Crucifixion, Slavery, and Death:
The Hermanos Penitentes of the Southwest
Ramón A. Gutiérrez
There is in the remote mountain villages of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado a penitential confraternity known as La Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno, the Pious Confraternity of Our Lord Jesus Nazarene, popularly known as the Hermanos Penitentes. The group's devotion to the passion and death of Christ, still commemorated with rituals of crucifixion on Good Friday, has long fascinated believers and disbelievers, promoters and detractors of Hispano culture in the Southwest. Since 1833 when Josiah Gregg first described the penitential rituals he observed during Holy Week at Tomé, in his much-read book Commerce of the Prairies, wells of ink have been spent recounting the activities of the Hermanos Penitentes. Protestant authors in the nineteenth century focused on the brutality and barbarity of the bloody flagellants and their crucifixion rite to validate Anglo-American presuppositions about New Mexican Hispano Catholicism—namely, that centuries of Roman Catholic rule in what became the U.S. Southwest had bred a backward, primitive, and savage piety that hampered the civilizing mission of the Anglo capitalist gospel.
At the end of the nineteenth century, a host of pundits, visionaries, and pop-historians, individuals who as a group lacked the linguistic tools and cultural sensitivity to study much less understand the activities of the Hermanos Penitentes, focused a voyeuristic gaze on the group. "Orientalizing" the Upper Rio Grande Valley for touristic purposes, they painted pictures of a primitive, simple landscape and populace in the Southwest that resembled Egypt and offered a potential escape from the decadent industrial northeastern United States. In this frame of reference, even sympathetic advocates of the brotherhood depicted it as one of the "last vestiges of medievalism in America," as "mired in webs of iconographic confusion," and locked "in a time-warp oblivious to history."
This essay on the history of the Pious Confraternity of Our Lord Jesus Nazarene forms part of a larger research project on the history of Indian slavery in New Mexico. Much of the extant scholarship on slavery in the Americas has focused on the African experience. Reams have been written on the Atlantic passage, on the African slave experience in various plantation economies, and on the process of manumission, the meaning of freedom, and the stigma and meanings of color for these former slaves throughout the hemisphere. But except for Silvio Zavala's 1967 documentary history, Indian Slaves in New Spain, little attention has been given to the role of Indian thralls in the hacienda and ranch economies of the hemisphere. My goal here is to begin to fill this lacuna, if only very partially, by studying the cultural history of genízaros, as Indian slaves were known in New Mexico, focusing in this essay on their religious organizations and rituals.
Membership in the Pious Confraternity of the Our Lord Jesus Nazarene, even to this day, is considered a fundamental way of life. The confraternity offers its members a code for living that is marked by a year-long calendar of pious acts, a regimen of prayer, fasting, mortification, and social works of mercy. Confraternity activities reach a high pitch during Holy Week, when Christ's passion and death on the cross are commemorated. From Palm Sunday until Holy Saturday, members of the brotherhood reenact the Way of the Cross, which according to some late-nineteenth-century accounts, actually culminated in the death of the surrogate Christ.
To understand the historical and cultural meanings of the daily, weekly, and Holy Week rituals of the La Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno, one must approach their rituals like one approaches the careful analysis of an onion, peeling away layer after layer. The organizational form the brotherhood takes is the cofradía, or confraternity. The words confraternity and cofradía both derive from the Latin word confrater, which literally means a "co-brother." A confraternity was a group of persons who lived together like brothers in a larger fictive or mystical family. Confraternities had their origin in Europe during the twelfth century as voluntary associations of the Christian faithful committed to the performance of acts of charity. In an era before social services were provided by the state, the pressing social needs created by poverty and vagrancy accelerated the formation of religious brotherhoods. Victims of catastrophe, disease, or unemployment found their basic needs met through the works of mercy performed by confraternities. Members of confraternities, by performing such acts, gained grace and indulgences, which were deemed sure routes to sanctity and personal salvation.
Confraternities dedicated themselves to the promotion of particular devotions to Christ, to the Virgin Mary, and to various saints. They required episcopal sanction for formation and were governed by statutes that contained their rule, their prescribed ritual practices, their required works of piety, and festival days of observance. Despite great differences in devotional
practices, the common thread that bound brotherhoods was their obligation to lead model lives of Christian virtue, to care for the physical welfare of the locality's needy, to bury the dead, and to pray for the salvation of departed souls.
