and his wife do not dance at the same time.
The music for the dance is usually a chant, sung by the dancers or by a chorus, sometimes unaccompanied, but usually assisted by the beat of a drum or by the rubbing of notched sticks across a hollow gourd. The chant is presumably the prayer, though often those who sing it do not understand it all. Apparently the words used are archaic; sometimes the Indians say they are not words at all, merely sounds. The effect is vigorous, almost angular, unmelodious, unharmonized, but marvelously rhythmic and varied in its rhythm.
The dances described here are not all, by any means. These have been selected as most interesting or most characteristic of the people who give them. Whenever an explanation can be found, it has been given. So far, even the most painstaking and the most scientific investigators have
failed to get the hidden significance of most of the movements of a dance. In looking at any Indian dance, therefore, it is well to imitate the Indian: sit back quietly against an adobe wall, soak into your body and into your soul the stimulating warmth of the sunshine, smoke or chat, watch the viga shadows move along the walls as the hours pass, let the beat of the tombe and the dancing feet get into your blood--and feel what it is all about. This method has the enormous advantage of permitting no contradiction; every man's guess is then as good as any other man's.
January in New Mexico is usually brilliant and cold. Purple mountains stand etched in silver snow against the sky; streams are icy, but running between banks massed with red willow and white cottonwoods, which will rattle their copper leaves until spring growth pushes them off. Blue smoke rises from painted chimney-pots in the pueblos, and gaunt horses poke about hopelessly, looking for food. On all the roads, Indians wrapped in vari-colored blankets ride from pueblo to pueblo on horses, in wagons, and nowadays in cars. Farmers have no winter work, the ceremonial season is on, and they love to see each other's dances. Almost any night, chanting may be heard in the kivas, and on many days dancing may be seen in the plazas.
There are many kinds of dances, almost an endless variety, for summer dances are often given during these months for practice; but usually winter dances are for the hunt: prayers for abundant game and for successful
hunters, and apologies to the guardian spirits of the game for the necessary sacrifice.
Probably the ancient ceremonial year of the Pueblos began at the spring solstice, which they could determine in primitive ways. Nowadays the Indians recognize the white man's calendar by electing their governor just before the new year and by inaugurating him on Twelfth-night. So we begin there.
The Deer-dance at Taos
Before sun-up on January sixth I sat in Taos Pueblo, watching the village come awake. A few thin blue lines of smoke rose from the chimney-pots, but there was no other sign of life. The mountain flanks were black with pines, cottonwood and aspens along the streams were white, and Pueblo Creek was coated thinly with ice. All around Taos are cultivated fields, and the two villages, facing each other across the creek, rise in tiers to a height of four or five stories--the tallest of the famous terraced pueblos.
A few dogs appeared scratching, and then men whom I took to be the Chiffonete. In blankets and moccasins they climbed down ladders from the houses, sometimes stopping at the stream to wash, sometimes going directly to the kivas with mysterious bundles of ceremonial things under their blankets. In Taos the kiva entrances are flush with the ground, boldly announced by the tall ladder-poles. Usually one man sat near the ladder, possibly a door-keeper. A little later women began to emerge from the houses, heavy-legged in buckskin boots, with long, full skirts and shawls of soft colors or black. They carried jars, or lard-pails, to
the stream for water, they swept with bundles of grass, they carried from house to house the stiff carcasses of sheep, which would later feed the dancers.
Finally the newly elected governor stepped out on his house-top and called, urging all the dancers to go to church. Three gubernatorial calls, muezzen-like in the clear air, three peals of the mission bell, and the people began to drift toward the church. Moving softly, they made a brilliant pageant against the adobe church, with its whitewashed wall. All were wrapped in blankets, plain or striped, and falling in soft loops on the men and stiff cones on the women from their heads to their moccasined feet. The Catholic priest was not present, but his pagan congregation knelt reverently on the adobe floor and murmured responsive prayers to the Christian God before beginning their appeal to the gods of the hunt.
Chiffonete always appear for this dance, bare bodies painted in stripes, and their faces decorated evidently with much individual license in spirals, whorls, and concentric circles, also in black and white. On their heads they wear corn-husks, which make fine golden sprays above the chignon. They whoop and yell, always with the restrained musical call of the Indian; they rush up and down ladders and in and out of houses, bringing laughter wherever they go. In every house they are given presents, usually food. All day the Chiffonete run round, making "wise-cracks," shivering in the cold, and often yielding to the seductions of a shawl around the middle.
Soon after noon the dancers appear. First comes a group of men and women who perform the Corn-dance, which is
a summer dance, but always suitable, since it is a prayer for growth. They dance in two facing rows, their feet shifting lightly, their hands moving up and down, all in perfect time to the chanting of a group of blanketed men who stamp solemnly ahead of them as they move across the plaza. The women carry bunches of feathers in one hand, evergreens in the other; the men have gourd rattles with which they emphasize the steady beat of the song. The costumes are brilliant, and Indian in feeling, though they are composed mostly of the silks and silkalines, ribbons and calicoes which can be bought in the stores. They dance several times, finally finishing in front of the church.
