Fundamental Ceremonial Costume
The simplest ceremonial costumes are made up of the few garments that were worn before the white man came. An attempt to gain special favor with some god resulted in ornamentation that could be applied whenever dancing should be done for a particular result. Thus each drama calls for essential parts, distinguishing features worn or carried which differentiate one costume from another, making this one correct for the Bow Dance and that for the Basket Dance.
A step beyond this simple dress come those costumes which have added a fixed representative feature. The Tablita Dance, performed in many villages, makes use of a form of headdress from which it derives its name.
The tablita[*] is a flat wooden superstructure with the lower edge curved to fit across the head. It sits upright, the top cut in irregular forms, and soft feathers and the heads of beautiful wild grasses float from the points. Carried with majestic dignity, it is worn by the women dancers throughout a long, hot day of ceremony.
Among the Tewa the tablita appears in its simplest form (pl. 19). A turquoise blue plaque, painted sky-color, surmounts a head of glossy, floating hair. The top, terraced to suggest mesa and cloud, is accented by white feather puffs which represent prayers for the rain-bringing elements of nature. This touch of color enlivens the otherwise somber appearance of the women, who wear hand-woven dark dresses accented by a red belt bound around the waist. Heavy strands of turquoise and shell beads encircle the neck, and many bracelets of silver and turquoise band the arms. The bare feet scarcely leave the earth as the women move demurely, with downcast eyes, behind the men. A tight bunch of evergreen, clutched in each hand, adds the dull green of its stiff needles to this solemn scene—a scene which is nevertheless alive with color and movement, for the men (pl. 20), brilliant in their white kilts with jewellike colors, prance high, with black hair, fringe of rain sash, and pendent foxskin bounding with every step. Their hands and their bodies beneath the kilts are white. Bands of dark blue yarn are knotted at each knee, and turtle-shell rattles hang behind. White moccasins with skunk-fur heelpieces clothe the feet, and turquoise blue arm bands flaunt sprays of evergreens. The blackness of the loosened hair is accentuated by a yellow topknot of parrot feathers. Gourd rattles and sprigs of spruce are carried in the hands, moving up and down with each well-timed step.
In this dance, as observed in September, 1936, in San Ildefonso, the men and women come down the kiva steps and form casually into couples. two men followed by two women. The first figure of the dance is a forward step in a long, curved line about the plaza. In the center of the plaza
the chorus and the drummer stamp in time as they sing the mystic chant. On the side nearest the dancers a standard bearer takes up his position, holding a twenty-foot pole on the top of which is a banner surmounted by brilliant feathers. This he weaves slowly and continuously over the dancers.
There are different tablita forms at Zuñi and Hopi, but the main costume is always the same.
A similar headdress usage is seen in connection with the Turtle Dance at San Juan, where in a long file of men each wears an ornament of gourd fashioned into a blossom, with two eagle feathers, a macaw feather, and a sprig of evergreen sticking from it—the whole fastened to the top of the head in a horizontal position. There is only one exception to the usual costume: the fringe of the plaited sash, hanging down behind, takes the place of the customary pendent foxskin.