The familial language that confraternities employed made them vibrant organizational forms for the expression of broader social affinities. As equal members of the mystical body of Christ joined in spiritual brotherhood, for purposes of larger social good, residents of a community could momentarily put aside the enmities and distrust that typically marked the daily interactions of families, households, and clans. Indeed, through the creation of religious associations of co-brothers who were united in the mystical body of Christ with God as father and the Church as mother, Catholic prelates and theologians explicitly critiqued the secular, biological theory of family that had existed in Western Europe since the second century A.D.
Nowadays, when we speak of familia, or family, we equate it with our immediate blood kin. That which is within the family is intimate, within the private walls of the home, and devoid of strangers. But if we focus carefully on the historical genealogy of the word familia, on its antique meanings, it was tied neither to kinship nor to a specific private space or house. Rather, what constituted familia was the relationship of authority that one person exercised over another, and more specifically, familia was imagined as the authority relationship of a master over slaves. The etymological root of the Spanish word familia is the Latin word familia. According to historian David Herlihy, Roman grammarians believed that the word had entered Latin as a borrowing from the Oscan language. In Oscan famel meant "slave"; the Latin word for slave was famulus. "We are accustomed to call staffs of slaves families. . . . we call a family the several persons who by nature of law are placed under the authority of a single person," explained Ulpian, the second century A.D. Roman jurist. Family was initially that hierarchical authority relationship that one person exercised over others, most notably slaves, but in time, also over a wife, children, and retainers.
It was to temper this authority that a master exercised over his slaves or family that the Church elaborated the relationship of spiritual fraternity that was born of baptism. Through the sacrament of baptism one was born again a child of God, thus defining the person both as a natural and a spiritual being, with loyalties both to biological natural parents and to spiritual parents as well. For slaves, who often had no natural or genealogical relationships in a town, the confraternity served as an alternative kinship network morally obligated to offer protection and succor in times of need.
In every town and village, in both Europe and the Americas, vertical and horizontal confraternities existed side by side. The vertical confraternities integrated a locality's social groups, joining the rich and the poor, Spaniards and Indians, the slave and free. By emphasizing mutual aid and ritually
obliterating local status distinctions and social hierarchy, vertical confraternities diffused latent social tensions into less dangerous forms of conflict. In place of overt class antagonism, parish confraternities squabbled over displays of material wealth, the splendor of celebrations, and the precedence due each group.
If vertical brotherhoods integrated a town's various classes, horizontal confraternities mirrored a locale's segmentation, marking organizationally status inequalities, be they based on race, honor, property ownership, or other material and symbolic goods. Relationships of domination and subordination were often articulated through confraternity rivalries and their symbolic opposition throughout the yearly cycle of sacred rites. The social supremacy of the Spanish gentry, for example, was expressed through their opulent confraternity rituals and celebrations to various saints. Dominated groups such as Indians and slaves also expressed their dignity and their collective identity with acts of piety that rivaled those of their oppressors.
Such horizontal separation of social groups is clearly apparent in the symbolic opposition that has existed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from the eighteenth century to the present, between the Confraternity of Our Lady of Light and the Confraternity of Our Lord Jesus Nazarene, popularly known as the Brothers of Darkness. During the colonial period, noted Fray José de Vera, the population of the Kingdom of New Mexico was divided into "three groups . . . superior, middle and infamous." The superior class consisted of noble men of honor, the conquistadors of the province. Below them were the landed peasants, who were primarily of mestizo or mixed ancestry but who considered themselves Spaniards to differentiate themselves from the Indians. At the bottom of the social hierarchy were the "infamous" genízaros who were dishonored by their slave status.
The Confraternity of Our Lady of Light, founded in Santa Fe in 1760, was largely composed of members of Santa Fe's Spanish nobility. The confraternity owned a private chapel, which by eighteenth-century standards was the most ornate in town, and had furnishings that were considered sumptuous, rich vestuaries, and a large endowment of land and livestock. On the feast days that commemorated Our Lady of Light's conception, purification, nativity, and assumption, her devotees carried her bejeweled image through the streets of Santa Fe accompanied by the royal garrison firing salvos, and ending in celebrations marked with dances, dramas, and bullfights.
Symbolically counterpoised to the co-brothers of Our Lady of Light were the Brothers of Darkness, whose devotion was to Christ's passion and death. The members of the Confraternity of Our Lord Jesus Nazarene were primarily genízaros. The Brothers of Darkness displayed their piety through acts of mortification, flagellation, cross-bearing, and the Good Friday crucifixion of one of its members. "The body of this Order is composed of mem-
bers so dry that all its juice consists chiefly of misfortunes," wrote Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez, describing the confraternity's poverty in 1776. They had neither membership records, accounts, nor an endowment, and frequently had to borrow ceremonial paraphernalia from other confraternities for their services.
