Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I returned a few weeks ago from a week in Mexico, in the determinedly historic town of San Miguel de Allende. Ever alert to the ways people interact with animals, I found several striking examples, among them the local street dogs, a circus, and a street vendor selling wild birds. We stumbled on an Indian parade down the middle of town that I watched for close to an hour. Men and boys danced in costumes of leather, furs, horns, and feathers to drums. It seemed that the participants danced to celebrate their customs and history and wore costumes appropriate to that. Alas, I know nothing of which tribes were represented or how Native American cultures function in the area.
I've been reading Animal Investigators by Laurel A. Neme about identifying illegal wildlife parts. Here is an example of the National Fish & Wildlife's beautiful site used to identify feathers. So as I watched the parade, I was especially interested in the feathered headdresses.
Reading a single book, sadly, does not make one an expert on identifying the birds from which the feathers came, and feathers are often dyed and shaped for effect. So I won't attempt that. The costumes were constructed with great care and no little artistry. The headdresses were striking and beautiful. I will say, however, that I was startled to see an entire stuffed owl, possibly a screech owl, on a headdress. And of course I wondered if endangered parrots were the source of any of the brighter headgear.
I'm not going to sermonize about killing birds for feathers to adorn themselves. Mexico has its own laws, and indigenous people have their own customs and, in some cases, special rights. Decorating with feathers is a custom, tradition, and pleasure that has existed at least as long as humanity. Readers of this blog should know where I stand on exploiting wildlife populations and I'll leave it at that. More on the circus later.
I'm interested in hearing from people who know something about these tribes and their cultures, as well as from any feather experts who would like to chime in.