And according to a few accounts
in the chronicles of those who entrust
their memories to nihil obstat
& the notary public’s India ink,
way back a half-millennium ago
when the Old World irrupted
in the heart of the New, two men–
one African, one European–
appear as suddenly as rivers fed
by far-off storms,
with their hundreds of Indian guides
surging north from the newly
conquered province of Nueva Galicia.
The Spanish call them Esteban
& Marcos: ciphers, almost,
names evoking the incense
of another desert–olive, terebinth–
& another beginning,
back when Christianity was still
a sectarian group of Jews
& St. Stephen–San Esteban–
played out his role as original martyr
of the Church-to-be: A man full
of faith & power, who did great wonders
& miracles among the people (thus
the circle of scholars authorized by King James).
And they stirred up the people &
the elders & the scribes & came
upon him & caught him
& brought him to the council.
And set up false witnesses, which said
This man ceaseth not to speak
blasphemous words against
this holy place, and the law . . .
And St. Mark: first
among missionaries, traveling
with Saul & Barnabas,
climbing with Luke & Matthew
into the thin air of history.
The very model of a pilgrim,
however sidelined by the bellicose
Santiago. Retaining even now
his rightful patronage among
the Catholic Indians of the Yaqui
River valley, who honor San Marcos
as a messenger, one who is sent ahead
to scout things out.
* * * *
Nueva Galicia: Originally a separately administered colony from Nueva España, it comprised roughly the modern Mexican states of Jalisco and Nayarit and the southern half of Sinaloa, with its capital (after gaining its charter in 1548) at Guadalajara.
“A man full of faith & power…” Acts 6:7 ff.
a messenger, one who is sent ahead to scout things out: This is a direct quote from Felipe S. Molina, Yaqui Indian co-author, with anthropologist Larry Evers, of Yaqui Deer Songs, Maso Bwikam: A Native American Poetry, University of Arizona Press (1987). In that context, he is referring strictly to folk belief about the Christian saint and not making any connection to the historical Marcos de Niza, about whom there is no specific oral tradition among the Yaqui, to my knowledge. Yaquis likely formed a significant part of Esteban’s and Marcos’ respective entourages when they entered Hohokam/Salado territory (modern south-central and southeast Arizona).