Suddenly queer distant calls are heard, and beyond a broken adobe wall appears a long moving line of deer-antlers. At once the corn-dancers leave and the deer enter, fifty or sixty men and boys wrapped full-length in deer-hides. The heads are well preserved and the faces of the men are hardly noticeable as they move bent over sticks in their bands which make the animal's front legs. There is no color; with dun-colored bodies, horned heads, and weird cries they move like bemused creatures, coming among human beings and knowing themselves for the appointed sacrifice. Among the deer may be a few other animals; men stripped and painted black and wearing heavy buffalo heads; small boys wrapped in the skins of bobcats or coyotes; even tiny tots smothered under the feathers of a turkey. Very small boys walk hidden under the bent bodies of the men.
These costumes are probably an example of the most primitive type of mask: the use of the entire skin to transform
the man into the animal and so, somehow, to trick the game into the path of the hunter. This dance as given in Taos today is as ancient as the earliest human efforts at sympathetic magic, and it leads, as we shall see later, to more highly symbolic and artistic versions of the same thing in other pueblos.
Two women lead, dignified figures wrapped in white buckskin robes, or sometimes in white sheets, wearing the usual white boots, their hair flowing down the back and feathered atop. At the nape of the neck hangs the breast of a duck. In one hand each woman carries pine twigs, in the other a gourd. At certain points in the dance each woman moves slowly down the line of waiting men, making sharp peremptory motions with the gourd. As she does this, each man drops to his knees. Returning, she makes a reverse gesture and the men rise. This perhaps typifies the call of the universal spirit of fertility, the usual significance of a woman figure in the Indian dances. They are treated with reverence, and during this figure the nonsense and the thieving of the Chiffonete are stopped.
When the men dance, the Chiffonete bound about, making jokes and, when they can, snatching a small child out of the group and carrying him away. Most of the boys like the fun; if a very small one yells, he is dropped at once. Usually the thief is caught readily by some man from the crowd of watchers, though sometimes the race is a thrilling one before the boy is rescued and returned to the dancing group. This pantomime suggests the legend of the dance.
Long ago, according to the legend, men and animals lived together and understood each other. They spoke the
same language, and the animals knew that they must be sacrificed that their human brothers might live. This dance is an appeal to that old understanding. The Chiffonete who snatches a dancer away typifies the hunter who tries to kill the game. The man who saves him is the spirit which always protects the game. In the course of the dance a few Chiffonete get away with their captives, as a few deer must be killed in the course of the year. It is said that in hunting, the Taos Indians do not worry if they are seen by the game, for they know that if the dance has been properly performed, they will be permitted to kill what they need.
The dance is performed several times, but it is soon over and the dancers withdraw to their kiva, still making queer animal-like calls.
In the evening children dance, going in groups from house to house. Each group gives a different dance, the whole thing being a matter of practicing for later and more serious ceremonies. Indian children learn to dance in such ways, following the grown-ups in serious ceremonies and giving dances of their own before the critical but kindly eyes of the elders. The end of the evening is likely to bring an adult group which dances vigorously some such dance as the Comanche dance. Everyone loves such a night, and every house which entertains the dancers is filled with eager friends and replete with hospitality and welcome. White visitors are well received.
The Buffalo- and Deer-dance at San Felipe
The Hunting-dances in the Keres Pueblos are a step beyond the sympathetic magic of the Taos Deer-dance, and
a step closer to drama. The costumes are more symbolic, and the pantomime is more dramatic, being sometimes very close indeed to a play. The Koshare perform their customary burlesque in the intervals of the dance, and late in the day the whole troupe of dancers and fun-makers performs a pantomime of the hunt which often calls for real acting and which has a distinct dramatic form.
The play begins at dawn, when the only woman dancer goes out to lure the game into the plaza. She typifies the spirit which attracts the game, and she is attended by young men, who are the hunters. Always young and generally beautiful, this girl is chosen by the dancers, who take great pride in her grace and in her swiftness, for she must be fleet enough to give real zest to the race. In the low hills which surround the village she discovers the game; mysterious creatures whose horned heads seem to take shape from the mist as they move. The girl and the hunters chase them, a thrilling sight as lithe young bodies flash in and out among the sandy hills. Inevitably the beasts are outrun, and the girl, shaking her gourd rattle, leads them into the village, where all disappear into the ceremonial house for secret rites.
Later in the morning the whole group emerges to dance in the plaza, where small pine-trees have been planted to suggest a forest. The dancers appear four times in the morning and four times in the afternoon for the solemn ritualistic dance, which is the prayer. The chorus enters first, chanting; then the leader, wrapped in a blanket and wearing a feathered war-bonnet; then the girl; and finally
the game. The buffalo maiden dances demurely, eyes down. Her hair hangs softly down her back from under a headdress of iridescent black feathers outlined with white beads like a widow's cap, and topped with the tiny horns of a buffalo cow. Her white Hopi dress is caught at the waist with a red sash, leaving one brown shoulder bare. Her moccasins are white, edged with skunk fur, and she is loaded with jewelry. Her bands move stiffly up and down in time to the chanting, a gourd in one hand, pine in the other. Dancing, turning, softly drifting, she is a figure of beauty among the grotesques who are the game.
