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The most common theme of traditional folk performances in Mesoamerica is that of conquest and reconquest. Given the history of the region, this is hardly surprising. As Nathan Wachtel has aptly observed:
The trauma of the Conquest still reaches the Indians of the twentieth
century; the past remains deeply imprinted on present mental structures.
The persistence in the collective consciousness of a shock felt more than
four hundred years ago is demonstrated by present-day Indian folklore.
Specifically, Wachtel has in mind the widespread folk dramatizations of the Spanish conquest of indigenous America.
But the Spanish, too, brought with them to the Americas their own trauma of invasion and armed resistance. For nearly 750 years, Moors had occupied parts of Spain. The year 1492 was not only the time when Columbus landed in the Americas; it was also the year in which the Spanish forces conquered the last Moorish stronghold of Granada. The intermittent Spanish reconquista may have been the theme of festive drama since as early as 1150 (Alford 1937:221-22), and both the small-scale danzas de moros y cristianos and the large-scale fiestas de moros y cristianos were brought to the Americas by the conquistadors (Warman Gryj 1972; Harris 1994). The American folk performances to which Wachtel refers are, at least in part, an adaptation of the Spanish tradition. While in many cases the two sides that engage in mock combat in Mesoamerica still represent Moors and Christians, in others they dress as Aztecs and Spaniards or, in a reference to the French invasion of Mexico in 1862, as French and Mexican armies (Gilmoor 1943:25-28; Harris 193:108-19).
But the theme of Moors and Christians cut two ways in the New World. For the Spanish colonists, it offered an opportunity to celebrate the victory of Christians over "heathens" and to draw parallels, favorable to Christianity, between the defeat of the Moors and the defeat of the Mexicans. For the indigenous Mexican performers, the fact that the Spaniards finally drove out the invading Moors suggested instead the dramatization of a future reconquest of Mexico by indigenous forces. Thus, in an elaborate fiesta de moros y cristianos staged in Tlaxcala in 1539, the defeated Sultan of Babylon represented both the leader of the mixed army of Turks, Moors, and Jews that opposed the Christians and, more discreetly, Hernan Cortes vanquished by an army of Christianized Indians (Harris 1993:82-92). And, in a danza de los santiagos that I saw in Cuetzalan, Puebla, in 1988, the victorious Christian santiagos (soldiers of St. James) wore masks that identified them with indigenous warriors of the Sun, and the defeated pilatos, named after the "heathen" Pontius Pilate, wore pale-faced masks that clearly linked them to the Spanish conquistadors (Harris 1993:99-107). The same performance, in other words, could -- and in its modern descendants, still can -- be read two ways, as both a triumph of Spanish Catholicism and a future indigenous defeat of the conquistadors and their successors.
This simultaneous performance of two conflicting narratives, one endorsing the conquest and the other reversing it, will not come as a surprise to those who have read James Scott's Domination and the Arts of Resistance (1990). In his study of unbalanced power relationships, Scott draws a distinction between "public" and "hidden transcripts" that is eminently applicable to many folk performances. While the public transcript, according to Scott, records what may be said openly by the powerful and the subordinate alike, the hidden transcripts of the two groups generally contain what each may say only in the absence of the other. Thus, the hidden transcript of the subordinate group "represents a critique of power spoken behind the back of the dominant," and that of the powerful represents "the practices and claims of their rule that cannot be openly avowed" (xii). But Scott also recognizes the "tremendous desire and will" (164) of subordinate groups to express publicly the message of the hidden transcript, and therefore describes, too, "the manifold strategies by which subordinate groups manage to insinuate their resistance, in disguised forms, into the public transcript" (136). The condition of the hidden transcript's public expression, he adds, "is that it be sufficiently indirect and garbled that it is capable of two readings, one of which is innocuous" (157) The Mesoamerican folk dramatizations of conquest and reconquest are a splendid example of an "innocuous" public transcript of subordination (the celebration of the Spanish conquest) into which the indigenous performers insinuate a hidden transcript of resistance (the reconquest of their homeland by indigenous forces).
In this article, I will illustrate this interplay of public and hidden transcripts by way of a study of two traditional dances, Oaxaca's danza de la pluma and New Mexico's danza de los matachines. The public transcript of the former represents the conquest of Moctezuma and his soldiers by the army of Cortes, such that the dance is sometimes called simply la danza de la conquista. The hidden transcript reverses the outcome. The public transcript of the latter is generally understood, when it is danced in the Hispanic pueblos of New Mexico, to dramatize the conversion of Moctezuma to Christianity. The hidden transcript, as one would expect, is more apparent in the Native American pueblos. There, although the public transcript remains officially intact, the dance may also be read as a promise of Moctezuma's final victory over the invaders.
