Magazine article The Nation's Health

Learning Respect for Community through Centuries of Tradition

Magazine article The Nation's Health

Learning Respect for Community through Centuries of Tradition

Article excerpt

ON AUG. 4, I visited the Kewa Pueblo, just north of Albuquerque, N.M., at the invitation of former APHA President Michael Bird, a member of the pueblo. Formerly known as the Santo Domingo Pueblo, Kewa is a Keresan dialect-speaking pueblo that was celebrating a saint's day with ceremonies, including a nearly unceasing set of dances in the hot, dusty sun. Kewa Pueblo is a very traditional pueblo in which religious ceremonies may not be photographed or recorded.

At 9 a.m., we gathered on the plaza in quiet expectation. Soon, a single drum heralded the approach of a group of men, who gathered in an area at the other end of the square and began singing. A seemingly endless line of dancers--men, women and children--followed a lead dancer who carried the flag of their clan. In perfect formation, they moved in unison, women with headdresses and black wool dresses, men in breechcloths, all of them following the flag bearer. A thousand dancers gradually filled the square.

Subtle changes in the drumming and songs would signal the dancers, who would change their rhythms and steps in unison and the direction of their dance. After a dance that seemed to last for about an hour, the first group left and a second group of a thousand dancers came, with subtly different details in their dress. In the heat and dust, their concentration, stamina and grace was testimony to a tremendous amount of conditioning and practice. The two groups alternated dancing for the entire day.

During the break between dances, we were invited into people's homes to eat. …

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