Between 1693 and 1846, approximately 3,500 Indians slaves entered New Mexican households as domestic servants, captured as prisoners of a "just war." As defeated enemies living in Spanish towns, these slaves were considered permanent outsiders who had to submit to the moral and cultural superiority of their conquerors. In addition to these slaves captured in warfare, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries New Mexico's slave population swelled to about ten thousand, out of a total Spanish population of thirty thousand, through the purchase of Indian slaves from the Apaches and Comanches, and through the incorporation into New Mexican villages of Pueblo Indian outcasts from their native towns.
Genízaro slaves residing in Spanish households and towns were convenient targets for Spanish racial hatreds. As captives and outcasts, the genízaros were considered infamous, dishonored, and socially and symbolically dead in the eyes of the Christian community. Though they lived in Christian households, they lacked genealogical ties to a kinship group, and had legal personalities primarily through their owners. The only public form of sociability open to them to express their common plight as slaves, and eventually to express their ethnic solidarity, were the confraternity rituals of the Catholic Church, which bound them as co-brothers in the mystical body of Christ.
With only few notable exceptions, scholars in the past have usually depicted the Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno in a rather static and timeless fashion. The documentary and material evidence clearly suggests various periods of development, transformation, and florescence, periods that are never easy to establish with precision and can only be considered rough approximations.
The confraternity's first period, difficult to recuperate given the paucity of oral and historical sources, begins with the colonization of the Kingdom of New Mexico in 1598 and extends roughly into the 1790s. Many of the ritual forms of the fraternidad were undoubtedly introduced in New Mexico by the Franciscan friars as part of their project to Christianize the indigenous population. Given the fear that the Franciscans had of imparting heretical understandings of the sacraments to the Indians, their Christianization project became that of teaching through paraliturgies, rites of sowing and harvest, didactic dramas, devotional practices tied to cosmological phenomena, and various Franciscan devotions to the Crucified Christ, such as the Way of the Cross. The cross was a symbol that many Indians had long
given special importance in their iconography, albeit because it represented the six directions of the cosmos. Ritual flagellation too was commonly practiced by Mesoamerican Indians as a purificatory rite for contact with the sacred. What occurred in colonial New Mexico under the rubric of Christianization was a process of cultural convergence between two systems of ritual practice; Franciscan Holy Week rituals substituted well for the Indians' warfare and masculine rituals of power, which under Spanish rule were prohibited. Historian William B. Taylor maintains that the great continuity and convergence between Christianity and Mesoamerican religions was in the ways of representing religious power, in the ways of conjuring the supernatural, in the substances that were deemed holy and polluting, in the ways of creating and entering sacred spaces, and in the ways of anchoring and linking the natural and supernatural to very specific localities.
The laws regulating slavery in New Mexico stipulated that thralls could only be kept in bondage for a period of ten to twenty years. In many cases slaves were freed upon a master's death. The manumission of slaves in New Mexican society produced a peculiar problem in terms of symbolic logic. How could a person considered socially dead and dangerous be given life again as a free and integral member of the community of Christians? The solution was to negate the negation of life—that is, to negate the slave's social death through a second ritual death.
I have long suspected that the rituals of the hermandad were initially rituals of slave manumission; and here I am offering nothing more than an educated hunch. The theology of Christ's crucifixion was a particularly appropriate metaphor for manumission as a death to the state of human bondage, for in it were the ideas of death and renewal. Just as Christ had died because of our slavery to sin and so had given us eternal life anew, so too the genízaro slave's social death was negated through a ritual death, bringing the person back to life. Christ's death brought us redemption. The word "redemption" means to ransom one from the bondage of slavery through the martyrdom of a sacrificial victim. Similarly, through Christ's death we atoned for our sins, and those separated by sin were brought back together. Here again, genízaros, who were outsiders and intruders in Spanish society, were reintegrated into the community. The crucifixion of Christ theologically represented a series of status elevations that paralleled the status changes that accompanied a genízaro's manumission: from spiritual slavery to freedom, from spiritual death to life, from social separation to social integration.
