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Ann Murdy | profile | all galleries >> The Celebration For Our Lady Of Guadalupe In Tortugas, New Mexico 2013 tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

The Celebration For Our Lady Of Guadalupe In Tortugas, New Mexico 2013

In December 2013 I returned to Tortugas, New Mexico to take in the fiesta for Our Lady of Guadalupe. Tortugas is located between Mesilla and Las Cruces. This beautiful and joyous event, which takes place from December 10th - 12th, has been celebrated for over one hundred and fifty years. Not only it is a fiesta but it is also a pilgrimage as pilgrims make a four and a half mile trek up “A” mountain to give thanks to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Tortugas is not officially recognized as a pueblo because it doesn’t have land grants or reservation status. It was founded by the descendants of the refugees from Isleta and other pueblos who moved south during the Puebla Revolt. Tortugas was settled around 1851 with a mix of people from Isleta, Tiwa and the Piro Indian groups. The Corporation has been responsible for organizing the dances for Our Lady of Guadalupe since 1914. The Corporation is made up of Los Indios and the Danzantes. During the three days of celebration dancing is done by Los Danzantes, Los Indios, the Azteca Chichimecas and the Guadalupana Aztecas.

The event begins around six o’clock in the evening on December 10th. The anda (processional float) with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego is taken out of the Capilla by the mayordomos to the Casa del Pueblo. Before the anda is removed from the Capilla the Danzantes arrive by paying their respects to Our Lady of Guadalupe. One by one they enter the Capilla where they kneel before her and offer their prayers to her. As they get up they walk out of the Capilla backwards as it is disrespectful to turn your back on the Virgin.

After this ritual is completed there is a short procession to the Casa del Pueblo. The mayordomos carry the anda while the Danzantes dance in two rows. Along the way the Danzantes one by one approach the anda and bow to Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is repeated until they reach the Casa del Pueblo. Once Our Lady of Guadalupe is inside the Casa del Pueblo she is placed on a satin covered table at the front of the hall. Rifles are shot off to ward off the evil spirits.

A velorio is held throughout the evening with song and dance. The Danzantes with the satin ribbons flowing from the back of their cuipiles weave back and forth with their colorful tinsel covered palmas while their rattles keep the beat as their feet stomp on the floor off and on during the night acompanied by a lone violin. Originally this ceremony lasted for nine days but now it has been shorten to one evening where the nine Catholic mysteries alternate with the dancing. Once everyone is seated inside the Casa del Pueblo a priest conducts the opening prayer honoring the Virgin for about forty-five minutes. During this time the Danzantes kneel in two rows down the center of the building. Once the priest concludes his prayers the members of the public take over. The Danzantes then begin their first dance of the night. They dance until dawn.

On December 11th the pilgrims come to the Casa del Pueblo where they sign up and make a donation to climb “A” mountain between six and six thirty that morning. In Tortugas many people make a promesa to the Virgin if a family member was cured by a serious illness. In return they walk up the “A” mountain to give thanks. Members of the community as well as people who formerly lived in Tortugas make the pilgrimage. Many return from out of state to participate in the trek up the mountain. There are two lines made for the hike up the mountain. Women are in one line with a partner and the men are in another line with a partner. Once at the top of the “A” mountain the faithful burn small bonfires to warm their lunch. Mass, confession, prayers and song take place. While up on the mountain the pilgrims make walking staffs called quiotes. They are constructed from yucca stock and rosettes of yucca leaves. When the pilgrims come down from the “A” mountain after sunset bonfires are lit to guide them back. Once the pilgrims come down from the mountain they move to the front of the Casa del Pueblo. As they chant a man comes forward and hits the door of the Casa del Pueblo with a vara (rod). This is repeated two more times. The third time the door is opened and the pilgrims leave their quiotes here and return home. This concludes the pilgrimage.

December 12th is the biggest day of the celebration. All four groups come onto the plaza around eight thirty in the morning. Los Indios lead the procession chanting and playing the drum once they enter the plaza in front of the church. After the opening ceremony a mass is held. Once the mass is finished all four groups dance for Our Lady of Guadalupe. Los Indios dance in front of the church alongwith the Danzantes. The Azteca Chichimecas dance to the right of the church and this year the Guadalupana Aztecas danced in the parking lot in front of the church.

Next a circle dance is held in front of the Casa de Comida with Los Indios and the Danzantes. After this dance is concluded lunch is served first to Los Indios and the Danzantes. Once they have finished their lunch the public is then invited into the Casa de Comida where one is served a homemade meal of meatballs known as albondigas, macaroni and cheese, red chile, beans, bread, coffee, hot chocolate and cookies. Months of work goes into preparing for this event especially feeding everyone on the 12th. Six hundred pounds of meat is used to make the meatballs.

After lunch the dancing resumes. About three o’clock in the afternoon all four groups once again come onto the plaza. Each group dances individually before the four o’clock procession takes place. At this hour the anda is taken out of the church carried by the mayordomos once again. It is processed round the village as all four groups pay their respect to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Toward the last leg of the procession the current mayordomos are thanked for their service during the year and the new mayordomos take over by carrying the anda back the church. This is my favorite part of the celebration as one can watch all dance groups at once honor the Virgin. It is so lively and full of color. It truly iilustrates the love this community has for Our Lady of Guadalupe!

Once the procession is concluded the anda with Our Lady of Guadalupe is brought back to the church and mass takes place. For myself this is one of the most beautiful celebrations in New Mexico. The amount of faith and dedication by this community is so sincere. Their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is truly a gift to all of us outsiders who come there to witness this beauty, love and tradition. Viva Tortugas!
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Praying to Our Lady of Guadalupe
Praying to Our Lady of Guadalupe
Mayordomos bringing the anda out of La Capilla
Mayordomos bringing the anda out of La Capilla
Danzantes waiting to enter La Capilla
Danzantes waiting to enter La Capilla
Miguel praying to Our Lady
Miguel praying to Our Lady
Back of Danzantes
Back of Danzantes
Dancing outside La Casa del Pueblo
Dancing outside La Casa del Pueblo
Dario and a Malinche dancing
Dario and a Malinche dancing
Dancing for the Virgin
Dancing for the Virgin
La Malinche and the Monarca
La Malinche and the Monarca
Danzante Praying
Danzante Praying
Dancing Inside the Casa del Pueblo
Dancing Inside the Casa del Pueblo
Dario outside La Casa del Pueblo
Dario outside La Casa del Pueblo
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