The American Stew

Reply Mon 27 Jan, 2003 09:45 am
America has been called a melting pot, but it is less fondu than it is a stew. We are made up of a wide variety of communities, each retaining some of the values, traditions and folkways of their ancient past. This thread is intended to be a place where those communities are described and celebrated.

Though these communities are unique, they all have one thing in common -- they are American to the core. American patriotism in these communities isn't a dirty-word. Immigrants fleeing oppression and drawn by opportunity to pursue their own interests are often found in these communities where the language and ways of their youth provide some comfort.

I hope that the little descriptions found here will deepen our appreciation for the variety and cultural richness that make up America. It has been pointed out that many A2K members live outside our borders. Perhaps hearing about these chunks in the American Stew will help them to better understand us.
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Reply Mon 27 Jan, 2003 09:46 am
Here's a piece to start the ball rolling:

Santo Domingo Pueblo is about 30 miles north of Albuquerque on the road to Santa Fe. The population is around 3,000 people who cling to their traditional ways of life. The pueblo is largely dependant upon the rains and irrigation ditches to grow the corn, beans and squash that are their staples. Local Turquoise deposits made Santo Domingo an early producer of fine jewelry, but Santo Domingo pottery is also widely sought after. The village is made up of low adobe buildings, none rising over two stories. There is a modern administrative building that also houses the police station, a small museum and an old whitewashed church. There aren't a lot of trees, and the sun has beaten the earth into a fine dust.

The pueblo is made up of two groups; the Turquoise and Corn People. Each group is responsible for managing a part of the pueblo's ceremonial life. The dance itself has four basic groups; a flagpole carried by a dancer symbolizing the central point from which the People emerged at the beginning of time from Mother Earth, male and female dancers, a large group of male singers accompanied by a large drum, and the Koshares. The flag is emblazoned with a depiction of corn and the Zia symbol that is seen everywhere here in New Mexico. The male dancers wear parrot feathers in their hair symbolizing the rains that come normally from the south. They wear and carry pine boughs symbolic of life. Across their chests are strings of shells, they have a large shell attached to the right knee and a long belt of bells about their waists. The loin-cloth is black and hangs low behind where a the pelt of a fox hangs. They paint their bellies with what appears to be ashes, and as they dance their sweat causes streaking. The dancers carry a seed filled gourd that sounds like falling raindrops when shaken.

The female dancers wear their hair unbound so as to mimic the appearance of veils of rain often seen here. They wear a tablito, a sort of crown made of a wood on their heads. The tablitos are painted turquoise and have white fluffy feathers on the tips. Their dress is black with beautifully embroidered trim, and their left shoulder is left bare. Beneath the outer dress is a more colorful garment that can be seen below the hem of the outer wear. Many of the women dance bare footed, but some wear moccasins bound in white linen. They carry pine boughs in each hand and seem to follow the male dancers in small groups ranging from one to four.

The singers dress in their best clothing and move about in a phalanx chanting. The group is comprised of old men and teenage boys. By their dress and demeanor, one supposes them to be specially chosen to sing the song unique to each years dance. Several men carry and beat the drum to which all of the activity is related. The drum itself was painted red and was about three feet deep with heads about two feet in diameter.

The Koshares are sometimes referred to as the clowns, but their purpose is not to invoke laughter. They represent the dead ancestors who intercede with the gods on behalf of the pueblo, and as such stand somewhere between the harsh realities of this life and the unseen life of the primal forces. The Koshares are the conductors of the ceremonies. They help dancers whose costume becomes disordered by their exertion, lead the dancing lines through their complex patterns, and encourage those who are reaching their physical limitations. The Koshares lead everything it seems, and their authority is unquestioned. Their costume consists of a close fitting white cap crowned with an ear of corn, and garlands of pine crossed around their torsos. Their faces are painted black and their bodies are painted white with black dots, or stripes. Horizontal stripes denote a Koshare of the Turquoise People, and vertical stripes are worn by the Corn People. The Koshares wear a tortoise shell behind with loose hanging shells that beat against the tortoise shell as they dance.

This is, I know, an inadequate description of the dancers, and the symbolic costumes worn. Perhaps you can find better, and more insightful information by doing a bit of research, if you are interested.