The rather fragmentary evidence seems to suggest that in the community's religious division of labor, the Franciscan friars localized the need for corporal penance on the genízaros, thereby gaining the genízaros' redemption from sin and their reincorporation into the community through manumission. Much of the symbolism of the Hermanos Penitentes' ritual is one of status elevation; being led out of darkness to the light, brothers of dark-
ness in time become brothers of light. Here again we have the Franciscan mystical formula for spiritual perfection. One kills the body to have mystical union with the father of light. Physical purgation prepares the soul for illumination, which, in turn, readies the soul for its mystical marriage with Christ.
A clearly distinct second period for the confraternity dates from approximately 1790 to the 1820s. In these years genízaros in New Mexico develop as a distinct ethnic group. Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez noted in 1776, "Although the genízaros are servants among our people they are not fluent in speaking or understanding Castilian perfectly, for however much they may talk or learn the language, they do not wholly understand it or speak it without twisting it somewhat." Fray Carlos Delgado observed in 1744 that the genízaros "live in great unity as if they were a nation." Delgado added that genízaros practiced marriage-class endogamy for "they marry women of their own status and nature."
Genízaros were stigmatized by their slave and ex-slave status. Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez reported that genízaros were "weak, gamblers, liars, cheats and petty thieves." When New Mexicans today say "No seas genízaro" (Don't be a genízaro), they mean, don't be a liar.
The threat Hispanos felt at having increasing numbers of members of the enemy group living within their towns led to the residential segregation and spatial marginalization of genízaros. In Santa Fe the genízaros lived in the Analco district, situated strategically across the Santa Fe River in a suburb established to protect the town's eastern approach from Apache attacks. By the mid-eighteenth century, manumitted genízaros were congregated into settlements along Apache, Navajo, and Comanche raiding routes into the settlements of the Rio Grande drainage. Belén and Tomé were established in 1740 to protect the southern approach, Abiquiu and Ojo Caliente both were founded in 1754 to protect the northwest, and San Miguel del Vado in 1794 to protect the northeast.
By around 1790, genízaros were perceived as a distinct ethnic group. Spanish society viewed them as marginal persons because of their slave and former slave status. They spoke a distinctive form of Spanish, married endogamously, and shared a corporate identity, living together as if they were a nation. And their liminality between the world of the Pueblo Indians and that of the Spaniards was marked through residential segregation and congregation in autonomous settlements. Membership in the Pious Confraternity of Our LordJesus Nazarene became an expression of ethnic solidarity. The position of this confraternity in the Church's horizontal system of pious organizations reflected their place at the bottom of the social order.
The third period of the confraternity's history roughly begins in the 1820s and continues with some modifications to the present. What is unique about this period is the confraternity's evolution into autonomous political and
economic organizations, which were eventually repudiated by the Catholic Church hierarchy. In the early years of this period we increasingly see the nominal Christian veneer in the ritual and ideological system of the hermandad being supplanted by cosmological beliefs and practices, as well as the development of the confraternity into a civic political body.
The first change observed in this movement toward political autonomy is the redefinition of the confraternity's sacral topography. Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez in 1776 reported that there were separate altars to Jesus Nazarene in the churches at Santa Fe, Santa Cruz, Albuquerque, Tomé, and Abiquiu. By 1814 the altar at Santa Fe's parroquia (parish) was replaced by a free-standing chapel in the church's courtyard. And by 1821 this chapel had been moved off church land and established as an independent morada, or penitente chapel, on private property. These moradas were maintained by the confraternity without any form of ecclesiastical supervision.
Starting in 1836, the Bishop of Durango (in charge of New Mexico until 1848), continually tried to assert his authority over the confraternity by imposing the rule of the Third Order of St. Francis. The bishop's hope was to regain control over branches of the confraternity that were increasingly aloof to clerical supervision, or so he asserted. In 1830 José de la Peña expressed succinctly why the Church hierarchy found the Hermanos Penitentes so subversive. Peña wrote: "They have a constitution somewhat resembling that of the Third Order, but entirely suited to their own political views. In fact, they have but self-constituted superiors and as a group do as they please." Fifty years later, in 1888, Jean Baptiste Salpointe, Archbishop of Santa Fe Archdiocese, similarly observed: "This society, though perhaps legitimate and religious in its beginning, has so greatly degenerated many years ago that it has no longer fixed rules, but is governed in everything according to the pleasure of the director of every locality; and in many cases it is nothing else but a political society."
