From the bench where I’m sitting, I can just make out two long lines of dancers, pine boughs tied to their ankles and waists, snaking their way into the village square.
The men, bare-chested except for sashes, wear white leggings with foxtails strung from their hips. Bells attached to their legs ring with every step. The women, their long black hair cut into bangs over their foreheads, swirl their black dresses and stamp their moccasins gracefully to the rhythm of drumbeats and chanting.
The sun beats down, and sweat drips down my back. The door of the adobe house behind me swings open, and a few people step onto the stoop to get a better look. The dancers, who’ve been performing for hours, keep moving.
Every July 26, the Tamayame people gather at their old pueblo village, about 30 miles from Albuquerque, to celebrate their patron saint, St. Anne. The event is open to the public, and I’ve joined a small group staying at the nearby Hyatt Regency Tamaya in attending the feast.
I’ve come expecting to see some traditional dancing and to learn a little about the culture. I will leave with much more.
The pueblo’s feast combines the cultural influences of the Spaniards, who came here in the late 1500s to spread the Catholic religion, and the Native Americans who lived here. The Spaniards assigned each community a patron saint, and each pueblo holds a feast day to honor that saint. Community members dance, wear traditional costumes, share food and celebrate the harvest.
The feasts highlight friendships and family and thank the natural world for providing sustenance.
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The Tamayame people have occupied this site since at least the late 1500s. The interconnected adobe homes stand at the foot of a craggy mesa, and a thick-walled mission church is its focal point.
The original village is now used mainly for ceremonial purposes, and the families live in modern homes a few miles down the road, closer to the Rio Grande. The pueblo, which owns about 80,000 acres, grows blue corn and operates a cornmeal processing facility, as well as the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa where I am staying.
We arrived here a little before noon, parking our car in a dusty lot outside the village walls and then walking up a hill to the plaza. A few dozen artisans are selling wares — jewelry, purses, pottery and woven goods.
We watch for 45 minutes, then duck into an alcove of greenery at the end of a procession to pay respects to St. Anne, the mother of Mary and the honoree of this feast.
Afterward, in an unplanned stroke of travel nirvana, a man named Travis invites us into his home to sit at his family’s dinner table and share a traditional meal. We meet his wife and children and squeeze around a huge table while bowl after bowl of homemade food make the rounds.
I sample the best green chile chicken enchiladas I’ve ever tasted. I sip posole spiked with chicken. I nibble rich, smoky carne guisada. I taste roasted corn dusted with cotija. And I try a dozen other dishes bursting with the flavors of New Mexico. I leave with a crunchy sweet pueblo cookie tucked in my pocket.
We thank our hosts, who tell us all what we can do to return the favor is sign the guest book. And now that we’ve been taken into the fold, we are told, we are welcome to come back every July 26 for the family feast.
That kind of generosity is rare, and it fills me with a warmth stronger than the searing sun.
We step out of the tidy adobe home and squint in the bright light. We discover that in our absence, the villagers have brought feast-day offerings out to share. A line of food — cookies, wedges of watermelon, homemade tamales tied in cornhusks, cups of stew and piles of bananas — stretches for at least 25 yards down the center of the plaza.
We are asked to partake, and even though our bellies are full, we do.
The generosity of this community is palpable. I feel it as plainly as if every resident has hugged me.
Before coming to the feast, I visited the Cultural Learning Center at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya, where guide Thomasine Montoya showed our small group an exhibit that included clothing, ceremonial items and yellowed photographs.
Many of the feast days are open to the public. If you go, respect the community you are visiting. The people's customs say women should wear modest clothing, and visitors should not attempt to photograph or even sketch what they see.