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The Arrival of the Europeans: Folk Dramatizations of Conquest and Conversion in New Mexico Max Harris On 30 April 1598, on the banks of the Rio del Norte (Rio Grande), Juan de Oñate formally "took possession of all the kingdoms and provinces of New Mexico, in the name of King Philip [of Spain]." The reading of the act of possession was followed by "a sermon, a great ecclesiastical and secular celebration , a great salute and rejoicing, and, in the afternoon, a comedy ."1 Although the text of the comedia has been lost, a brief account of the play's subject matter can be found in Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá's epic poem Historia de la Nueva Mexico. Villagrá was a captain under Oñate 's command in New Mexico and published his account of the expedition in 1610. He wrote: Y luego que acabaron los oficios Representaron vna gran comedia Que el noble Capitán Farfán compuso, Cuio argumento sólo fue mostrarnos El gran recibimiento que a Ia Iglesia Toda la nueva México hazla, Dándole el parabién de su venida Con grande reverencia, suplicando. Las rodillas en tierra, les labase Aquella culpa con el agua santa Del precioso Baptismo que traían, Con cuio saludable sacramento Muchos Bárbaros vimos ya labados Luego que por su tierras anduvimos. Vbo solemnes fiestas agradables De gente de acaballo bien luzida. . . . (And when the services were done They did present a great drama The noble Captain Farfán had composed, 141 142The Arrival of the Europeans Whose argument was but to show to us The great reception of the Church That all New Mexico did give, Congratulating it upon its arrival. Begging, with thorough reverence, And kneeling on the ground, it would wash out Its faults with that holy water Of precious Baptism which they brought, With which most salutary sacrament We saw many barbarians cleansed When we were traveling through their lands. There were solemn and pleasing festivals Of splendid men on horseback. . . .); The description of the play ends with the phrase "que traían" ("which they brought"). The sight of "many barbarians" being "cleansed" by the water of baptism refers to subsequent events, although such baptisms may also have been enacted predictively as part of the comedia. And the "splendid men on horseback" took part not in the comedia but in some other aspect of the festivities . Mounted caballeros often did take part in quasi-dramatic skirmishes or in fiestas de moros y cristianos, as we shall see shortly, but such spectacles were not called comedias, and Villagr á's punctuation clearly distinguishes the "fiestas agradables/ De gente de acaballo" from the preceding comedia. We know, therefore, the name of the play's author and its theme. The playwright. Captain Marcos Farfán de los Godos was, by his own account, "one of the first to enroll under the royal banner to serve his majesty in this expedition," and had invested heavily in the venture, for he had brought with him to the initial muster "thirty equipped men and eighty horses of [his] own."3 He was, according to Villagrá's most recent editors, "among those captains . . . who . . . were most efficacious in both the pacification and the political and social organization of the new territory."4 The theme of Farfán's play was the conversion of the people of New Mexico. No reference was made, if we can trust Villagrá's summary, to armed conquest, the ordinary condition of religious conversion in the "New World." In Farfán's idealized dramatic prediction, "all New Mexico" peacefully and with great reverence welcomed the Church and, falling to its knees, begged for baptism. New Mexico and the Church were each represented, one assumes, either by a single allegorical figure or, as seems more likely since the Spanish verbs and pronouns are in the plural ("les labase" and "traiá/?"), by a group Max Harris143 of actors appropriately costumed. According to this dramatized encounter of the two cultures, there was to be no resistance, no violence, no armed clash. Spanish possession of New Mexico was to be justified by the natives' voluntary and eager embrace of the Church...


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