La Danza de Los Moros y Cristianos (the Moors and Christians dance) is popular in Mexico, having been introduced there by the Spanish shortly after their conquest of this region. There is a variation of this dance drama that is called La Danza de Los Santiagueros, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell them apart. The introduction of the Moors and Christians dance by the missionaries was clearly meant to impress the Indians of New Spain with the power of the Spanish conquerors, which was said to be based on their close relationship with the Christian God. In my view, the Indians of Mexico subtly transformed the Moors and Christians dance and the Santiagueros dance to serve their rather different purpose, which was apparently to covertly appeal to God for rescue from the Spanish, who abused them. I wrote about this in detail in my book—Mexican Masks and Puppets: Master Carvers of the Sierra de Puebla. Briefly, in the Indian version of these dances the Moors (the “bad” guys) secretly represent the Spanish, the Christians secretly represent the Indians, and a third group pretend to be allied with the Moors but are secretly allied with the Indians. I tell you this because in a video that follows the first photo, there is evidence of such an arrangement in San Pablo Tejalpa,
In el Estado de Mexico (the State of Mexico, the state with Mexico City at its center), the Christians are often led by a Santiago figure wearing a wooden horse or part of one at waist level, similar to what we find in the Santiagueros dance. A notable difference is that the Santiaguero dancers often wear masks, while their Christian counterparts often wear costumes without masks. Santiago himself seldom wears a mask in either dance.
Today we will begin with Moro masks used in the Moros y Cristianos dance from San Pablo Tejalpa, a town in the Municipio of Zumpahuacán, in el Estado de Mexico. There is a good dance photo of these dancers in Moya Rubio’s book, Máscaras: la otra cara de méxico/ Masks: The Other Face of Mexico, third (bilingual) edition (1986, p. 105) and another of the mask and headdress worn by the Moro dancers, this one with an articulated jaw (p.106). That author took those undated photos in San Felipe Tejalpa, which is evidently a very small town near San Pablo; I can’t find it on a map. However in the text (p.121), Moya Rubio stated that these masks were from San Pablo Tejalpa.
I bought this first mask and headdress from René Bustamante in 1994. It was said to be from San Augustin, Estado de Mexico, but I believe it was actually made in San Pablo Tejalpa. It probably dates to the 1970s.
The “lunar” headdress, made of paper mache over a reed frame, is a symbolic representation of the new moon, a Moorish image.