The buffalo are played by two men whose bodies, naked above the waist, are painted black, as are their faces under the heavy shaggy buffalo heads. They move with the lumbering pace of huge animals, carrying bow and arrows in the left hand, pine in the right. The elk follow, stately creatures with feathered head-dresses and turquoise-blue antlers above the white kirtle and sash. Deer and antelope are similarly accoutered, each wearing a head-dress made of the horns of the real animal, each moving in the measure of his kind. There is real art in the unison of effect which these dancers achieve in spite of the varying tempo of their steps. The elk are lofty, with heads held high; the deer are startled and quickly graceful; the antelope frisk so that the feather fans which make their tails bob over yellow buckskin leggins. Each dancer bends over a stick held to suggest the forelegs of the animal. In all these costumes the artist has triumphed over the realist, and the masks are primarily effective arrangements of color and design,
merely suggesting the animal by use of real antlers or horns.
Between the figures of the dance the Koshare appear, dressed as white men in long-tailed black coats, cowboy bats, O.D. shirts and trousers, whatever seems to suggest the American. They cut all manner of monkey-shines and carry on dialogue which is apparently about the game, as they point and peer in the direction from which it comes. Even during the dance they carry on their burlesque of the inept white hunter. They trip over their own guns, they frighten the game, they interfere with the Indian hunters, they make generally pestiferous nuisances of themselves and uproarious fun for the onlookers. They are unnoticed, as always, by the dancers, who continue their rhythmic advance and retreat, lured on by the spirit of the maiden, breaking away from her, and lured back again.
Finally the whole effect changes, and the ordered dignity of the dance gives way to the dramatic pantomime of a hunt. Buffalo are hunters now, the maiden disappears, and the game take refuge behind the little pine-trees which suddenly, by the magic of their acting, become a great sheltering forest. The chant throbs more wildly, the audience grows tense, and in a few confused moments the animals are killed. A deer, stalked by a hunter as he flees from tree to tree, is finally struck by an arrow from a twanging bow. Hit in mid flight, the animal leaps into the air, falls limp, and expires in the dust with a few convulsive kicks. Men then rush to him, lift his perfectly relaxed body, throw it over somebody's shoulder, and carry it off to the ceremonial chamber. Inevitably all the game yield
to the hunters, the last dancers disappear, and the audience disperses assured of successful hunting for the year.
When spring comes, the Indian farmer is as busy as the farmer everywhere. Old grass is burned off, plowing and planting must be done, and the ditches cleaned. Deep troughs have become filled with silt and overgrown with last year's weeds. Men go out to dig, leaving the pueblos in the morning, long lines of them in bright blankets, with spades over their shoulders. All day they dig, soft talk and laughter and sometimes song rising above their bobbing heads as they shovel and throw the rich brown dirt. At night they march home again with that peculiar sliding movement of the Indian, leaving clean deep ditches ready for the brown flood which will soon leave the river, make a wide circuit through the ditches, and bring life and growth to the fields.
When these things are done, the Indian farmer is not content, as the white farmer is. Nor does he sit back and fear the worst or petition Congress to do something about it. He goes quietly and assuredly to work to make things come right. Knowing that there are great hidden forces which control all life and which he can reach in ways established æons ago, he finishes his job by calling on the infinite powers to help. He prays for water, for rain to fall so the ditches may run full. He also prays for renewal of life everywhere, for many beasts, for many children. In short, he dances. Certain societies also, very secretly, conduct
proper rites to drive witches away from the pueblos and to clear them out of the ground that the good spirits may work unhampered.
Among the Pueblos a belief in witchcraft seems to be very general. Father Dumarest, reporting on Cochiti, says that among the Keres, witches are thought to be the offspring of a man conceived for evil purposes. Witch families are therefore not uncommon, and as their members are not generally known, the Pueblos are very careful to be courteous to everyone in order that they may not offend a witch and cause trouble. Not only blights on the crops, but sickness, drought, and all evils are brought by witches. The curing societies and the caciques have the power to exorcise witches and are often called upon to perform that office, especially when one seems pursued by an unaccountable evil, or when a particular person is suspected of practicing the black arts.
The Parrot-dance at Santo Domingo
One day, driving to Jemez, I picked up an Indian. I always pick up an Indian; partly, I think, in an effort to atone for the injustice my race has done to his; partly, of course, because I always profit thereby. I hear tales and songs, I get nice phrases about life and crops and weather. Sometimes I learn things of great value to me, as on this occasion.
The Indian turned out to be a friend of mine from Santo Domingo, and we talked of many things. His child, he told me, was in the government school now, and it was necessary to teach him much of Indian lore so he should not
forget all the knowledge of the ancients in learning to read and write. He also told me about the condition of the ditches, and he suggested that we, should visit Zia on the way home, blandly assuming that he would also be my guest coming home.
