Rio Grande Pueblo Dances

Posted by on Oct 5, 2018 in Blog | 1 comment

Aristotle & Pueblo Dances in the 1940’s

Marion saved us kids from secure mediocrity when she decided to head west on a troop train to LA in 1942. We got as far as Silver City, New Mexico and got off. The troops had been too drawn to her and having two young kids and a babe in arms didn’t deter them. Bates and Edie Wilson met us at the station and we lived with them a few months before we moved to Santa Fe, taking the train to Lamy and driving into Santa Fé with Johnie Gordon in his two door green ’38 Chevy.

She rented an adobe hacienda from Joseph Bakos at 576 Camino del Monte Sol. He was one the gringo group of a hundred or so artists calling themselves Los Cinco Pintores, The Five Painters, the nucleus of a Bohemian art scene she got caught up with right away since most of them lived within shouting distance. Bakos lived above his garage in a studio, Will Shuster was a few doors down and Wyatt Davis a few up. They lived the way God meant man to live, having fun, being in amazement at life and the simplicities of Santa Fe where desert meets the Rockies and the air is alive, the sunlight imported from primordial times and people deeply, irretrievably and desperately in love with somebody new every day.

Through the artists she discovered the Pueblo dances along the Rio Grande on their holy days for planting, hunting, rain and harvest, to all the river pueblos like San Ildefonso, Zia, Santa Clara and Taos, and those farther west in Hotevilla, Oraibi and Mishognovi of the Hopi Mesas. The dancers were in another space than the one we watched from, their bodies and bells and feathers and sacred corn meal patina here, their spirits among the guiding nature spirits. It is Pueblo religion where the two link up and prayers are granted reality.

I was telling Marilyn about this as we drove and she asked about the smells and mentioned Aristotle and his observation that all knowledge comes through the senses. In spirit we know everything, in body we have to learn it in liaison with our physical mind and body. She was pressing me to remember the dances from my senses so she could be there more closely than my words were taking her. What did you smell. I said pine boughs, piñon burning, dust raised by moccasins shuffling along, side-stepping, stamping in irregular breakaways from the boom boom boom of the big drums’ beat. Sweat, sage.

What did I hear? Gourd rattles, bells on leather straps around ankles and upper arms, sometimes the mission bells tolling away from the dance plaza, the thump of the bass drums and the ting of the smaller ones, the chants of men in women in one voice, locked in like their steps, a few hundred in union, the spontaneous yowls and yips like lightning out of a rain cloud breaking up the union for a few moments before it finds its way back together. And see? Dark people of all ages smeared with earth colors, the men bare-chested wearing black fabric kilts and head pieces I can’t describe, holding gourds and feathers and pine branches, carved zigzag lightning sticks, a language of things nature spirits understand the dancers to be saying, asking, offering, thanking. I see mud brick houses plastered with mud mixed with straw rubbed on by hands, turquoise sky. I feel caught up in a primitive and direct communication between us all, not only the dancers, and the gifts being asked for and offered.

The dust motes and dance fragrance pollinate with the rhythm and bells and prayer the fields of the real farmers the pueblo Indians were talking to. The nature spirits were the real farmers of the fields, and the Indian their plows and seed.

Without our mother’s decision to go west we would’ve grown up on the east coast as hand puppets. Instead we were let loose in Santa Fé to run wild among three cultures in conflict where there were few fences and no signs to not do something anywhere. No Thou Musts except to be home for supper most of the time or come in with a well-prepared preposterous excuse. If it got a laugh we were safe, otherwise we had to hope she’d gone out for the evening or be prepared for her anger and a whipping. If we got whipped we’d plan to run away and make all the necessary plans until someone reminded us that Santa Fe was where runaways head.

One Comment

  1. El “bambino” Joven points over the right field fence when he arrives at the plate. Silver City, NM – 1953