The Santo Domingo Indian Buffalo Dance


            An eyewitness describes the Santo Domingo Indian Buffalo Dance performed in
            1940, before the tribe had much influence from the tourist trade:

            The dancers were in the main plaza west of the Turquoise kiva. During the afternoon, the dancing alternated
            between this area and another plaza, or street, to the south.

            A large chorus of singers of a hundred or more accompanied the dancers; while most chorus members were older
            men, there were a number of small boys. Adding to the volume of the songs were a half-dozen large double-headed

            Many singers were gaily painted about the face; the general costume was more or less everyday dress except for
            this painting of the faces and hands."

             Photo of a January 10, 2010 Santo Domingo Buffalo Dance

            "They had silver bands on their upper arms, with silver and fringed leather bow guards on each wrist.

            They carried a small war club painted black, and bows and arrows. The bow had four eagle feathers. They also
            wore turquoise and shell necklaces.

            Their faces were painted black, and they wore large headdresses of buffalo scalps with horns, which hung halfway
            down the dancer's back. They had large eagle and parrot feather "sunbursts" at the back of the neck, and small
            eagle feather tied to tip of each horn.

            The men's hair either flowed freely or was wrapped in two Plains-like braids. Eagle, turkey, pheasant, parrot, and
            other feathers were worn in the hair, or in beaded head bands which the majority wore.

            At intervals, piercing cries and gunshots punctuated the singing. Small branches of Douglas fir, eagle
            feathers, decorated spears, rifles, shotguns, bows and arrows were among the items carried; a number of the men
            wore Plains-like headed moccasins.

            The dancers included four deer, four antelope, two elk, two buffalo, a hunter, a malinche, and an Indian dressed in
            buckskins who appeared to function as the leader or director.

            The four deer and four antelope moved primarily in counter clockwise progression about the plaza, pausing briefly
            at the ends of the plaza.

            At these times they leaned forward upon the short stick that each one carried. Generally, the antelope faced the
            same direction side by side, even after reversals in their positions. The deer, however, lined up with the first and
            third dancers facing one direction and the second and fourth

            The two elk worked in unison, generally duplicating the maneuvers of the antelope. At times, the deer, antelope,
            and elk joined the others, the two buffalo, the malinche, hunter, and leader in a series of dance steps.

            The leader wore a Plains headdress that extended almost to the ground. In the left hand he carried a shield and
            bow and arrows, and in the other a rattle. He danced with a Comanche step in a semicircle in front of the rest of
            the dancers and opposite the chorus."

            "The chorus consisted of about 75 men and boys all with beaded head bands holding one or two eagle feathers,
            with their faces painted in various colors, which seemed to resemble Apache painting.

            They carried bows, arrows, swords or guns. There were also in the chorus two negro impersonators, who appeared
            remarkably like minstrel actors. They wore dark suits, white shirts and an abundance of coral and turquoise beads
            around their necks.

            There was also one clown who appeared in the plaza between dances. He wore an old Army overcoat and carried a
            gun under his arm, and it seemed to fascinate the children.

            This last group danced almost entirely during the performance, with only a few short instances of "running." The
            dancing was essentially a rapid running in place, interspersed with occasional two-footed hops, and a tendency to
            stamp heavily with the right foot.

            After about a half hour of dancing in the main plaza, the group moved to the street immediately to the south and
            continued dancing there for about fifteen minutes.

            Then the dancers all filed into a house located about two doors from the Pumpkin kiva to the west. After some
            interval, they emerged and returned to the main plaza. Again they danced for approximately a half hour and then
            went back to the south street.

            After another quarter-hour of dancing, they went back into the same house. We were told that they would
            remain there until after darkness when they would dance once more and then return to the hills from which they
            had come at dawn that morning.

            In all probability there were eight rounds of dancing during the day although this was not confirmed."

            "The Buffalo Dancers wore Yellow buckskin moccasins; skunkskin anklets painted black: bells at their knees; kilts
            of white cloth with horned serpents embroidered on the sides; metal tinklers along the bottom edge.
            Their chests and arms were bare and painted black."

            The Santo Domingo Indian's performance of the Buffalo Dance has changed little in 70 years.
            Copyright 2012

            Verzuh, V. K. A River Apart: The Pottery of Cochiti & Santo Domingo Pueblos. 2008.
            White, L. A. The pueblo of Santo Domingo, New Mexico. 1974.
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