Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I grew up in Delaware County, named for the Delaware tribe. We shopped in Muncie, named after Chief Muncie. I attended Wapahani High School. Sometimes we would drive south to play in Mounds State Park, so named because of the mounds that remain from the Mounds Indians. There were no Indians around. I never met one growing up. In fact, there was not even any Native American culture around.

Here in New Mexico, history is alive and pervasive and wonderful. I spent last Tuesday at Santo Domingo Pueblo celebrating its feast day. Over 400 dancers and 200 singers filled the long, rectangular plaza between two very large Kivas and danced from sunrise to sunset. The length of the dances, the steady boom of the drum, the native chant and the unrelenting blaze of sun on a barren, dusty desert floor without so much as a blade of grass or even a cactus, all combined in a meditative and trance-like experience.

Besides traditional dancing, a feast day is about, well, feasting, of course. Friends from the pueblo had invited me to stop by their home. This host family kept huge quantities of food--pots of posole and chili, tamales and horno-baked bread and mutton stew filled to the brim and steaming--on the table. Guests and friends flowed in and out of the house throughout the entire day, filling our stomaches before returning to the dances, the artisan booths and the carnival.

Just before sunset, as sweat trickled salt down foreheads and burned into eyes that were squinted half shut against a blazing desert sun, the winds came. Dust swirls appeared and swept the length of the plaza. Plumage of head dresses and rabbit furs faded in and out of sight. Our mouths tasted grit and still the drummers drummed on. Moccasin-clad feet kicked sand as the dancers continued snaking patterns before the statue of St. Dominic, shaking rattles of honor each time they crossed the path before him. The toll of 12 hours of dancing seemed to reveal itself, not in the noble faces of dancers, singers and onlookers fixated by rhythm and sound, but rather in this final surge of heat and light. The defiant adrenalin of a desert that was itself a participant of the festival.

Clouds then. And relief from the heat. Breeze cooling. A respectful hush as bells jingled to a stop and everyone present held his or her branch of pine with appreciation for the blessings of the Creator and saints, the good earth and its bounty and the communion of friends and family.

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