Thursday, August 17, 2006

Zia Feast Day – No photo, please.

On Tuesday, August 15, 2006 we drove to Zia Pueblo to witness its Feast Day celebration. Susanne and I arrived at the Pueblo a few minutes after 10 am. We parked in the public lot and scaled, yes, scaled a foot-worn path to the top of the mesa. Once there, we visited numerous booths selling Indian jewelry, soft drinks, snow cones, and other trinkets and souvenirs. The white canopies sheltered the vendors from what was to become a warm summer sun, although it started out cool, under an overcast sky.

We followed the sound of a drum to a small plaza area where the drummer, singers and dancers already had assembled and were starting the Corn Dance.

No photos of the dancing are available. Pueblo rules prohibit photography and we always honor the hospitality of our Native American hosts by keeping our camera in its case.

So I will try to describe the scene as we witnessed it.

A single drummer was beating the incessant tempo of a Pueblo song as approximately 30 men in white trousers and ribbon-trimmed shirts, danced in unison with rhythmic, single steps.

In the same plaza area, about 75 Zia men and women of various ages danced to the same single step beat. A respectfully silent crowd of Zia residents and visitors surrounded the area, seated in portable lawn chairs or on the rock walls that defined the space.

The men wore woven, white dance kilts with embroidered panels bearing native designs in red and black yarn. Each male dancer had pine boughs attached to both biceps. Each carried a pink-painted gourd rattle in his right hand, matching his body covered in a pinkish, clay paint. A pine bough was carried in each male dancer’s left hand. A pair of red lines was painted beneath the eyes on each face. A fox pelt was attached to the rear of the waistband of each male dancer. Colorful feather topknots bobbed atop each head as the feet, wearing white-hide boots, fell softly with each step on the sandy soil.

The female dancers were dressed in woven, black, skirted garments, belted at the waist and suspended from a single panel over the right shoulder. Each skirt was embroidered on the right side with a series of colorful geometric and floral designs. Under each skirt, about two inches of slip or petticoat was revealed with colors compatible with the color of the embroidery. Each female carried two boughs of pine, one in each hand. A Native American jewelry broach adorned the bodice on each left side. The dancer’s cheeks were painted with red circles. Tablitas painted turquoise on the front and yellow on the reverse adorned their heads. Each female dancer also wore a necklace made up of strands of turquoise, many with jackclaws of coral or white.

In the circle of the singers and dancers a pole of about 20 feet in height is carried upright. Tall feathers project from the top and a narrow, white banner hangs vertically from the top. Periodically, the pole swings down and in an arc as if to bless the dance.

The single-step cadence continues for about 10 minutes as the dancers weave in and out, males in front of females, females in front of males, face-to-face and side-by-side. Unlike the men, who wear boots, the women dance in bare feet. Each dancer is somber in facial expression and obviously concentrating on the dance. The men periodically shake their rattles in unison, without apparent cues as to timing.

The process and regalia of each dancer is monitored by a set of older dancers, two men and two women, in different attire and ornamentation, with corn husks protruding from their headdresses and painted faces, similar to those of koshares. The senior koshare has long, flowing, gray locks. As dancers have problems keeping their outfits secured, the monitors help reattach them. The monitors also make sure that the dancers are properly aligned.

As this dance ends, the celebrants pause briefly, then resuming the singing and dancing, but this time in a traditional stutter-step or half step reflecting a changed cadence. Other than that, the dance appears to be identical in form to the previous one. After another 10 minutes, the dancers and singers line up behind the drummer and walk to the main plaza.

On the main plaza, an even larger audience waits. Some sit in chairs outside the entrances to the homes that frame the plaza. Some are on roofs looking down on what will be the next dance area. An American flag stands prominently at the end of the plaza, but appears to play no special role in the dances. The dancing starts again in the same sequence, a single-step cadence for about 10 minutes, followed by a half-step cadence of similar length.

At the conclusion of the second dance on the main plaza, Pueblo residents approach the dancers offering candles as gifts, as the dancers and singers move off to private buildings

Shortly thereafter, drumming starts again. A new group of dancers and singers have assembled on the small plaza, similarly adorned, except for different coloration of the males’ rattles and body paint, gray instead of pink.

In essence, the same ceremonial dance is performed in the same sequence, a process that we have been told will continue throughout day, concluding shortly before the sun descends on the Western horizon.

All Pueblos have their Feast days, with dances that celebrate the corn or deer or buffalo that sustained life for these people for generations past. They are one of the most authentic examples of Native American culture in the Southwest.
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