Tuesday, December 14, 2010

History is alive in memorable Tortugas, New Mexico on December 12

Tortugas, New Mexico is a village that amalgamates a glorious mix of the historic culture and traditions of Hispanic and Native American peoples with newer Mexican customs. It climaxes every year during December 10-12, a three day festival for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Stop signs double as street signs in Tortugas. And Juan Diego is a VIP.

The Pueblo Indians, who farmed here centuries ago at the base of the Organ Mountains, eventually integrated so closely with Spanish blood that the two cultures wed in this annual ritual.

Tortugas is a small settlement, just south of Mesilla, NM. Not wealthy or powerful, this adobe hut bears witness to its humility.
 "Each resident of the village has enacted the pageant through a lifetime and it has become a strong urge as the season draws near, to fulfill those vows passed down to them by their ancestors. Preparations begin in November. Dances are rehearsed. Decorations are assembled. Sometimes new attire is made. Staying true to the symbol of Guadalupe everything is covered in roses." (Holy Adobe, Lenore Harris Hughes)

The small burg was burgeoning with people. Narrow dirt streets around the church.were lined for blocks with cars parked on both sides. 
The three days include all night vigils, many fires, feasting, multiple and extensive ritual dances, and a lengthy procession by all four dance groups and other village participants around the village. The group undertakes a four mile pilgrimage up Tortugas Mountain; some reportedly make this climb barefoot or even on hands and knees.

Juan Diego's decorated statue (foreground) reviews a plaza full of danzantes who perform before the image of Our Lady. Behind her the Tortugas Mountain (marked with an "A") is visible beneath the Organ Mountains on the horizon. [Click photo to enlarge]

On December 12, the parish celebrates a lengthy Catholic liturgy. The bishop himself presided and preached this year's Mass. I understand that he spoke to issues of social justice, including the evils of domestic violence as well as addressing the narco-violence now raging in Mexico. Of the latter, he reportedly stated that the United States is--not "part" of the problem--but "the source of the problem."

Malinches, small girls dressed in white, symbolize the purity of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (They receive their name from an Indian maid who traveled with Cortez in Mexico.)
The overwhelming aroma of the multi-colored roses engulfs the visitor who steps inside of the church. There the image of the Virgin that has been carried in procession is displayed for the devotions of the people.

The renovated tower of the simple but beautiful Tortugas church marks the center of the festivities.

We visited each of three of the dance groups who performed in areas adjacent to the church. The fourth group was taking a break at the community house "La Casa del Pueblo" (seen in the final photo on this post.) Each group wore elaborate, distinct costumes. Most all costumes prominently displayed the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

There were four plazas of dancing groups, all performing simultaneously.

Another of the dance groups--note their completely different costumes. Reflections of light reflecting from the objects they held sparkled across the Church's facade as they danced before it. Their movement is apparent in this photo as the men dance beneath the swath of colorful material (right). The choreography was so impressive. The dancing involved so many of so many ages and it lasted for extended periods of time without a break.

The village pastor, a Franciscan, added a touch of historical authenticity in his habit.
The community must work through many conflicts and disagreements. Although custom regulates the tradition, humanity enters in. A woman in the crowd hinted to me that a conflict was the reason that one of the dance groups enacted their dance apart from the others. The devotion has endured nevertheless.

Sounds of druming and the shaking of gourds is augmented by the rattle of the decorations on the costumes that rhythmically follow each action of the dancers.

In an effort to drive away evil spirits, the blast of shotguns periodically interrupted the sunny afternoon, startling unprepared observers.

Here--a few blocks away--another dance group exits "La Casa del Pueblo" (visible on the right) in formation, ready to begin anew another round of dance.

The elderly are respected and their experiences valued as they passed the information about the ceremonial to their young.


One elderly Tortugeno said, "The urge to fulfill the vow is as strong as life itself."
~Holy Adobe, Lenore Harris Hughes

5 comments:

an average patriot said...

I commend you Billie! You do a tremendous justice and service to the people and culture in that entire area and I for one thank you!

Border Explorer said...

Jim, thank you very much. I loved my Sunday afternoon in Tortugas. It is a joy to share my experience and what I learned. When someone else--like you--enjoys it, that makes it all worthwhile.

an average patriot said...

You're a good one Billie, Merry Christmas!

Dava Castillo said...

Thank you for this lovely portrait and the evocative pictures. The costumes are very beautiful, and am sure the women spent many hours making them. You have enticed me to want to visit there!

I visited the Southwest for two weeks when I was 13. The landscape and the weather (mostly the lightening) had a lasting effect on me in terms of realizing the beauty of the desert, and at the time the remoteness of the Southwest. But that was many years ago, and like many places the encroachment of cities have changed the landscape, and in some cases the people. I am glad the people of Tortugus fiercely hold on to their history through ritual and festival.

Adrian Lopez said...

Sir may i say thank you for this. I was born and raised in Tortugas. Please return and spend more time with us. Look into coming during our San Juan Fiesta.