Matachines (Spanish matachín, a sword dancer in a fantastic costume —called also bouffon b pl matachi·ni [MexSp matachín, fr. Sp, matachin (sense 1a), fr. It mattaccino]: a member of a society of north and South American-Indian dancers who perform ritual dances. They are found from Peru up to Northern NM where the Spanish first influenced "The New World" and introduced Christianity to the native peoples.
The Matachina dance, or "Danza de Matachines" (Spanish) is explained by oral tradition amongst most Indian Tribes as "The Dance of the Moors and Christians" and is the first masked dance introduced by the Spaniards. The Moors were driven out of Spain in 1492 and the missionaries introduced the dance to show the superiority of the Christians. The dance was adopted by the people, and today many forms of this dance still exist, though the dance steps vary amongst tribes the dance formations are all similar. Masks continue to be used, but the style changes from village to village, or tribe.
The introduction of the Dance of the Moors and Christians gave rise to a further range of masked dances, one of them recounting the Spanish victory over the Indians and their eventual conversion to Christianity. These dances are called conquest dances (also a Matachin tradition), and Cortes and La Malinche (his Indian mistress and translator) often appear in them. It's interesting to note that in many versions of this dance, the Indians wear lavish costumes while the Christians are played by children.
The Matachines dance for a deeper religious purpose, since most of them join to venerate either Mother Mary (Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, Immaculate conception, etc.), a saint (the group usually chooses the saint that pertains to the church they belong to), or simply to worship Christ or God the Holy Trinity, demonstrated by the three forked item symbolized as a "Sword of the Holy Trinity".
Dressed in traditional ceremonial dress and clothing, the chief characters are El Monarca the monarch (Montezuma), the captains (usually consist of 2-4 and are Montezuma's main generals), La Malinche, or Malintzin, the Indian mistress of Hernán Cortés; El Toro, the bull, the malevolent comic man of the play (also symbolizes Satan, or the Devil, according to Roman Catholic religious interpretations), dressed with the skins of the buffalo and wearing the horns of this sacred ancestor; Abuelo, the grandfather, and Abuela, grandmother. With the help of a chorus of dancers they portray the desertion of his people by Montezuma, the luring of him back by the wiles and smiles of La Malinche, the final reunion of king and people and the killing of El Toro, who is supposed to have made all the mischief. Much symbolism is seen in these groups. The most basic symbol of the dance is good vs. evil, with good prevailing.
All of the cultural artifacts associated with the dance are blessed by a priest.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Luis Trivino Yaqui/Pueblo de Cochiti Indian tribal member