Along what appeared to be the main street leading into the pueblo were lines of shade tents where Indian jewelry, pottery, blankets, t-shirts, and food were on sale to the visitor. Many of the goods were of excellent quality, but nothing was inexpensive. A favorite item for sale was bottled water that went for between one and two dollars a bottle. One vender was selling cups of ice water for a dollar that barely had half a cup of water in them. The food was also terribly overpriced, though some excellent tamales were briefly available at two dollars apiece. Almost all of the venders were Indians, but still we saw quite a few items manufactured in India or China. The crowd was a mixture of Anglos from all over the world and New Mexican Indians. The place remained very clean, though we often had difficulty finding trash barrels. Natalie went off shopping while I and the bus driver from the Senior Citizen's center went to watch the ceremonies.

The pueblo has many small streets, but the most important houses are arrayed around the central plaza. The Plaza is a large dirt rectangle probably two hundred fifty yards long by maybe thirty yards across. At the end of the plaza where we entered was a round kiva-like building that was off limits to all visitors, and a smaller enclosure to house an image of Santo Domingo. All around the plaza there were crowds that made it difficult to move from one place to another. Indians and their favored guests filled the flat roofs and shaded themselves under colorful umbrellas. We found a place alongside of one of the buildings that overlooked the plaza. As we stood watching long lines of dancers slowly shuffled forward into the Saint's building carrying bundles of candles. After the adults had filed through and presumably received a blessing, the children costumed like their elders brought their little offerings. Joe, the driver, and I took the opportunity to walk half way down the plaza where we found seats on a concrete porch that was shaded from the sun. The sky was clear and the sun was hot, so we really appreciated the seats.

Soon the drum was booming again and the lines of dancers formed up under the watchful eyes of the Koshares. The dance appears to have little variation, step-pause-step while waving the pine boughs and shaking the rain gourds. I'm sure that there were many subtleties that escaped the notice of the uninitiated. There was a Koshare who must have been as wide as he was tall, but he never stopped moving. At a little before twelve thirty there came a pause, and so Joe and I got up to rendezvous with the rest of our group. I picked up a stray pine branch and tucked it into the hatband of my straw. Back on the midway we dscovered that all of the tamales were gone. The group, which consisted mostly of old ladies, met in the shade of the administrative building near the van they came in. We had a nice rest and talk. No one had any problems that needed to be taken care of so after a little while we broke up and returned to the busy byways of the pueblo.

I found Natalie still shopping, but for once she limited herself to buying only a couple of earrings. Of course, she had several items she wanted to show me in the forlorn hope that I would suddenly breakdown and start buying things we don't need. Ha! I asked if she were ready to watch the dancing, or if she would rather go on shopping. "Both". It took probably 30 minutes of slow picking over displayed items before we even got close to the plaza. Finally we did arrive to find the place even more crowded than it had been earlier.

This time there would be no finding any shade, or seats at all. We stood slightly above the plaza and could see the long lines still dancing all down the length of the plaza. Far off at the other end we could see the tiny tablitas of the women rhythmically bobbing above the dust raised by perhaps a thousand dancing feet. The drum throbbed in a hypnotic beat, and the some of the dancers seemed transported as they moved in time to the beating drum. Across from us there was a battalion of children conducted from place to place by the Koshare. The children were doing their best to imitate their elders, but some were so tired that their dance steps had deteriorated into just walking. Some of the little boys carried plastic swords, and but the little girls were perfect little women. Once, when there was a brief pause, the little boys made a break for the water jars that stood beside the Saint's house. The Koshares quickly returned order, and some of the children filed out of the plaza in search of their relatives. The drum began booming again and the long lines of dancers continued as if they were just starting. After another long period the dancers filed out, and a new continguent filed in to take their places. I think that there were two groups (Turouise and Corn?) that alternated dancing so that the dancers would have some relief from what must have been a grueling several hours beneath the hot sun.

Many of the dancers were obese, but still continued for hour after hour. Some had short hair, but many had retained the long traditional style. As the afternoon wore on, we watched the sky begin to fill with clouds and the temperature became more moderate. Lest you think that the dancing had anything to do with the arrival of clouds, let me assure you that it is common here for the mornings to be very clear and the afternoons cloudy with a little rain and lightening to sweeten the air. Natalie managed to get possession of someone's folding chair, but the day had about worn me out. We slid on out. As we drove out of the pueblo, we noted that there was still a long line of cars queued up to go in and watch a ceremony that still had many hours to run.

Now let's hear from you about your community, or the community near you.
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