Saturday, June 27, 2009

Drum Corps

On 23 June we went with our friends Ralph and Jan Stone to the town of Rio Rancho, a suburb just northwest of Albuquerque. The event was a Drum Corps competition featuring six groups from Colorado, Arizona, California, Ohio, and Wyoming. If you haven't witnessed this particular American sub-culture, you don't know what you are missing. Each group consists of a marching drum line and a huge brass section (no reeds allowed), a stationary percussion section on the sidelines playing vibraphones, tympani, bells, etc., and a "corps" of dancers, twirlers, and flag-tossers. The music is superb and the band is in a constant swirl of highly choreographed motion, an overwhelming feast for eyes and ears. I would have made videos, but only still pictures were permitted.

The members of each drum corps practice 10-12 hours a day for months on end, then travel to various competitions before the national championships in early August. All participants are in their teens and early 20s. The man sitting behind us was an original member of the Blue Knights from Denver, founded in 1958.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Acoma Pueblo

For obvious reasons, Acoma Pueblo is also sometimes referred to as Sky City. The pueblo was settled sometime before 1150 AD and (along with Taos Pueblo) claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited site in the United States. The mission church and residences of Acoma are nestled on top of a mesa with extremely steep cliff sides rising more than 365 feet off the flat desert floor. Three miles away is Enchanted Mesa, the legendary home of the Acoma people. As a particularly sacred site, it is off limits to all visitors.

Most of the Acoma people now live in small villages scattered across the reservation, but about a dozen families -- the heads of the various clans -- occupy the mesa year round. The pueblo still serves as the center of tribal life on ceremonial occasions. There is no electricity or running water. Firewood and propane must be transported in; water is collected in cisterns and in hand-dug pits in the rock floor of the mesa.

When Coronado's soldiers first saw Acoma in 1540, they reported that it was impregnable. In 1598, however, Spanish troops managed to scale the cliffs and slaughter hundreds of pueblo inhabitants. The captured women and children were sentenced to 20 years of slavery; Acoma men were subjected to the amputation of a hand and foot and 20 years of slavery. Relations were not improved when Acoma men were forced to construct the massive mission church of San Estevan del Rey over a pre-existing kiva in the early 1600s, including the requirement to carry massive ceiling beams all the way from Mount Taylor (50 miles away) without allowing them to touch the ground. Today, Acoma people practice a combination of Catholicism and native religion.