Matachines is one of the more colorful ethnic dances of Northern
New Mexico, and it is one of the least understood.
it is performed around Christmas time at Indian Pueblos, but its
origin is quite old and comes to the region via Spain.
at Taos Pueblo it will be performed on Christmas Day (Dec. 25),
starting around mid-day. It is not often done here, appearing every
few years or so in place of the tribe's traditional Deer Dance.
will also be performed at Picuris Pueblo in southern Taos County
at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve and at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Christmas Day.
to Taos Pueblo for the annual bonfires and Procession of the Virgin
on Christmas Eve will likely get their first glimpse of the dancers,
adorned in tall mitre-like beribboned headdresses, vests, cowboy
boots and holding palmas and rattles.
will follow the canopied statue in procession through the village
plaza shortly after dusk, accompanied by loud rifle shots and the
singing of hymns and prayers. In among them will be a little girl
dressed in white. She is known as La Malinche.
Taos Pueblo Gov. Ruben Romero is in charge of organizing this year's
performance. He will be conducting practice starting early this
week and making sure each participant knows their part.
last time Matachines was performed in Taos was about five years
ago; Picuris does it just about every year.
Matachines, just as it does for the Deer Dance, is chosen by the
tribal council, which decided it a recent meeting after recognizing
that it hadn't been done in quite a while, Romero said. "The
elders took part in it and really enjoyed doing it," he said
of past performances.
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.
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.
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.
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.
because this dance comes to us now as a blend of two seemingly opposing
traditions, it remains one of those Southwestern anomalies that
scholars continue to puzzle over.
said when he was very young he remembers how men from the Pueblo
would sometimes borrow vests and other non-Indian accoutrement from
Hispanic friends in town.
of course, they purchase their own," he said, which can be
rather expensive, especially now when the economy is so bad. "It's
pretty hard on some of the people," he acknowledged, "even
for the tribe. But, every year, they put money aside. They made
a budget to cover some of the expense just in case this kind of
dance does come up during Christmas."
the version of the dance he teaches, Romero said there are 12 main
dancers, one of each of the apostles, six chosen from the north
side of the village and six from the south.
there is the "Malonca (Monarca), which represents Joseph and
the little girl (Malinche) represents Saint Mary."
to a description at www.newmexico.org, the main characters are "El
Monarca, the monarch (representative of 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."
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 versus evil, with good prevailing. Montezuma and la Malinche
represent good, and the bull represents mischief. Hernán
Cortés, represents Satan or evil."
him, Pueblo elder Bobby Lujan was in charge of training each new
group of dancers, Romero said. "From him I learned the sequences
and patterns for how the dance is done. That's what i still carry
musicians typically are Hispanic men hired from town. Two of the
most memorable for older Pueblo residents were Adolfo Frésquez
and Tranquilino Lucero, who at one time even recorded their Matachines
songs during the 1950s or '60s in association with music archivist
House Records of Arroyo Seco is preparing to release a CD of the
album, which before was only available in a rarely found audio cassette,
according to Tony Isaacs of Indian House. Watch for it soon in area
year's fiddle and guitar will be played by Fred Cárdenas
and Sam Lucero, whose father also used to play it.
dress warm and prepare yourself to see something uniquely Southwestern.
and recording restrictions
Matachines is not considered part of the Taos and Picuris Native
religion, both communities consider it important to tribal culture
and should be afforded equal respect.
Taos Pueblo, all photography and recording of any kind will not
be allowed at the Christmas Eve Procession and during the dances
on Christmas Day, according to the tribal tourism office.
the photographs accompanying this story were taken at Taos during
a time when restrictions were not in place, they are this year and
will be strictly enforced, so, please leave your camera, cell phone
and any other recording devices at home.
tribal officials also want visitors to know they will be opening
a third parking area to accommodate vehicles in order to discourage
them from parking along the highway. There is no charge for parking.
Picuris, tribal officials say there will be no photo restrictions
and that visitors are welcome.
is free for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day ceremonies at both Pueblos.
more information, call the Taos Pueblo Tourism Office at (575) 758-1028
or visit www.taospueblo.com.