Finally I said: "When are they going to dance the Parrot-dance? I have not seen it for several years and I should like to see it."
"I dunno," said my friend, that deep impenetrable veil falling behind his eyes.
So I knew that it was soon and that he would not tell me when. "I often go to Santa Fe," I said, "by way of Santo Domingo. I might go some day soon and then I could come to see you. I have presents for your wife and the boy."
A long silence while we sped along through the aromatic scrub cedars. We crossed an arroyo in silence. We climbed a hill in silence. We rounded two curves and finally caught the long sweep of the view where the buttes suddenly show the rose tone through the purple.
"You maybe come Tuesday," said my friend.
So that was all of that, except that on Tuesday I drove to Santo Domingo. As I approached the pueblo, I saw Indians standing on the house-tops, so I knew a dance was going on. In the village I found all the people out in their gaudy best, men lounging against the walls or standing on the roofs, women sitting in the portales or on benches built against the walls. Children tried out dance steps here and there or hung round my car to see if I had brought candy. Not a white person was in sight. Friends greeted me, and nobody made any objection to my entering the plaza. The
[paragraph continues] March sun was hot, and from where I sat I could see how its slanting rays made the low purple hills look as though they were upholstered in plush.
In the middle of the plaza, framed by houses, kiva, and hills, was a long line of men and women, dancing. I saw the backs of the men, seventy-five of them, their bodies painted rose, a turquoise band holding sprays of evergreen to each arm, a turquoise band across the shining black back hair and ending over each ear in a trumpet-shaped flower and two black and white feathers. In the middle of each man's back was an octagonal shield, turquoise in the center, but edged with many lines of wool in various colors. Below it spread a huge eagle-tail, and above it sailed two stiff yellow feathers. In spite of the various colors of the flowers and the shields, there was a beautiful uniformity of effect. Black and white feathers fluttered above black heads; the bodies were all rosy pink; the spreading tails white and black; the moving moccasined feet rose and fell in perfect time. The dancers sang, accenting the rhythm with the stamping of their feet, the clash of goats' toes against the turtle-shell tied under the right knee, and the gourd rattle in each man's right hand. In his left hand each man carried the pine, which always typifies everlasting life.
Facing this line was a line of women, their black heads topped with puffs of eagle-down, their hair hanging long behind and given a demure touch in front by a band of white dots painted on the bang. The black squaw dress was almost bidden under a white Hopi mantle or under the brilliant silk scarfs: orange edged with purple, black and white edged with yellow, magenta with a figured edge,
rich deep blue bordering a flowered stuff. Their legs were wrapped in white buckskin, and in both hands they carried bunches of spruce, which moved up and down before them or were agitated above their heads like young trees tossing in the wind. The measure of the dance was quick, definite, often changing.
The group was directed by the war captain and three assistants, who wore fringed buckskin leggins and striped blankets--except one who had yielded to the charm of a green cardigan jacket. The leader of the dance bore the basket on which sat the parrot, that mysterious bird whose knowledge of Southern suns was to bring warmth to this country, fertility to man and beast and field. The basket was filled with seeds of all kinds. The leader wore a rare Hopi jacket with unsewn sleeves which hung loose from the shoulders and was embroidered all over in red and blue. His long, loose hair was topped with a tuft of blue-green parrot-feathers. The precious bird, carved of wood and painted all colors, was not in the least like a parrot. Its tail was a sweeping arc of all kinds of feathers, and over it arched the rainbow, which unites the sky father and the earth mother.
When the dance began, the leader stood facing west, holding the bird in the basket at the height of his eyes. A man and a woman advanced from the other end of the lines, dancing quickly, the man's left hand resting on the woman's right shoulder. They were followed by other couples, all of them making a brilliant, complicated moving picture, topped by the floating puffs of eagle-down. As each couple reached the leader, he handed the basket to
the woman, who, still followed by the man, turned and presented the bird to the north, the east, the south, and the west, thus calling on all the directions to bring increase and plenty. Then she returned it to the leader and dropped back into the moving line of women, while her partner joined the men's row, and the next couple advanced.
A striking variation in this dance was the singing of the women, a rare thing in pueblo dances. At intervals the men ceased their chant, and the women sang, their voices reedy and shrill, but sweet and true.
Koshare appeared, making nonsense all day long. One drew a fat squaw out of heir portal and led her about affectionately while his stream of conversation kept the audience roaring. One had great fun at the expense of the white visitor. He moved the ladder which was my only connection with the earth and left me sitting on a roof while he cracked jokes that it was probably my great protection not to understand. Later, after he had gone away and forgotten it, other Indians came quietly and lifted my ladder back into position.
At sunset the dance ended. All the dancers marched away from the plaza and entered a ceremonial house. Then the leader, standing on a ladder, threw the seeds from the basket and there was a general scramble for them. Each year the seeds from the parrot's basket are planted reverently in the fields, where they will surely bring fruitfulness to all.
The Turtle- or Evergreen-dance at Isleta
In Isleta, just before cleaning the ditches, a day is appointed and they dance. One old man said: "Turtle-dance.
