The Feast of Santo Tomas

 

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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. Adolescent girls were dressed in red and white and had painted red circles  inscribed on their cheeks; some of the older women also wore red, Many carried turkey or eagle feathers in their hands or wore them as headbands. 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 whose footwork defies description. I think of Maurice as a bird who flies through the air only touching the ground momentarily with his moccasined feet. Drumming, chanting 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!

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