Archbishop Salpointe was quite correct in seeing the confraternity as the corporate political body of genízaro communities. The ritual leader of the confraternity, the hermano mayor or the "eldest brother," was also quite frequently the town's civic leader. He administered justice, managed the locality's economic resources, and cared for the social welfare needs of the place. Of course, one should not minimize the organization's religious functions, which continued to thrive, particularly after the secularization of New Mexico's Franciscan missions between 1830 and 1850. Devoid of priest and access to the sacraments, the Hermanos Penitentes elaborated and evolved their own rites and routes to the sacred. According to anthropologist Munro Edmonson, the ritual calendar in genízaro villages did not correspond to the Christian one. The themes articulated in the alabados, the penitential hymns members of the brotherhood chanted in their rites, also changed
over time. Rather than the themes of death and darkness as a way to salvation, metaphors and symbols of illumination, which in American Indian religious thought signify utopia, started to figure more prominently. Similarly, the first report of a man actually dying on the cross on Good Friday comes from the 1890s. The mystery and legitimacy of Christianity comes from the fact that Christ descended to earth and was crucified for the sins of humanity. In the absence of priests, might the crucifixion of a Penitente similarly have given legitimacy to the confraternity's devotions and served as a symbol for their own resistance to outside domination? Perhaps.
What we do know for sure is that in the late 1880s and 1890s knowledge of the Hermanos Penitentes was widely disseminated throughout the United States to a broad reading public. The development of an integrated national market criss-crossed by railways and highways, and interpolated by print journalism, made it at last possible to imagine the nation on a continental scale and to travel to its remotest corners to see the odd customs of its exotics and view the most picturesque scenes imaginable. American nationalism produced and fed both the production and consumption of travel literature, and ultimately the touristic marketing of New Mexico.
At the end of the nineteenth century many luminaries, writers, artists, alienated intellectuals and social misfits came to New Mexico seeking a salubrious refuge from the machine age. In the quaint villages of what was to become the "Land of Enchantment" and in its prehistoric sites was a preindustrial America, a vestige from the past that offered mystical and romantic repose.
Charles Fletcher Lummis, the man who coined the slogan "See America First," was the individual most responsible for the initial marketing of New Mexico's cultures. It was Lummis who constructed the Pious Confraternity of Our Lord Jesus Nazarene as the savage and fanatic "Penitent Brothers" for the Anglo touristic gaze, simultaneously fixing for his readers the most enduring Anglo-American representations of the Pueblo Indians, the Navajo, the Apache, and especially of the New Mexican landscape.
Lummis came to New Mexico and the American West in 1881, seeking a cure for the "brain fever" he had developed at Harvard preparing for the ministry. In the West he found health and the city editorship of the Los Angeles Times, and it was from there, with extended forays to New Mexico, that he penned and preached about the corruption and decadence of Anglo-Saxon New England and the vigor and salubrity of the multi-ethnic West. Writing such well received and popular books as A New Mexico David (1891), Pueblo Indian Folk Tales (1891), A Tramp Across the Continent (1892), Some Strange Corners of Our Country (1892), The Land of Poco Tiempo (1893), The Spanish Pioneers (1893), The Enchanted Burro ( 1897), and The King of the Broncos (1897), Lummis took his readers on an "orientalist" adventure to New
Mexico through fantasies and hallucinations of Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, and deepest, darkest Africa. In The Land of Poco Tiempo Lummis writes:
The brown or gray adobe hamlets [of New Mexico] . . . the strange terraced towns . . . the abrupt mountains, the echoing, rock-walled cañons, the sunburnt mesas, the streams bankrupt by their own shylock sands, the gaunt, brown, treeless plains, the ardent sky, all harmonize with unearthly unanimity. . . . It is a land of quaint, swart faces, of Oriental dress and unspelled speech; a land where distance is lost, and eye is a liar; a land of ineffable lights and sudden shadows; of polytheism and superstition, where the rattlesnake is a demigod, and the cigarette a means of grace, and where Christians mangle and crucify themselves—the heart of Africa beating against the ribs of the Rockies. (4–5)
In chapter after chapter, in description after description, New Mexico was Egypt. Describing the unique light on New Mexico, Lummis wrote: "Under that ineffable alchemy of the sky, mud turns ethereal, and the desert is a revelation. It is Egypt, with every rock a sphinx, every peak a pyramid" (9). The residents of Acoma Pueblo were "plain, industrious farmers, strongly Egyptian in their methods" (69). The Indian pueblos at Taos, Zuni, and Acoma, had been built in the shape of "pyramid" blocks (51–52). Pueblo girls cloaked themselves in "modest, artistic Oriental dress" (53). The Indian pony-tail was "The Egyptian queue in which both sexes dress their hair" ( 111). In the wind-eroded sand sculpture of the desert, Lummis saw an "insistent suggestion of Assyrian sculpture. . . . One might fancy it a giant Babylon" (61). The Apache were the "Bedouin of the New World," and the land they inhabited, a "Sahara, thirsty as death on the battlefield" (175–76). The Penitent Brothers whipped themselves like "the ancient Egyptians flogged themselves in honor of Isis" (80).
