Above: a small woven Indian basket with Blue corn kernels and an inlaid scallop shell similar to the pendants worn by the dancers. On the left there is a small “Dancing Bear” (Zuni) fetish belonging to the author.
Yesterday I attended a Corn Dance at Tesuque (pronounced Ta –sooki) Pueblo, one that has at its focus, the Blessing of the Fields. It’s the first week in June, the waxing moon will be full in a few days, Venus rises in the morning, and the Summer Solstice is almost upon us, all auspicious signs of the intensifying heat from the sun star that is laying his fiery blanket over the earth urging the crops to grow.
The brilliant morning sun felt good as we stood in the plaza at Tesuque waiting for the dancers to appear from out of the Kiva. Many of the adobes that faced the plaza had recently been re done. There was only one set of buildings left with crumbling adobe, gray with age, and one of the friendly tribal members remarked that it wouldn’t be too long before those too would be rebuilt. Once again I found myself grateful for the casinos that funded the upkeep of these Tewa speaking pueblos. The Pueblo of Tesuque was set among the Juniper strewn hills, with peripheral houses in good repair, all quite neat in appearance. The famed Camel Rock was on tribal land.
I noted with pleasure the alcove over which the heads of the animals looked out on the plaza. The elk with his huge rack of antlers was placed in the center; he was flanked by an antlered mule deer and antlered antelope on each side. Each had been decorated with inlaid turquoise and coral shell necklaces; obviously these animals held the place of honor weaving the blue summer people (squash blossom) and white winter people (turquoise) into one seamless whole. Inside, colorful handmade blankets and intricately designed reed baskets covered the back wall. A small altar stood in the center. Outside, on either side of the adobe stood two fresh well staked cottonwood saplings, the first deciduous trees I had ever seen at a dance. I wondered if the cottonwoods signaled the coming of summer since bits of cotton- like fluff were flying through the air around the plaza with cottonwood seeds attached to their wind pollinating parachutes. Next to this building stood the church refurbished in 2006, I heard someone say.
Inside the small but immaculate church, Mary, Queen of Heaven, although not appearing in the central altar but positioned to the right was much larger than the figure of Jesus on the cross. She had many votive candles lit in her honor. I lit a votive candle for Guadalupe. Together, the two buildings married folk Catholicism to the ancient Puebloan traditions with Mary being honored in one, and sacred animals and the handiwork of the People in the other.
It never ceases to amaze me how I am affected by the sound of the drum as the chanters begin their slow meticulous walk to the plaza from the Kiva. I think my heart actually slows down to synchronize with the beating drum because I feel incredibly alert, but my mind becomes still. All the colors of the rainbow are visible in the flowing ribbons attached to the dress shirts the men wear. After the chanters gather in the plaza, the rest of the dancers appear. Many if not most are adorned with brilliant parrot or other exotic feathers bunched together in a cluster on top of each dancer’s head. This is a relatively small pueblo and yet there were about 200 dancers.
The women wear tablitas, large headdresses, and many are decorated by cloud formations to encourage the rain, water of all life, to fall. Most of the women are barefooted, even though the plaza is full of stones that get stuck in their feet during the dance (the women are barefoot because they are believed to live closer to the earth and hence are better able to help the corn grow). The women are all dressed in a single shouldered black dress with colorful sashes at their waists, and some dresses looked hand embroidered. The women wearing tablitas had a single red spot on each cheek denoting the purity of the “maiden” aspect of corn. All the women carry evergreens (representing the forest/wilderness) in each hand and the same kind of sprigs are attached to the armbands of each male dancer. Each male also wore a fox skin with tail attached to the back of his kilt. Many of the male and female dancers including children wore necklaces of inlaid turquoise and jet beaded with coral. I wondered what the significance could be since the exact same jewelry adorned the elk, deer, and antelope. The combined sounds of voices, the gourd rattles held by men with diagonal rows of tinkling shells on their bare clay covered chests, the belt of large silver bells clanking at their waists, and the deep resonant drum pulled me into a different kind of time, a place where the present is all there is.
Although the songs were different than the ones I had heard at Santa Domingo at the Green Corn Dance, the basic steps of the were much the same, with men and women facing each other while dancing and then exchanging places in the two lines and finally moving in one long line as they gathered to honor the next direction, four in all. There were many small children that also danced and they too wore identical regalia. These Indian children with their dark pools for eyes are enduring. Whenever one tired, a caring adult was in instant attendance helping the youngster in any way that was required. Next to us an Indian woman gave her children corn pollen, which I knew would be sprinkled over the earthen floor of the plaza in a gesture of reverence at the end of all the dances. Occasionally a dog appeared briefly and many old people were present as part of a deeply appreciative Native audience, many of whom kept time with the drum. There were few Anglos present.
When this very long set ended, the chanters and dancers returned to the Kiva and the women scurried around bringing food into the different houses where a feast would be held for all who had been invited, before the next set began. By now the sun was blistering hot and heavy clouds hovered over the horizon. Rumbling thunder could be heard in the distance. Part of me wondered if the thunder was answering the dancing prayers of the Tewa, who were blessing the newly planted corn but also dancing for rain.