USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘pueblos’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Zozobra: The Original Burning Man

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (KM) and I (ZM).

KM: Most of my like cultural traditions I would say actually come from like, New Mexico. And not like…(Irish traditions) So it’s an interesting mix of like Native American and like Spanish culture. So like, um…We do this… I’ll give you some of the backstory. Basically, some pueblos back in the like 1600s or whatever, rebelled from the Spaniards. And like, they were like an independent country for like two years or something. And then the Spaniards took them back over, but they were like “We’ll give you this fiesta that you can hold every year in September” to like celebrate the pueblo revolt. And so what we do is we… (laughs) This is weird. So just… give me a second. We um… have about a one hundred foot puppet that we fill with our like grievances, like something bad that happened to us in the past year. And then we put it on like…We like hang it up and it’s like a marionette so it like moves and shit and we burn it. (laughs) Yeah.

ZM: Wait so, what is the puppet of? Like what does the puppet look like? Is it a peeerson?

KM: Yeah. But it’s not like a… It’s like a…uhhh… I just have to show it to you. So we call it Zozobra, which means “burning man.” So it’s like…

ZM: Is this like the music festival?

KM: (laughs) No. It’s like… We… It’s a specifically like Santa Fe thing. So, he kinda looks like… (shows picture) So, it’s like kind of a man. But, not really. And he’s like a hundred feet tall and we burn him.

ZM: Is he supposed to be scary looking?

KM: Yes! Because it’s like old man gloom. Like all of the bad things that happened to you in the past year is like… personified in this puppet. And then we burn it to say like goodbye to all of that. Like we’re starting a new…

ZM: And this happens when?

KM: This happens usually the… Usually it’s the first Thursday of September, but it’s recently been moved because too many people were drunk, on a Thursday. So, it’s recently been moved to the last Friday of August. And we also…

ZM: So, that’s just like a week earlier.

KM: Yeah. So, its… I mean, it’s just because they wanted to do it on a Friday because all these kids would like get drunk and high on a Thursday night then like go to school the next day. So, um, now we do it on a Friday, but like it’s part of this whole week where we have like festivals and like parades and all that stuff.

ZM: Oh so the whole week is dedicated to…?

KM: Yeah! The whole week is dedicated… It’s called like… just “fiestas,” like in general and like on Saturday there’s a pep parade and then Friday is Zazobra and it’s just like… And then there’s a whole council. (laughs) Sorry. So, it’s call the Fiesta Council. And so it’s like all the original members…

ZM: Is that for the town?

KM: Yeah. It’s like, all the original um members like Don Diego de Vargas. Like all these famous people, who like first… Well, I know it’s not famous to you, but like famous in New Mexico for like, the first people ever in New Mexico to like colonize. So, it’s like Don Diego de Vargas, and like you like try out for this like… So it’s like the Princess of Fiestas and the Prince of Fiestas. And so you’re on this council and what you do is you come into the schools and we…They do a little like fiesta for us, and we can like go down in the gym and like dance with all of the like, city, like the council members.

ZM: Wait, so… Let me get this straight. Are they people that go to like represent the original members?

KM: Yes. So basically, they are like… the people, but like… So, you like try out to be these members…

ZM: So, could you try out to be…

KM: Yeah. I could.

ZM: Okay. You don’t have to actually be like…

KM: You should. Like, I mean, most people are, but…

ZM: Like Native American or?

KM: Well, or mainly Spanish. Because most of the people who came over to like colonize are the Spanish. And so, it’s mostly Spanish.

ZM: Oh! The colonizers.

KM: Yeah. (laughs) Even though we’re celebrating the pueblo revolt. It doesn’t make… But, a lot of people are Native American too. And there’s like different spots on the council for… So, it’s like the main council, and then like the Native American princesses and like… There’s like, a group of twenty. Something crazy like that. And then like, they come around and they’re like “Hi, we’re this year’s fiesta council. Like, come to Zozobra. It’ll be fun.”

ZM: So is that kinda like uhh… Like um, like a Miss New Mexico kind of thing?

KM: Yeah kind of.

ZM: But, like a cultural one.

KM: Yeah. So, it’s a big deal too. And then in every school they like would call out names and be like, “Oh the QUEEN of fiestas for Saint Michaels High School,” which is my high school…and they would just like name a person. And I always wanted to be that person in like elementary school, but then I realized you just have to be friends with like the people in the council. Cause they’re just like “Oh your daughter’s name is Sarah? Okay she’ll be the princess of Saint Michaels.” And I was like, “Bitch…I deserve it.” (laughs) Like come on…

ZM: But, what do you do as  the princess of…

KM: Oh you don’t do anything. You just wear a crown for that day… in the school.

ZM: Oh. But do you get to go to the… do you get to go to the…festival.

KM: Yeah you get to go to like a certain like VIP place for Zozobra. And it’s really interesting cause we play like a bunch of New Mexican songs and there’s like mariachi bands and like it’s really fun.


Context: This is from a conversation with KM originally about her Irish culture.


Background: KM is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. KM was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is of Irish descent.


Analysis: The most interesting thing about KM’s description of Zozobra was that even though the festival was made to celebrate the pueblo revolt against the Spanish colonizers, the colonizers are also celebrated in the form of the Fiesta Council. Again, the colonizers were put into positions of power over the others as members of the Fiesta Council nominate a Prince and Princess of Fiestas. It seems counterintuitive.