When Lummis described New Mexico as Egypt and employed Orientalist tropes, he was mimicking what was standard fare in Anglo-American travel writing from the eighteenth century forward. Such images were employed to give readers unfamiliar with a particular place some readily identifiable imaginary markers drawn from their own colonial histories, from travels to the Holy Land by their compatriots, and from their own readings of the Bible. But equally important, writes Mary Louise Pratt, Egypt offered "one powerful model for the archeological rediscovery of America. There, too, Europeans were reconstructing a lost history through, and as, 'rediscovered' monuments and ruins." By reviving indigenous history and culture as archaeology, the locals who occupied those sites were being revived as dead.
What evoked the sights, sounds and smells of Egypt in New Mexico for Lummis were the women who carried clay water jars on their heads, the cool mud (adobe) houses that dotted the landscape, the donkey beasts of bur-
den, the two-wheeled carts, the desert sun, light, and heat, and the presence of sedentary and nomadic "primitives" amidst the ruins and abandoned architectural vestiges of former grand civilizations.
Lummis introduced the Penitent Brothers in The Land of Poco Tiempo, noting:
[S] o late as 1891 a procession of flagellants took place within the limits of the United States. A procession in which voters of this Republic shredded their naked backs with savage whips, staggered beneath huge crosses, and hugged the maddening needles of the cactus; a procession which culminated in the flesh-and-blood crucifixion of an unworthy representative of the Redeemer. Nor was this an isolated horror. Every Good Friday, for many generations, it has been a staple custom to hold these barbarous rites in parts of New Mexico. (79)
Lummis asserted that the brotherhood consisted largely of "petty larcenists, horse-thieves, and assassins" (106). The brotherhood was widely feared because it controlled political power in northern New Mexico. "No one likes—and few dare—to offend them; and there have been men of liberal education who have joined them to gain political influence" (106), Lummis attested.
The Penitente discourse Charles Lummis constructed was followed almost verbatim by most Anglo-American writers who described the brotherhood from 1890 on. The gaze he focused on the flagellation, the bloodletting, the use of cacti for mortification, the shrill of the pito, and the nature and extent of crucifixion framed numerous "eye-witness" accounts that are difficult to accept as such primarily because the descriptions so closely ape those written by Lummis. Lummis took the first, and one of the only, sets of photographs of a Penitente procession and crucifixion, and this visual record may also account for the linguistic framing of what subsequent "outsiders" saw.
Interestingly, Lummis narrates the taking of these photographs as if on a safari hunting large game animals with his camera as his gun. "Woe to him if in seeing he shall be seen. . . . But let him stalk his game, and with safety to his own hide he may see havoc to the hides of others" (85). Lummis recounts how he waited anxiously for Holy Week to arrive so that he could photograph the impossible—the Penitentes. "No photographer has ever caught the Penitentes with his sun-lasso, and I was assured of death in various unattractive forms at the first hint of an attempt" (87). But on hearing the shrill of the pito, his prudence gave way to enthusiasm and he set himself up waiting for what he called the "shot." Though the Hermanos protested, "well-armed friends . . . held back the evil-faced mob, with the instantaneous plates were being snapped at the strange scene below" (91).
Photographs of this barbaric rite were necessary, explained Lummis, because Mexicans were "fast losing their pictorial possibilities" (8–9). What Lummis failed to explain, but what did not elude the diary of Adolph Bandelier, was that Lummis and Amado Chaves had held up the Hermanos at gun point, to get these "shots."
The political subtext of Lummis's Penitente photographs and textual descriptions was a critique of New Mexican despotism and of religious fanaticism that had no place in a republic governed by Anglo Protestants. Like the Israelites who had been led out of the darkness and idolatry of their Egyptian captivity, so too the peoples of New Mexico had to be freed from their "paganism" (read Roman Catholicism) (5).
What Lummis did by hunting Penitentes, cunningly stalking his prey like game animals, trying to capture on film that which was sacred, was to begin the process of desacralization that was to mark the history of the Hermanos and their Fraternidad from 1888 to the 1950s. The Good Friday rituals of the Hermanos at the turn of the century became touristic spectacles for Anglo New Mexicans. According to Gabriel Melendez, it was not uncommon for outsiders to sit in their cars waiting for the Hermanos to emerge from their moradas. As soon as they did, a flood of auto headlights would illuminate their activities.