[paragraph continues] You know, turtle comes with water." Perfectly clear. If you want water, you bring on the turtle. Another informant, however, called it the Evergreen-dance and said that it was the last of the winter series.
A sunny day. The roadway into the plaza is blocked with a wagon bearing a wabbly sign: "No admission to cars." So has the old spirit of hospitality yielded to modern ways and the need of protection against intrusion. The plaza is a riot of color: men in bright red blankets, women in gaudy Czecho-Slovakian shawls, children in every sort of gay apparel. Against the whitened walls they move and lean and a few decorate the house-tops with brilliant splotches of color. The dancers, all men, appear several times in the morning.
This dance is important and has been preceded by days of secret rite in the ceremonial house. Two days before, the dancers, mostly young men, have gone to the mountains for Douglas fir boughs. They leave the pueblo about ten o'clock at night, walk fifteen or twenty miles, chop all the next morning, and walk back again. They do not enter the pueblo at night, but camp near it and come in at dawn. Dancing begins about ten in the morning, and the group may contain as many as forty men and boys, nicely graded as to height, the tallest in the center. They are attended by the war captain and his assistants, oldish men wrapped in blankets, with fir wreaths on their heads.
The dancers emerge from the ceremonial house on the south side of the plaza and walk quickly to the east, where they stand in a long line, shifting a little to get spaced. Then the leader begins the chant, shaking his gourd rattle
and swaying into the measure of the dance. As wind runs along a wheat-field, so the movement takes the row of dancers until all are moving in unison, down to the tiniest boy on the end. The costumes are the usual Hopi kirtle and sash, but every dancer wears a graceful swishing skirt of fir, a wreath of fir around his neck, and sprays of it tied to his arms. They wear dark moccasins, and under each knee is tied a turtle-shell or sleigh-bells. The dancing is simple, the left foot not leaving the ground at all, the right moving vigorously and in changing rhythm. Occasionally the whole line faces right or left, showing, as they turn, the headdress. This is a small tablita, cut from wood and covered with red wool, studded with beads and coins and even tiny mirrors. Stiff eagle-quills stand horizontally to the left, fluffy eagle-plumes to the right. Some men have yellow feathers also, a few peacock tail-feathers. Altogether the head-dresses are brilliant above the copper-brown bodies, the dull-green skirts, and brown legs and feet.
Around them prank the Koshare, dressed as young Mexican blades were a couple of generations ago, in tight-fitting buckskin trousers, short fringed leather jackets. They wear high boot moccasins, and their heads are lost in badly shaped masks of white, with silly features painted on them. They are sometimes funny, sometimes not, as is the way with Koshare. On one occasion they were funny when they took off a church service. One of them stood solemnly intoning from a mail-order-house catalogue, held upside down, while the others knelt in the dust before him. Then he closed the book and began to thunder in wrath, waving his arms and vociferating in tones that any European audience
would have recognized as American. The angrier he got, the more sleepy grew his audience, until they finally fell over, overcome with sleep. As a take-off on a church, it was almost too good for the taste of many whites in the audience. In contrast to this ironic skit, the Koshare were gentle and nice when they brought a group of children out to play with them. Gently they directed them in a dance, very tenderly one man led about a tiny girl of not more than three or four, who appreciated the fun and faithfully did whatever they told her. The grotesque masks frightened her not at all, and she had a fine time.
The dance ended at sunset, when the dancers filed in front of the ceremonial house, passing the war captain in a serpentining march and finally standing quietly while he chanted a long prayer. Then, followed reverently by many people, they went to another house. In this way each group visited four houses, finally disappearing into their own ceremonial lodge.
This dance is repeated two days later with more horseplay. Early in the afternoon the Koshare enter the plaza one by one, each swinging a dead rabbit in his hand. Women, somehow moved, dash out after that rabbit, and the game is on, the Koshare dodging, swinging his rabbit like a flail, threatening the women with his yucca whip, both running and playing for time and position and followed by delighted cries from the crowd. Eventually the woman always gets the rabbit. Another game has to do with children. In this the Koshare comes in with a ball of fluff which turns out to be a live rabbit, a trembling, frightened
little thing. Boys and girls swarm around and are marshaled by other Koshare into two eagerly expectant rows. Then the rabbit is placed on the ground, where it cowers, frozen with fright until it is goaded into frenzied efforts to escape. A few futile efforts and it is caught by the yelling children.
After this, and all appearances of the Koshare, they utter a short prayer which is an apology to God for whatever offense they may have given Him, or anyone.
The Eagle-dance at Tesuque
Tesuque is a small pueblo in Tesuque Valley, only nine miles from Santa Fe. The name is interpreted as "Creek with Water in It" or "Place of the Red Willows." Both names suit, for there is often water in the creek, which is dry frequently enough to make water worthy of note; and there are red willows. Along the creek and the ditches, there are also wild plums, whose fluffy white blankets of bloom go off in the spring to make way for golden masses of wild yellow roses.