In August 1993, I saw several performances of the danza de los matachines in the Hispanic pueblo of Bernalillo, New Mexico. A year later, in July 1994, I saw the epic, eight-hour danza de la pluma performed twice in its entirety and twice in an abbreviated version in the village of Teotitlan del Valle, some 15 miles west of the state capital of Oaxaca. And, over the 1994 Christmas season, I saw the danza de los matachines in the Native American pueblos of Picuris, San Juan, and Santa Clara, New Mexico. Whether the two dances are, as most scholars assume (e.g., Parsons 1936:258; Kurath 1949), American variants of the Spanish danza de los moros y cristianos or, as Adrian Trevino and Barbara Gilles (1994) argue, derived from a common prehispanic source, is incidental to my discussion here. Both dances in their present form certainly belong to the broad Mesoamerican tradition of folk dramatizations of conquest and reconquest and both offer a "public" Catholic reading and a "hidden" indigenous reading of the armed encounter between native and invading forces.
Moctezuma and Malinche
Moctezuma, or la monarca, is one of two central characters in both dances. The other is La Malinche. Any serious attempt to reckon with the hidden transcripts of the dances must begin with the link between these two characters. Most observers (e.g., Gilmoor 1943:18-24; Cordry 1980:34) mistakenly assume that Moctezuma represents only the Aztec emperor who opposed Cortes and that the Malinche of the dance corresponds to the Malinche of the European narrative of the conquest. Otherwise known by her baptismal name of Dona Marina, the latter was Cortes's indigenous mistress and translator. The public transcript then yields a Moctezuma who, in the danza de la pluma, is defeated by Cortes and, in the danza de los matachines, is converted to Christianity. Malinche, according to this reading, is the first indigenous convert to Christianity, instrumental in the subsequent defeat and conversion of Moctezuma. But, just as the masks in the danza de los santiagos discreetly signal the presence of a hidden transcript, so does Malinche in the danza de la pluma and the danza de los matachines, for there Malinche is openly identified by the danzantes not as the companion of Cortes but as the "wife" (Gilmoor 1943:18) or "daughter" (Augur 1954:71; Harris 1994:158) of Moctezuma. Such "variation" prompted Frances Gilmoor to remark that "this play takes liberties with history" (1943:18); Scott might point out instead that a "garbled" and therefore "innocuous" public transcript is a necessary cover for a coherent hidden transcript. The hidden transcript, in this instance, knows full well that, in indigenous Mesoamerican folklore, Moctezuma is the name both of a past ruler and of a "messiahlike figure" who will "defeat the Spanish and initiate a new Indian hegemony" (Gillespie 1989:166, 201), and that Malinche is commonly his "wife" or "daughter" (Harris 1996).
Evidence for this popular understanding of Moctezuma and Malinche is plentiful. Victoria Bricker, for example, writes of an armed rebellion in highland Chiapas in 1712, in which the summons to resist the colonial regime included the assurance that "the Emperor Montezuma was being resuscitated and would help the Indians defeat the Spaniards" (1981:60). She notes, too, that, in 1761, Jacinto Uc, the leader of an indigenous rebellion in Yucatan, added to his own name those of Moctezuma and of Canek, the last Maya king. The official report of the rebellion states that he was crowned "Re Jacinto Uk Canek, Chichan Motezuma, which in translation means King Jacinto Uc Canek, Little Montezuma" (Bricker 1981:73). In 1900, Frederick Starr came across Otomis in the Sierra de Puebla who "believe that Montezuma is to come again. Meantime, from him come health, crops, and all good things." Each year, a feast is "given in his honor, of which he is believed to partake" (Starr 1908:250). And, in 1835, Ignacio Zuniga identified a dance in Sonora as a dramatization of "the passage of the Aztecs, and the coming of Moctezuma, whom they await as the Jews await the Messiah" (1835:7; translated by Johnson 1971:182).
Malinche's link to Moctezuma is also a long-standing one. In Guatemala City, in 1608, a spectacular nighttime masquerade included clergy dressed as "Indians, Turks, Spaniards, and Moors." Among those singled out for the richness of their costumes were "Moctezuma and La Malinche" (Juarros  1981:398-400). More recently, Frances Toor noted that, in the danza de la pluma, "Malinche [...] does a solo dance with Moctezuma and seems to be his companion rather than Cortes'" (1947:347). Gilmoor, too, found to her surprise that, in la danza de la conquista, "Malinche is the name given to Moctesuma's wife" (1943:18).
Similar legends abound among the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. Several writers have recorded the conviction of the natives of Pecos and Jemez Pueblos that Moctezuma will "return to deliver his people from the yoke of the Spaniards" (Gregg  1954:188-89; cf., Weigle and White 1988:70-73; Parmentier 1979:619). According to Noel Dumarest, the people of Cochiti Pueblo, too, believe that Montezuma has a "divine mission" of "working miracles," and that "one day he is to reappear in the world and to deliver his people from the yoke of their conquerors." Dumarest also notes that Montezuma has a consort: "Malinche, the wife of Montezuma, had the same power of working miracles" (1919:229-30; cf., Benedict 1931:191-92). In a …