Once the rituals and processions of the fraternidad had been desacralized, their religious icons and statues soon suffered a similar fate. Mabel Dodge Luhan, in her autobiography, Edge of Taos Desert: An Escape to Reality, recounts how she and her friend Andrew Dasburg created the market for the religious icons that had once adorned moradas.
Andrew had started hunting, an instinct that awakened in him every once in a while, made him breathless, eyes darkened, fully engaged. He hunted the old Santos painted on hand-hewn boards that we had discovered soon after we came to Taos. No one had ever noticed them except to laugh, but here was an authentic primitive art, quite unexploited. We were, I do believe, the first people who ever bought them from the Mexicans, and they were so used to them and valued them so little, they sold them to us for small sums, varying from a quarter to a dollar; on a rare occasion, a finer specimen brought a dollar and a half, but this was infrequent. . . . Andrew was soon absorbed in sainthunting. . . . he went all around the valley looking for them. He became ruthless and determined, and he bullied the simple Mexicans into selling their saints, sometimes when they didn't want to. He grew more and more excited by the chase, so that the hunt thrilled him more than what he found; and he always needed more money to buy new Santos. . . . It was Andrew who started a market for them, and people began to want them and buy them; and I was always giving one or two away to friends who took them east where they looked forlorn and insignificant in sophisticated houses. People always thought they wanted them, though, and soon the stores had a demand for
them. Stephen Bourgeois finally had a fine exhibition of them in his gallery. All this makes them cost seventy-five, a hundred, or two hundred dollars today.
The bultos, santos, and the various religious icons and statues that adorned home altars and moradas slowly were commercialized, deconsecrated, robbed, and placed on display in museums.
A class of alienated Anglo-American intellectuals, writers, artists, and financiers packed their belongings and headed to northern New Mexico at the end of the nineteenth century and in increasing numbers after World War I. They came rejecting the tastes, aspirations, and pretensions of the "Blue Bloods" who mimicked European aristocracy. And by so doing they started to imagine a national culture that was rooted, not in Europe, but on this continent in the cultures of New Mexico.
The preservation of the simple authentic cultures these easterners found in New Mexico, and their implicit critique of the industrial age, was clear in such acts as the 1925 creation of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society by Mary Austin and Frank Applegate. They aestheticized religious expressions and revalorized colonial artifacts as commercial art best enjoyed by connoisseurs. The process of appropriation reached its greatest extreme when the Santuario de Chimayo, the religious pilgrimage site in northern New Mexico, was purchased by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society in 1929 in order to protect it from the local ignorant folk.
In Spanish colonial art products, in religious icons and handicrafts, Anglos imagined the possibility and romance of non-alienating labor. Such artifacts were not mass-produced and appeared to stand frozen in isolation, defying the principles of global capitalism. Mabel Dodge Luhan captured this flight from modernity to the cultural pluralism (read classless society) of New Mexico well when she instructed her son, "Remember, it is ugly in America. . . . we have left everything worthwhile behind us. America is all machinery and money-making and factories . . . ugly, ugly, ugly."
A whole generation of Anglo-Americans, under the influence of piedpiper Charles Fletcher Lummis, were lured to New Mexico hoping there to resist industrial capital, to preserve the quaint picturesque cultures they found, and to market Pueblo and Hispano handicrafts as an authentic American art that offered a solution to national alienation. We see these sentiments expressed very well in the very first page of Roland F. Dickey's New Mexico Village Arts ( 1949). "This book does not recount famous names and urbane schools of art. It tells of ordinary men and women who worked with their hands to create a satisfying way of life in the Spanish villages of New Mexico." Waxing lyrical for over two hundred pages, Dickey concludes: "Today it is possible to escape from the commonplaceness of the machine world by furnishing an adobe house in what is reputed to be the Hispanic manner. . . . Beautiful things made by hand provide a relief from the systematic lines
and textures of machine manufacture, and keep awake sensitivities that are dulled by standardization."
