Chapter IX. Of the Fiesta of San Gerónimo at Taos, and the Delight Makers


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‘‘WANT to buy some greps, señora, no?’’ ‘‘'uena sandia, treinte centavos!’’ ‘‘Duraznos, mucho barato!’’ ‘‘Compra melones, compadre? Melones mucho 'uenos!’’

You might think it market day in some town of Old Mexico, but you are still under the Stars and Stripes and it is only the Fiesta of San Gerónimo at Taos. The edges of the great plaza in front of the north pueblo are jammed with waggons, loaded with grapes, apples, peaches, melons, Indian pottery, and blankets, the virtues of which are set forth in Spanish or crippled English, according to the nationality of inquiring buyers. Between the waggons and the grand promenade before the houses is a line of gaudily decorated booths of lemonade- and sweetmeat-vendors


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and of fakirs of various sorts of catch-penny trinkets. It is only nine in the morning, yet, outside, the terraced houses are lined from base to apex with crowds of spectators, waiting for the ceremonies that are to come off—no one knows just when, but "poco tiempo", and meantime is not the sunshine pleasant to the soul, and the moving picture of the foreign-looking crowd entertainment enough? Every moment brings new arrivals, ahorseback and afoot, in farm waggons and in buggies. Though Americans are the dominant race in the land there is but a sprinkling of them in the vast throng, but gathered from a wide radius—ranchers, school-teachers, store-keepers, invalids, an artist or two, seeking diversion in this half-barbaric fiesta as city folk visit a play. Mexicans are most in evidence, the elderly men and women in sober black, the girls in bright-hued silks and calicos, the fit of which cuts little figure, the colour being the thing; and the Pueblo women are only a shade less gay in their showy upper garments and silver necklaces. Taos men, blanketed or sheeted to the eyes, stalk about in the crowd or stand watching the photograph man, with his little nickel cannon, make retratos of foolish Mexicanos and Mexicanas in their gala finery. Here is a Pueblo family from Picurís, the man's unhatted head picturesquely crowned with a chaplet of quivering aspen leaves; here is another from far San Ildefonso, with a load of pottery jars to sell; there are a couple of phlegmatic Apaches in sombreros with long feathers stuck in the band, and in their ears silver earrings set with turquoise, their hands holding beaded belts and beaded moccasins for whoever will to buy; and over yonder is an alert-eyed Navajo, carrying upon his arm blankets which, however much he may asseverate that they are his squaw's own weaving, have probably been entrusted to him by some crafty white trader to sell to the gullible tourist at two or three prices.

Fiesta of San Gerónimo, Taos. The crowd is gathered to watch the foot-races.


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All this while the church bell is clanging at intervals, and worshippers in relays crowd into the church and crowd out again; but it is not so much this as the aboriginal features of the fiesta that interest the lookers-on from the housetops. These features are threefold: There is a short dance of blanketed Indian men bearing upright branches of quivering aspen, facing each other in two lines and yelping from time to time like coyotes. Then


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there is a hotly contested foot-race between the young men of the two pyramids, the participants naked, except for a kilt of some kind about the loins, and with feathers—emblems of flight—in the hair, down the arms, and encircling the ankles. Finally there are the antics of a group of clowns, chiffonetti or "delight makers," as Bandelier calls them.

Their faces and naked bodies smeared with paint, and their hair entwined with rustling corn-husks, these buffoons come suddenly bounding and yelping into the plaza and set the crowd into an uproar of laughter with their horseplay, which continues off and on for hours. Nothing is safe from their irreverent touch. They steal peaches from a waggon and, starting to eat, spit them out with a wry face as if bitter; they swarm up a ladder to a housetop and into a room, whence screams and laughter announce some prank, and in a moment they reappear, one bearing a watermelon. Descending to the plaza, the thief stands the melon on his head and the others line up before him and dance and chant in mockery of some ceremony. Taken with a sudden thought, they all sit down in a circle on the ground, and leaning


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forward, seem intent on some wonder in their midst. This, of course, excites the curiosity of the crowd, who draw near only to be blinded with showers of dust which the rogues throw over their shoulders. Then they rise, put their heads plottingly together, looking, from time to time, into the crowd. Suddenly they advance, grab a man from it, and lifting his struggling form, carry him in triumph up and down the plaza, meantime blowing horns which they have gotten somewhere. Then they drop the fellow and there follows a series of impromptu contortions, stoopings and twistings and leapings, tooting horns backward between their legs, climbing upon one another's shoulders, until their ingenuity seems at its limit, and they stand meditating, finger to forehead. Then another whispered consultation, and separating, they wander off amid the crowd. All at once there is a shout, followed by a childish scream of terror. A little boy in fiesta attire of new purple trousers has met the eye of one of the clowns, who swoops the frightened urchin from the ground and, swinging him under his arm, marches off with him towards the river, followed by the other chiffonetti, sounding blasts upon their horns. Arrived at the stream, the little kicking form is dropped into the water, whence the boy is fished out by his observant mother and piloted home to be dried off, while the buffoons, grunting and wagging their rascally heads, trudge back to the plaza. The climax of their sports is the climbing of a greased pole at the top of which sundry prizes—melons, cakes, a whole sheep, and so on—are slung. These secured, the clowns fade away to their estufa, and quite undramatically the fiesta comes to a close.

Raising the greased pole, Taos. Fiesta of San Gerónimo.


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Among the fiestas of the New Mexico Pueblo Indians there is none that the traveller is more often urged to attend than this of San Gerónimo, held annually on September 30th. As an Indian ceremony, it is rather disappointing, though a short dance at sunset the evening before, in which, as on the fiesta day, the participants bear branches of quivering aspens, is very striking, with its background of the evening shadows and the sunset light glorifying the orange and yellow foliage of the shaken branches. But the interest of the San Gerónimo day is mainly in the picturesque crowd which assembles in the old pueblo, the largest gathering, probably, that ever attends any of the South-Western Indian dances. This is due in part to the added attraction of a Mexican fiesta of several days' duration during the same week, held at Fernandez de Taos, which draws several thousand visitors from all over North-Eastern New Mexico and Southern Colorado—Mexicans, whites, and Indians of several tribes.

A Taos Indian and Mexicans on the way to a fiesta.


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