This morning I went up to the village plaza in Abiquiu to watch the dancers parade around the church with their saint who is also honored at this village festival held every year at the end of November.
This is one of the two Native American festivals that is honored each year by the genizaros who are mixed Spanish and American Indian people who embrace and practice the Catholicism that was once forced upon them.
This eclectic community is made up of descendants of Native American slaves. Those captured in warfare were brought here, converted to Catholicism, taught Spanish and held in servitude by New Mexican families. The young women and female children endured the usual atrocities perpetuated on captive females including rape at the hands of their captors. Some New Mexican male genizaros gained their freedom by serving as soldiers to defend frontier villages like Abiquiu from Indian raids. By the late 1700s, genizaros comprised one-third of the population of New Mexico. Ultimately these non – tribal peoples were assimilated into New Mexican culture.
The dances are beautiful to witness with the smallest female children dressed in predominantly white regalia some wearing a rainbow of ribbons, the young girls were dressed in red and white and had red circles of war paint inscribed on their cheeks, some of the older women also wore red, many carried turkey or eagle feathers in their hands. Most wore face paint.
As the church bells rang out signaling the end of mass the dancers emerged to the sound of the drums as they circled the church and danced in the plaza. A single gunshot rang out repeatedly throughout the ceremony. Dexter, pictured above in full regalia, led the dancing along with Maurice who footwork defies description. I think of Maurice as a bird who flies through the air only touching the ground momentarily with moccasined feet. Drumming, a repetitive refrain that can produce a light trance in those that are sensitive to the vibrations, the shaking of seeded gourd rattles and ankle bells were followed by what sounded like war cries that split the air.
This celebration has a very dark side to it and yet the participants were joyous, and it is clear that everyone had fun. Pictures are taken by everyone. A potluck lunch followed.
The wind was so intense that I decided to go home to get out of the cold feeling satisfied because I had witnessed the heart of this festival which honors Indigenous peoples as slaves who endured unspeakable treatment at the hands of their captors.
May the genizaros live on!
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Northern New Mexico.
6 thoughts on “The Feast of Santo Tomas by Sara Wright”
Thank you so much for your beautiful witness!
I used to go to pow-wows here in Sourthern California and watch the dancing. Thank you for explaining the history of the tribal people. I think it’s a shame they remain in the Christian church and even paraded around the church in Abiquiu.
Oh, I couldn’t agree more Barbara. It is really scary to me that these peoples of mixed descent practice a religion that forced them into servitude in the first place. The women have no power in this village – the priest runs the show. No one seems to get it that these people are perpetuating the abuse… interestingly and not surprising is that the village seems stuck in a perpetual “identity” crisis.
This village stands in stark contrast to the surrounding pueblos – all of which are self governing and practice the dances of their ancestors in a very organized way. These folks have maintained their ancestral identity which includes women having power in the community.
I had a friend who was devoted to a Protestant American Indian Church that met in Garden Grove, CA. I attended with her a couple of times. It was run by a chief, at least he said he was a chief. Women had zero power or participation in the Sunday services. One time he had a buffalo skull on the altar. I asked him if I could touch it. He said no. His tone spoke clearly: if a woman touched that skull, whatever power it had would be contaminated. I left and never went back. As you say, the members of his congregation were perpetuating the abuse of the church against the Native people and especially against the women.
Here’s a book I edited, The Giggling Boy https://www.amazon.com/Giggling-Boy-Ra-Lynn-LoneWalker-ebook/dp/B011HIMQIC/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=The+giggling+boy&qid=1575472539&s=books&sr=1-2
It’s about how children were stolen from their homes and turned into slaves in the so-called Christian schools. The story will break your heart.
Thank you so much Barbara – The ending to that piece I wrote – “long live the genizaros” – was meant as tongue in cheek –
This fake Indian thing is equally scary and it’s everywhere. You were smart and didn’t buy into it – but so many just don’t get it.
Oh my god Barbara, I am not sure I could stand to read this ebook but will try…
Fascinating post! I do notice in myself that it is easier to evaluate an outgroup, a different identity group, from the outside, and critique how empowering or liberated I think it is– easier than examining and challenging the need for more liberation in my own various ingroups. I suppose that’s human nature. It’s fascinating and inspiring to me how people who are oppressed by another group can nonetheless find and choose liberation. I see this most clearly in the African American churches and church leaders I know. People claim these stories and traditions and make them their own. They find the strands of liberation in them and claim them, own them, and personalize them. The Jesus movement was a liberationist movement, as was the foundational mythology of Judaism and its prophetic tradition. So we have Harriet Tubman nicknamed “Moses,” etc. I very much appreciated the book project FAR did on “Women, Religion, Revolution,” with women from different religious traditions who found ways to make their traditions liberating and empowering, despite the presence of the poison of Patriarchy that does taint and disease all of our cultures – religions, art, science, the academy, etc. It helps remind me that we are all on our own journeys, and we can all learn from each other. I hope these folks dancing can continue on their journey of liberation and find ever more freedom and empowerment, however they choose to find it.
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