The fraternidad responded to the commercialization of their religious expressions and to their transformation into safari tour spectacles by going underground, seeking anonymity, placing a premium on secrecy, and eventually retreating into New Mexico's hinterlands. There they developed a deep spiritual and mystical sense of community. In interviews, conversations, and a recent conference on the Penitent Brotherhood, the Hermanos have consistently noted that the essence of the brotherhood is mysticism and faith. Hermano Larry Torres of Taos recently stated that to be an Hermano was to devote one's life to prayer, penitence, and sacrifice. Torres cited the Song of Songs and the life of St. Bernard of Clairvaux as his two models for reaching spiritual perfection. The two alabados, or prayers that captured the nature of his faith, were: Un ardiente deseo, which tells of lovers yearning for the beloved and the sweetness of their embrace, and Por ser mi divina luz, which describes how Christ is the beacon leading one from darkness to the light. Hermano Floyd Trujillo described his duties and commitments as follows: "When one becomes an hermano it is like the bond of sacred matrimony. . . . we know the role we accept and, like Christ, we take the cross and follow him. We help the people. We help those that need help. . . . We never say no. We see the needs of the community and we take care of them. We are the leaders of the community."
The Hermanos take this leadership role very seriously. Hermano Gabriel Melendez has explained that the role of the hermano is that of a mediator who makes reconciliation possible. To mediate conflicts between Hermanos, between husbands and wives, between the Church and the Brotherhood, between the saints and the local morada. It is only through such activities of mediation that social peace and reconciliation can occur.
One of the most eloquent members of the hermandad, Felipe Ortega, the master of novices at La Madera, New Mexico, clearly sees the fraternidad and the morada as an anti-hierarchical organization and sacred space for the experience of Christ and the community, that stands outside and in juxtaposition to the Catholic Church. Ortega notes that when members of a morada sing their penitential hymns or alabados in a cantor/response mode, a "unison is created, one spirit, one mind, one heart." Within the morada, people stand facing each other, rather than oriented toward a priest and altar, further inscribing the egalitarian sense of community among morada members. And when the Hermanos come together to celebrate rituals, they in fact create the very sacraments. For when the Hermanos sing "Venid. Venid. Venid a la mesa divina" (Come. Come. Come to the divine table), members of the brotherhood are called to feed their souls and their bodies in a common union, at a veritable communion, through the sharing of food.
I realize that this essay is both tentative and speculative, and perhaps devoid of the chronological precision one commonly finds in historical tracts. My main theoretical concern in this research has been to understand the dynamics of cultural systems of reckoning and relatedness that are imagined and spoken with the same language we use to describe biogenetic ties, but which are often deemed "fictive." Since the late nineteenth century our anthropological and historical understanding of kinship has been dominated by studies of kinship terms, componential analysis, and household structures. Simply knowing who is biologically related to whom, who co-resides, and who gave birth to whom tells us very little about how relationships are imagined and kinship obligations animated in any society. Kinship theory has been too tightly constrained by our own modern preoccupation with biology and the salience of biogenetic principles of descent. If we are to understand the meaning of kinship in the early modern period, we have to approach the topic culturally, sketching the parameter of thought by studying prescriptive literature and then exploring instances where thought was concretely negotiated in practice. Herein I have tried to show how Indian slaves or genízaros, individuals who had no kinship ties to the community of Christians in New Mexico, forged ties of affinity through the Catholic Church's structure of confraternities that were just as real, important, and vibrant as any biological link ever has been or can be.
My second explicit aim has been to focus intensively on religious thought and expression as a window into local politics. Perhaps because we live in a secular age, we often relegate religion and its rituals to the domain of magic and superstition. I have tried to show that if one is going to take politics seriously in the early modern period and to study the origins of political forms, one has to turn to religion, the idiom through which politics was expressed until quite recently. One cannot, for example, understand the appeal of the New Mexican 1960s land radical, Reyes López Tijerina, unless one understands the religious qua political organization of the villagers to whom he was appealing for help in reclaiming lands fraudulently stolen from Hispano villages in the 1850s. Reyes was the king, and he took New Mexicans, who prior to the 1960s had lived in darkness, into the light.
Finally, the Hermanos Penitentes teach us how deeply notions of ethnicity and kinship are intertwined. Whether one is a child of Abraham (as a Jew), a child of Malinche (as a Chicano), or a brother of Jesus Christ (as a genízaro), ethnic identity is tied to cultural conceptions of family. At a time when our civic fabric seems frayed beyond repair, when women are reinscribed as subordinates in patriarchal thinking, and single mothers are seen as pathologies in the body politic, we must reinvent new models of relatedness, based not on hierarchy but on egalitarian principles. This is the model for a better tomorrow that I think the Pious Confraternity of Our Lord Jesus Nazarene offers us all.