Santo Domingo Music and Dance

Published on June 11, 2014 by Carol

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Santo Domingo Music and Dance

The Santo Domingo Indian kachina dances held great importance for these pueblo people. They consist of a more or less a line of dancers and an accompanying group who dance and prance around them. The stationary group do the singing and move their feet and body in unison with the songs.

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Line dancers are very much like those of the Hopi Indians. Since Hopi kachina dances are open to white visitors, I’m sure they are familiar to many anthropologists either from actual observation or from the numerous descriptions to be found in the literature.

The side dancers appear, however, to be a unique feature of Santo Domingo Indians, but in costuming they are similar to the line dancers and both resemble, in broad outlines, Hopi and Zuni kachina types. Kachina and secret society songs and chants are the most sacred and form the core of Santo Domingo Indian music; unfortunately we have no records of them.

To an untrained observer their music is low pitched, less lively and possess considerably more words than other Tewa songs. A set of new songs and words are composed for each occasion of a kachina ceremony. There seems to be a definite aversion to singing the same song and words among all Santo Domingo Indians for public or semipublic dances within the native ceremonial system.

A completely new set of songs and words, but fitted to a prescribed rhythmic mold, is composed for each occasion. The composition of new songs and words does not apply, however, to the chants and songs of the secret societies. Extreme care is made to teach beginners into these societies the exact melody as well as the proper sequence of words. The songs, perhaps more properly chants, of the secret societies are sung while the particular society is at ‘work’. The ‘work’ of a society consists of erecting a simple floor painting and an equally simple slat altar containing the fetishes and other sacred objects of the society.

Such an altar is erected for seasonal retreats and during the performance of a semipublic or public ceremony by the society. The ritualistic practices of the kachina and secret societies are the essence of Santo Domingo Indian ceremonialism. This area of culture is veiled behind an iron curtain more formidable than any devised by modern nations.

The mere suspicion that an Indian has revealed information in this area of ceremonialism brings the war captains, guardians of Santo Domingo Indian customs, to the Indian’s house.

If the suspect cannot clear himself to the complete satisfaction of these officers he is punished severely and in the past was often executed. Modern acculturative pressures have brought an end to these drastic measures in two or three villages, but the majority of the Santo Domingo Indians are still strongly oriented in the traditional pattern.

Unfortunately, too, the Santo Domingo Indians which have lifted their iron curtains expose ethnographic data of such little value that it would hardly excite the ethnologist. The second category of ceremonies in the native system are those which are communal in nature and which are under the supervision of the moiety priests.

All able bodied individuals are required to take part in the dance, or to help in other ways to make the ceremony successful. Costuming and preparations for these ceremonies take place in the kiva and whites and all outsiders are excluded. The dance, itself, is given in the plaza and may be viewed by visiting Indians and whites. The best known of these dances among whites are the so called ‘Tablita’ or ‘Corn’ dances performed in all of the Santo Domingo Indians.

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