Revolt, warfare, resistance and victory. These are the words that echo through the annals of history of what happened in the Land of Enchantment 331 years ago.
The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 carries the unique distinction of being the only instance during which an indigenous people of the Americas successfully expelled a European power. The leader behind the revolt remains an enigma to historians, but through the power of human expression, his spirit lives on.
Thursday and Friday (Dec. 8-9), 7 p.m., at the Taos Community Auditorium, two-time Grammy Award-winning musician Robert Mirabal will perform "Po'Pay Speaks." At the time of this publication, the show has been sold out. While admission to the event is free, seats are reserved by tickets, so the box office will open at 6 p.m. each night of the performance where unclaimed reserved tickets will be released to the public beginning at 6:45 p.m.
"Po'Pay Speaks" is a one-man show that was developed by Taos Pueblo Native Robert Mirabal, with writers Steven Parks and Nelson Zink. The show is an eclectic mix of song, dance, and prayer which Mirabal uses to manifest the spirit of the man known to history as Po'Pay. Through Mirabal's interpretation, the play embodies the emotional and spiritual reflections of Po'Pay from the time of the Pueblo Revolt to the modern day.
The European settlement of New Mexico began in 1598 when the land was designated a province of the Spanish Empire. The Spanish occupation was marked by forced labor, torture, disease and religious oppression. Christianity was enforced, often violently, on the Pueblo peoples and all of their ancient ceremonies and rituals were deemed heresy against the Church and an affront to God.
In 1675, Po'Pay and 46 other religious leaders of the northern Pueblos were convicted of witchcraft. Some were executed while others, including Po'Pay, were imprisoned. Upon his release, Po'pay traveled to Taos Pueblo and began planning the rebellion that would ultimately drive out the Spaniards and return the Pueblos to their own way of life. In August of 1680, 25 Pueblos united as one and, after taking the provincial capital of Santa Fe, drove the Spaniards out of New Mexico.
"He created something that no one has ever done," Mirabal says about Po'Pay. "He brought the Pueblo people together as one for a common goal."
The facts about what happened to Po'Pay after the success of the Pueblo Revolt remain shrouded in mystery. Co-writer Nelson Zink explains that "although we know of Po'Pay, we know very little about him, even though he is an important historical figure. About a year ago, Robert and I started talking about this and I wrote about two or three pages, which became the prologue for ‘Po'Pay Speaks.' I went to his Christmas show and approached him with the prologue. In January, we decided to do it."
For Mirabal, the performance of "Po' Pay Speaks" is more than just memorizing lines of script and theatrics. For him it is an all-encompassing endeavor that calls for spiritual and physical clarity to truly embody the spirit of Po'Pay. "It's one of the most amazingly radical things I have ever done," Mirabal explains. "It's total dedication. You begin to see and immerse yourself as this character, it's amazing to wake up and see the world like him."
During the performance of "Po'Pay Speaks," Mirabal submits his body as a vessel through which the essence of Po'Pay conveys his perception of the world, not just during the days of the revolution, but through the echelons of time up to the present day. "I had to create something that would really set me apart from myself, not just other musicians, but from myself," Mirabal states. "The questions is: What would he say if he was still alive?"
For Parks, the performance of "Po'Pay Speaks" transcends the realm of performance art and borders on the mystical. "We were able to uncover some of the other people who had plotted with Po'Pay," Parks says. "To hear those names spoken again after so many years in their original language is truly amazing and kind of chilling."
"There are places of righteous anger, of deep reflection, regret, and humor, parts that are flat out funny," Parks says of the performance. "After viewing the performance you feel like you have just witnessed a ritual. With all the intensity and dedication and a minimum of props, he almost seems to be channeling Po'Pay."
For Mirabal, the opportunity to perform in Taos is a means of fostering continuity of American Indian culture and a reflection on the proud history of the Pueblo people. "I think what we have created here is a unique form of literary, artistic expression," Mirabal says. "I think what is known about this character comes from the conquerors. If you asked someone at the Pueblo 20 or 30 years ago who Po'pay was, they would not know about him. As for the future, I just say, lets see what Po'Pay has in store."
Mirabal's next performance of "Po'Pay Speaks" will be Dec. 17, 7 p.m., at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.
The Taos Community Auditorium is located at 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For more information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit www.tcataos.org.