Watch Out! Here Comes a Heavy One!
Feast Days at New Mexico’s 19 Pueblos are celebrations; dances take place all day, apart from lunch time when, if you’re lucky, you find a friendly host to feast with. Families cook for a week beforehand and it’s All Hands on Deck on the day when they feed everyone, friends, family, neighbors and even strangers who come to see the Pueblo dances. Long tables are laden with food, and you wait to hear “it’s your turn” to join the feast. You are urged: Eat Good! Then you eat up, leave the table and thank the host. This is not a sit-and-chat situation as there may be dozens in the outer room awaiting their turn at the table.
The traditional dances are the main course, usually held on Catholic saints’ days and celebrating anyone bearing the same name (or something like it) as well as honoring the patron saint of each Pueblo. The Spanish that came into the Southwest around the middle of the 16th Century bringing the Catholic religion, and the Pueblos still practice it alongside their own. It’s amazing to visitors to see the statue of the village saint set up in an evergreen bower where the tribal officials sit; the villagers sprinkle cornmeal on the saint. A lovely way of giving combined blessings.
But there is another feature to Feast Days which is also a giving. Often to celebrate someone first dance; or to welcome the new Tribal Officials, and always on Three Kings’ Day, January 6th,the day the Magi gave their gifts to the Christ Child.
We were at Santa Ana Pueblo this year, disappointed not to see the dances cancelled because of the very cold and wet weather. But to our surprise crowds were gathered in the puddles of mud, looking up to the flat rooftops of the pueblo buildings surrounding the plaza. The people on the roofs had boxes and laundry baskets overflowing with goodies, and at a signal one roof top exploded with gifts thrown far and wide to the waiting crowd beneath; us included. The rule is that you keep what you catch (or on this day pick up from the mud). People had garbage bags, pillowcases, buckets or just caught with their hands and stuffed their pockets. We had a shopping bag in which we had brought a contribution to the feast. Pretty soon it was full of muddy candy, crackers, soap, hangers, apples and oranges, plastic boxes. It seemed to go on forever.
When the throwers’ baskets were empty, they too were thrown to the waiting crowd who quickly filled them again.
Then the next housetop started throwing their gifts, and they landed on dryer ground. So the rolls of unwrapped toilet paper landed unscathed, and were quickly collected. We added boxes of plastic bags, granola bars, a jigsaw puzzle, and even a red, white and blue handmade star to our swag. The throwing and gathering never stopped, children and elders alike filling their sacks while the manna from heavenwards rained down on them. The quantity was astonishing. A bottle of drink hit my friend on her head, and afterwards a small boy came up to apologize because, he said, he was the one who had thrown it.
The new Tribal Officials with their new Governor finally appeared on the rooftop from the ceremonial kiva and prayers were said. Everyone stood respectfully although it had started to rain again. The last speech was to the young people to pick up all the stuff (mostly candy) that had been trodden into the mud. We saw them with their rubbish bags waiting to get to it. Rez dogs appeared to eat the crushed crackers and sniff at the split oranges.
We had seen this ceremony repeated at other Pueblos from time to time, but we had never before experienced such an enormous quantity of ‘throw goods.’
The poster at the top is for GRAB, a documentary made by Billy Luther about the ceremony of the ‘throw.’ In the film a Laguna potter is shown making that fine pottery bowl for her gift, and at the end of the film she throws it down to the waiting crowd. Sadly it gets broken in the process. No pottery was thrown at Santa Ana, and happily no heads were broken by the hard boxes and cans that were flying through the air.
All our mud-splashed clothing has now been washed. We will be enjoying our loot for some time to come to remind us of the generosity of the Santa Ana Pueblo people.