Often when these fragrant Persian roses are in bloom, the Indians dance the Eagle-dance, which may be done at any time. The plaza is dusty and dry and nothing grows there; one merely sees the tops of orchard trees beyond the church, where cedar posts make silvery fences. The little church has been altered a good deal through the years, but it is still quaint enough to show that it dates from Spanish days. In front of it looms a hideous water-tower which proves that Uncle Sam has been there. Otherwise the two-story terraces, the ladders and chimney-pots might
have been made before any white man ever saw the little valley.
The Eagle-dance, I was told, is part of a healing ceremony which will heal any disease. This is because "eagles are always strong, so they can cure anything."
The ceremony begins with the four-day fast, and on the third night the sick are treated in the ceremonial chamber, where an altar has been erected. In some pueblos the Eagle-dance used to be performed by boys, but as boys will no longer do all that is required, older men do it now. The dance on the fourth day is open to visitors. Though danced by only two men, it is one of the most effective of all pueblo dances, and one which white dancers always wish to learn. After a few lessons they readily understand why the dancers must be treated with medicine water for strength before they can do it. It requires unusual skill and an amazing control of leg muscles in its stooping, swooping, varied movements.
The two dancers are accompanied by chanters and drummers, blanketed and sometimes with the added flourish of a feathered war-bonnet. The dancers, slim young men as a rule, wear caps of raw cotton running out into a long, yellow beak over the nose. Their faces are painted yellow, with a red daub under each eye. The upper body is bare and the kirtle is a buckskin. All the body, legs, and arms are painted yellow and feathered with eagle-down stuck on here and there. The striking feature of the costume is the wings. Each arm is feathered from shoulder to fingers with the real quills of the eagle's wing. As the man dances, he moves his body from side to side, swooping, crouching,
making sweeping gestures with his wings, which sometimes almost touch the ground, at others make large arcs in the air. First the two men dance facing, their knees bent, their arms extended. Then they stand side by side, rising and falling on their toes as the eagle rides the air; finally they circle round each other, hopping, swooping, performing maneuvers of the greatest intricacy with quick steps and inconceivable grace. The dance is highly conventionalized and at the same time very realistic.
At the spring equinox the winter people turn over the conduct of ceremonial affairs to the Summer People. The time is announced by the cacique, who determines the date variously in different pueblos. At Cochiti he goes to an appointed place in the mountains, where he plants sticks at marked spots, a forked and a straight one. Keeping his mind and heart free from all mundane thoughts, he waits there, for days if necessary, praying incessantly. In time the shadow of the: straight stick will fall exactly in the crotch of the other. Then he knows that the sun has come to the point, and he returns to the village. The equinox is thus established and the Summer People take charge. If there are two caciques, the winter man then yields to the summer incumbent. From that time on, all the dances are for growth and fructification, and especially for rainfall.
Many ceremonies precede the Corn- or Tablita-dance and are related to it. At San Juan they make balls of buckskin, filled with seeds, and play long games of hockey across
the fields until the bags burst, scattering their precious life-giving seeds abroad. At Jemez they hold races on the banks of the streams, kicking a clay ball or a stick along as the rushing water, when it comes, will roll up the clay. In that pueblo the side which wins the race is put in charge of the summer dances.
The outstanding summer dance is known as the Corn-dance, which the Indians say is a misnomer, or the Tablita-dance. "Tablita" is a Spanish word meaning "little board" and referring to the head-dresses of the women. It is, however, a prayer for growth and fructifying rain. It is given anywhere and at any time. All the Rio Grande Pueblos dance on the day of the saint for whom the Spaniards named their village, and usually this dance is given then. These performances vary from small badly dressed dance groups of eight or ten in such a pitiful pueblo as Sandia, which has less than a hundred people, to the magnificent spectacle at Santo Domingo on August fourth, when there are often as many as two hundred dancers, perfectly costumed and trained like an operatic chorus.
This dance is also given in the fall, when the harvest is brought in, especially if the saint's day comes then, as it does at Jemez, which celebrates in honor of San Diego on November twelfth.
The Corn-dance at Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo Indians are considered, by missionaries and the Indian Service, as very conservative and intractable. Nevertheless they make, annually, a gracious gesture toward the prejudices of their white masters. On August
fourth, the day of Saint Dominic, they go early to mass in the Catholic mission, and all who have contracted matrimony during the past year are married by the rites of Mother Church. Sometimes bride and groom arrive proudly carrying the baby smothered under coarse lace and pink ribbons. The marrying couples stand together in a group while the priest pronounces them man and wife, and then they and the whole village kneel reverently for the Christian sacrament. Then the bell rings, muskets are fired, men pick up the image of the saint, and in solemn procession headed by the priest, they go out into the sunlight, leaving only the twinkling candles in the darkened adobe church. Slowly they make the tour of the village, all the people following, and finally they bring up beside the kiva, where a shrine has been erected to receive Santo Domingo. Built of leafy boughs, lined with fine cloths and skins, and lighted with candles, it is a fitting shrine for any Catholic saint. Indians in their best white shirts, bright headbands, and moccasins guard him all day with long muskets between their knees, and many visitors kneel reverently before him and drop coins into his box. And there, in the sunny plaza and in the venerable presence of the saint, the ancient Keres-dance is performed.
