Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Las Cruces, NM: Mariachi Conference: Matachines

One of the things I love about New Mexico are the layers of culture that thrive here.

Las Cruces, New Mexico: Mariachi Conference, Mariachi Mass, San Jose matachina dancers. Credit: Mzuriana

They couldn't have been more evident than at the Mariachi Mass in Las Cruces on Sunday. I'll try to list the influences in motion at this event:
  • Pueblo
  • Aztec
  • Yaqui
  • Spanish (i.e. the country)
  • Moors (historically, northwest African Muslims)
  • Modern-day Mexican 
  • Modern-day New Mexican
  • Modern-day American (U.S.)
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Evangelical Christian
  • Spanish language
  • English language

Las Cruces, New Mexico: Mariachi Conference, Mariachi Mass, Azteca dancers. 2012.
Las Cruces, New Mexico: Mariachi Conference, Mariachi Mass, Azteca dancers. 2012. Credit: Mzuriana

At the entrance to the Mass venue, before the Mass began and after the Mass ended, were three dance troupes. Indian? And if so, which? There were commonalities to what I'd experienced thus far in various Indian dances, but there were differences, too.

Las Cruces, New Mexico: Mariachi Conference, Mariachi Mass, San Jose matachina dancers. 2012.
Las Cruces, New Mexico: Mariachi Conference, Mariachi Mass, San Jose matachina dancers. 2012. Credit: Mzuriana

I looked and looked for information on these dancers, to no avail, til - doh! - as a last resort, I thought to look at the printed Mariachi Mass program that I still had. And there they were, listed under "matachines."

Matachines? What? I was clueless. I soon learned more. Here is a meaty history and analysis of the matachina dance from New Mexico Arts. But in brief, per wikipedia:
The Matachina dance ... is explained by oral tradition amongst most Indian Tribes as "The Dance of the Moors and Christians" and is the first masked dance introduced by the Spaniards. The Moors were driven out of Spain in 1492 and the missionaries introduced the dance to show the superiority of the Christians. The dance was adopted by the people, and today many forms of this dance still exist. Though the dance steps vary amongst tribes the dance formations are all similar. Masks continue to be used, but the style changes from village to village, or tribe.

The introduction of the Dance of the Moors and Christians gave rise to a further range of masked dances, one of them recounting the Spanish victory over the Indians and their eventual conversion to Christianity. These dances are called conquest dances (also a Matachin tradition), and Cortes and La Malinche (his Indian mistress and translator) often appear in them. It's interesting to note that in many versions of this dance, the Indians wear lavish costumes while the Christians are played by children.

The Matachines dance for a deeper religious purpose, since most of them join to venerate either Mother Mary (Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, Immaculate conception, etc.), a saint (the group usually chooses the saint that pertains to the church they belong to), or simply to worship Christ or God the Holy Trinity, demonstrated by the three forked symbolized as a "Sword of the Holy a Trinity".

As I read the information on matachines (and the above wikipedia excerpt is only a superficial coverage of a complex inter-cultural allegorical dance), I thought: aha! The Indians in Cuzco, Peru, have a similar dance! In that case, the conquistadors are devils. From my journal entry of a long-ago trip to Cuzco during Inti Raymi:  
"Last night I danced with 2 gorillas and got bitten by the devil. It was lots of fun. I also tasted a little of the local liquor; tasted like coconut and was very good. There was a long procession last night through the plaza, with dancers and musicians. ... Annie and I danced with two groups. One group represented the devils and gorillas (with their claws?!). The devils' costumes had a strong similarity to the conquistador costumes. They all wore masks."   
(By the way, it ain't easy to dance at 11,000 feet!)

Here's a sampling of the matachina dance troupe San Jose:

You don't see him in this clip, but in other dances, there was a child dressed in black and charcoal, with a mask. Based on what I've read, I'm guessing he represented the Christian. He didn't dance when I saw him. He stood amongst the dancers.

There was an Aztec dance group also, and I don't know if it falls into the matachina category or is something else entirely. Unfortunately, I didn't get a good video of this group.

Now that I've learned a little about the matachines, I've got to find opportunities to see more.

Bernalillo, New Mexico, has a history of hosting a San Lorenzo Fiesta, which includes matachines. Last year, the event was August 10-11, so in 2013, August 11-12? I'm going to put it in as a tentative on my calendar.

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