Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Visiting a New Mexico Pueblo: Laguna Pueblo Feast Day


Feast Days at the pueblos of New Mexico are special times full of family, feasting and ceremony. Usually feast days are open to the public. And, as I found out, feast days are great opportunities to enjoy Native American culture, pueblo-style.

What is a Feast Day?
According to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, “Feast Days” at each of the Pueblos are named after the Pueblos’ patron saint. The Pueblos open up their respective Feast Days to the public where visitors can view the reverent dances and songs offered on those days.

Feast Days bring tribal members together to renew their culture, language and native religion. On those days, families prepare food for the many invited visitors coming through their homes, and participate in the activities taking place on their Feast Day. Pueblo Feast Day Dates do not change and are held on the same date each year. List of Pueblos and Feast Days

What is a Feast Day Like?
I had never attended a feast day and heard about the Feast Day at Laguna Pueblo, 45 miles west of Albuquerque. The pueblo, visible from I-40 had always intrigued me.

With earth colored adobe homes dotting the hillside and a white historic mission church at the top of the hill, Laguna Pueblo looked more like a scene out of old Mexico than what you might expect to see while driving the Interstate. Laguna is home to the Ka-waikah people and, like the other pueblos, have their own government and rules for visitors.

St. Joseph Church at Laguna Pueblo
St. Joseph Church at Laguna Pueblo
September 19th is the Feast Day of St. Joseph, the patron saint of Laguna Pueblo. You can see the beautiful whitewashed adobe St. Joseph's church from the highway. When you attend the Feast Day, you may visit the church.

The feast day, the year I went, was on Sunday and took place 10am - 8am. I arrived around 11 a.m. and found plenty of places in the dirt parking lot on the hillside behind the church. People were parking alongside the road and at their relative's homes.

The first thing I noticed were rows upon rows of colorful tents lining the areas around the church. I parked (free) and started walking along the dusty pathway. I
I enjoyed looking at all the booths. Families were selling roasted corn from the backs of their pick-up trucks. The corn, grey with ash, looked as though it had been roasted in a pit.

As I made my way up the hill, I noticed that there were quite a few jewelry vendors from Kewa Pueblo (formerly Santo Domingo) known for their inlaid shell and heishi. There were "Diné curly fries", hamburger stands and sno-cone vendors. I had a sense I would not go hungry!

It was fun to see what each booth offered. There were dime toss games for children, quite a bit of pottery from Acoma, Macaw feathers from Central America, wonderful home made pies and horno (oven) bread.

The main booths were located along two streets near the church. A Laguna pottery vendor welcomed me and suggested I visit the church, founded in 1701. I did so and said a prayer for the success of the pueblo's harvest. I noticed beautiful traditional painting along the walls, and old, creaky wooden pews that must have been there for many years. I took a photo of the church, with permission, and left a donation.

It was getting hot and I was glad I brought water. Around the stone and adobe homes, there were many people. Inside, families were serving their invited guests, too many to fit inside the home.

Ceremonial Dances
I heard the beat of drums and wandered closer to the main plaza. Just outside, in front of a home there were feathered Eagle Dancers. I watched the dance and then headed over to see what was going on in the plaza. It wasn't time for a dance yet. There were chairs lined up for the local people. Visitors could watch, respectfully from above, if they remained behind the local people.

As I wandered the booths, I noticed dancers, in traditional dress, shopping for food and for more items of traditional dress. I especially enjoyed the fact that this was not a tourist-oriented event. 95% of the people there were Native American. I saw friends from Zuni and Acoma there.

Laguna Pottery
I collect pottery and was looking for some Laguna potters. I asked each pottery vendor where they were from and oddly, most were from Acoma. I know that Laguna and Acoma people have had a close relationship over the years but I still had hoped to purchase a piece of Laguna pottery. In speaking with a young Laguna woman who had a few pieces of pottery to sell, I found out that there were not many people at Laguna making traditional pottery. She was teaching pottery and wanted to revive the art. Next to her, one of her students was wrapping up two huge pottery jars for a collector. Other than these two booths, I didn't encounter many local people who made pottery.

I ended up purchasing a small Jemez pot from Geraldine Toya. She had a gorgeous wedding vase pot which was a bit out of my price range. Her pots are all made in the traditional way and she and her husband use natural pigments and paints.

Geraldine Toya and her beautiful pottery.
The amazing wedding pot is on the left.
Interestingly, you can see their work, in much larger form, along the Albuquerque Sunport road.

I had met Laguna potter, Michael Kanteena, as he presented his art for us at the Petroglyph National Monument years ago and hoped to see him at the feast day. Unfortunately he was not there.

I stopped by the Indian Arts Center store just off the Interstate, near the gas station and asked about Laguna pottery. The owner explained, as did the pottery teacher, that there were not many potters in Laguna. She had some older pottery available for sale to collectors. Also at the Indian Arts Center, you'll often find fry bread and Indian tacos for sale.

Worth a Stop.
When You Go
Feast days are opportunities to visit the Laguna Pueblo as it is a time that visitors are welcomed. Although each small town that makes up the Pueblo has a feast day, the best one to attend is September 19th, as all the villages celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph and gather at Laguna for dances after a Mass at the San José Mission Church.

You'll be spending the day outdoors so wear sunscreen, a hat and carry (or purchase) water.

Bring cash for food and your arts and crafts purchases. While some vendors took checks, and a very few took credit cards, most expected purchases to be made with cash.

More Information - Laguna Pueblo Website