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 Río del Norte (Río 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 mostramos

El gran recibimiento que a la Iglesia

Toda la nueva México hazía,

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,

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 .... )2

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