There is not the remotest connection between the mass for the saint and the ancient ceremony. They sit side by side; that is all; they do not touch.
Later in the day, Koshare come boiling out of the kiva, their black and white bodies, their whitened faces, their dry corn-husks, and their rabbit-skins all reminding that they are the spirits of the dead. They first present a
pantomime, easy to read if one has the key. It is a rehearsal of history: the going-out and the return of runners bringing news of the coming of the traditional enemies, Navajos, Comanches, or Apaches; for the Pueblo people always had to protect their crops after raising them. The runners cause great excitement among the group, who gesticulate wildly, yell and whoop, run round the pueblo establishing lines of protection on all sides, and finally summon the dancers whose duty is to call on the gods for help in bringing the crop to maturity and in protecting it. All day the Koshare perform many and interesting bits of burlesque, filling in the intervals of the dance and even crossing the lines of solemn dancers. One of their duties is valeting the performers, tying a loosened sash or rattle, picking up a dropped article. Through it all, the dancers very punctiliously pretend not to see them.
The arrival of the first dance group is heralded by the beat of tomtoms and the chanting of the chorus which enters first. Often fifty or sixty men chant, marking time with their bands and feet, and intoning, hour after hour, the deep, rich call for clouds and rain.
As the chant begins, the dancers appear from inside the kiva, making a brilliantly effective entrance as they stream down the wide adobe steps in two long lines of men and women; shells rattling, bells sounding, and all the sun colors streaming from the leader's pole and flashing in the costumes. Casually they form in two lines, men and women facing, and shift for space and position. At the right point in the chant the leader, in the center of the men's line, begins to lift his feet in the stamp of the dance.
[paragraph continues] Men on each side of him follow until the movement runs the length of the line and all are dancing. All the time the pole, topped with feathers of sun-yellow, dips and sways above the dancers, the emblem of the sun's fertility tempting the rain to fall.
The men, in white kirtles, wear eagle-feathers in their hair, big shells at their throats above strings of beads, turtle rattles under their knees, spruce tied above their elbows. They dance with a quick insistent step, lifting their feet high and bringing them down hard to call the sleeping powers awake. The women, demure, with soft brown shoulders above black dresses, move among them, their bare feet shuffling in the dust, close to earth that they, and all life, may gain from it the principle of fertility. They carry pine in their hands, which move up and down in time to the chant, and on their heads are the tablitas; thin board plaques, painted turquoise-blue, the sky color, and cut at the top into shapes of mesa and cloud. Clouds are typified also in little wisps of eagle-down on the tablitas and in their hair.
There are two groups of dancers, one from each kiva, who dance alternately all day until sunset. Movements of the dance are simple at first sight, but they are almost impossible to follow because of the many unannounced changes of rhythm. In form it falls into two figures: first men and women dance facing, with occasional turnings of the whole group; then they form in couples, each man prancing ahead, his head high, his feet spurning the ground, and the women following, eyes downcast, movement slow and gentle.
Witter Bynner describes it:
Before a saint in a Christian dress
I saw them dance their holiness,
I saw them reminding him all day long
That death is weak and life is strong
And urging the fertile field to yield
Seed from the loin and seed from the field.
The Rainbow-dance at Santa Clara
One of those thunderous, threatening summer afternoons in the Santa Clara valley. Huge cumulus clouds sitting still in the sky, and a few dark streaks where rain is falling in the mountains. Santa Clara Pueblo hot and dusty, with heavy black shade under its few cottonwoods. The people listlessly gather to see the dance: women dragging chairs to sit on and carrying babies bobbing in blankets on their backs; small boys rubbing bare toes through deep sand; and a scattering of white people dressed in their idea of real Western garb.
Presently the tombe's sound, and a chorus of five or six men appear, pounding along to the beat of their drumming and chanting. Then the dancers, three men and three women. The men's bare bodies are painted black, with white across the shoulders, and their faces all colors. Their hair hangs long and shining, with a fan of eagle-feathers at the nape of the neck; they wear hanks of red and green yarn around their waists and under their knees; and they carry willow wands, arched over their heads like the rainbow, painted in many colors, and feathered at intervals.
[paragraph continues] The women carry bunches of spruce instead of rainbows and they wear in the middle of the back a plaque of many colors, surrounded with eagle-feathers. Each one has a large red spot on each cheek.
The step is not unusual, but the management of the rainbows is. Moving in the ordinary quadrille-like figures, the men, stamping in accurate time, make a jumping-rope of the willow rainbow, flying through its inverted arc like a bird, lighting gently, never missing a step, and raising the arch again above their heads.
Once as I watched this dance, the clouds suddenly drew together, heavy thunder rumbled, and big drops fell. I spoke to an Indian standing near me.
"What a shame that it should rain and spoil the costumes!"
"But no," said he, "this is a Rainbow-dance, and we cannot have a rainbow without rain first."
Quite right he was too, for the shower was brief, just enough to kick up the plaza dust in little puffs and then lay it gently. The dancers kept right on, never missing a beat, and before they ended, the rainbow stood perfectly clear above the Sangre de Cristo range.
The Pecos Bull at Jemez
Jemez Pueblo on an August afternoon; hot sun and cool breeze. Dark shadows creep along the houses, gradually encroaching on the plaza as the shimmering rays of the setting sun make a golden cloud of dust particles in the air. The little river, clear and cold, rushes between banks heavy with willow bushes, and all the air is sweet
with blossoming clematis running riotously along the fences. Vineyards and cornfields are lush green. All is set, incongruously, against sculptured buttes of red and saffron stripes, with castellated white towers outlined on the blue sky.
As the afternoon wears on, women take fragrant bread out of the ovens and sweep in front of their houses with twig besoms or turkey-wings. Children scamper and play, an albino among them. Men move about, in and out of houses and kivas. The real business of the day is in the kivas, where secret rites have been going on for days, this being the fourth.
The feast of Porcingula is celebrated at Jemez on August second in honor of the Pecos people who came to Jemez when they abandoned their own village of Pecos in 1838. The patron saint of the old Pecos mission was Santa Maria de los Angeles, whose original shrine was at Portiuncula, near Assisi in Italy, where Saint Francis once had a vision of the Holy Mary surrounded by angels. In time she came to be known as Porcingula, a name which is sometimes given to women in Jemez, especially to those of Pecos descent.
Great excitement prevails when the call comes: "The bull is out, the bull is out"; and everybody runs to the middle plaza, where the fun is. The bull is covered with flapping black cotton cloth, painted with white rings. The head, long, hanging, and not very realistic, is made of sheepskin and given expression by a pendent red tongue. Underneath is a man in ordinary dance costume. As he prances, the bull, made of ribs of willow, careens precariously
from front to back, his sides loosely flapping, his tongue wagging. Men and boys, all of the Pecos Eagle Watchers Society, follow, yelling and jumping, poking the bull with sticks to mimic bullfighters, putting on an endless store of monkey and clown tricks; some really funny, some as pathetically inadequate as most boys' horse-play. All are dressed as white men with long-tailed coats, stiff hats, faces and hands painted white, and often finished with mustache or beard. Occasionally the fun ends in a sprawl of boys in the dust; occasionally it quiets while the bull goes into a house and receives presents of bread or other food, which the boys carry into the house of Porcingula..
Finally six stately priests come out of the kiva, chant a short verse, move slowly the length of the middle plaza, round to the north and back again, chanting at intervals. They are followed by the war captain. All wear white cotton shirts and trousers, with red headband and sash and moccasins, and they form a beautiful frieze as they move against the sunset glow on adobe walls. As they go, the war captain calls the dancers to the kiva, his musical voice mingling with the low chanting of the moving six.
When this solemn interlude is ended, the bull and his tormentors continue their ragging until finally the bull is lassoed and dragged into his house. If the boys still have nonsense in them, they may continue until dark, burlesquing whites in dancing modern dances or singing modern songs. That the white man commands no particular respect grows clearer and clearer. In time the boys subside and the noises of the pueblo run down into quiet, broken only by the hidden beat of tomtoms where the
dancers practice, the distant running of the stream, the sounds of animals stirring in the night.
In the morning the bull may appear again, though sometimes he does not emerge until afternoon. When he comes, his attendants come with him and there is more horse-play. Finally the bull is tied to a ladder near the house of Porcingula, and a table is set with food which women bring: women with their gayest silk handkerchiefs hanging down their backs over the black squaw dresses, their hair shining, their legs wrapped hugely in buckskin, and bearing their offerings in bowls or baskets balanced on their heads. Some offer food to the bull, who rests quietly; some touch him with sacred meal. When the feast is ready, the bull-baiters sit and eat, indulging in much profanity, unfortunately a good deal of it in English, as this is also a burlesque of the doings of the whites. The bull may make his presence known by upsetting the table and spilling the food.
Meanwhile preparations for the dance have been going on. Here, as in all the pueblos, the priest sings mass in honor of the patron saint, whose image he afterwards accompanies to the shrine in the plaza. This image is the very one which was brought from Pecos in 1838 and which stands now, equally honored with San Diego, the Jemez patron, in the Jemez church. After the saint is placed, the priest disappears, for he follows the Catholic tradition of being unaware of whatever heathen rites may follow. The rest of the people retire to eat and to await the dancers, who may appear at any time from one to three o'clock. When they do come, they emerge in alternate groups from the Turquoise and Squash kivas, the Turquoise People with
their bodies painted a dull powder-blue, the Squash People saffron-yellow. The dance is the same Tablita- or Corn-dance which is given in all the pueblos and which has been described.
The only notable difference is that at Jemez the pole is not carried. It has been suggested that this may be because the dance honors an extinct and not a living people; therefore they do not carry the pole, emblem of life, which lifts its yellow eagle-feather tip to the sun in supplication for increasing life for the tribe. There may even be an ironical note in the whole performance, which does honor to a dying people, certainly, but which seems to contain a note of condescension on the part of a people who have survived and who do increase.