The tumbeleche, the forbidden pre-Hispanic dance

This is how the Holy Office of the Inquisition prohibited the tumbeleche to be performed again both in public and in private, besides asking for the immediate punishment of those present.

The tumbeleche, the forbidden pre-Hispanic dance
Fictitious image of an inquisitorial torture chamber. Engraving of the XVIII century by Bernard Picart.

Among the tasks of the evangelizers was the prohibition of customs and festivities that were considered immoral and promoters of heresy. In San Bartolomé Mazatenango, Guatemala, in the year 1623, during the patronal feast, the inhabitants began to simulate the sacrifice of a woman to celebrate God. Immediately the authorities took charge of censuring them under penalty of fine, whipping, banishment, and excommunication. Thus, the tumbeleche was forbidden.

Since the settlement of the first Spanish conquerors in pre-Columbian lands, the purpose of regulating the daily life of the native peoples and changing their customs and traditions was established through the impositions of the Church, an institution that condemned any type of activity related to the ancient practices carried out by the indigenous civilizations.

The ecclesiastical authorities focused on the daily activities of the novohispanos; they paid more attention to the ludic activities, especially those carried out during festivities. As a result, dances began to be condemned as they were considered to be against morals and good customs and could promote heresy, as they were dances dedicated to their former deities.

In the year 1623, when the viceroyalty of the New Spain was already consolidated, in the town of San Bartolomé Mazatenango, a town in Guatemala, a striking case arose while the patronal feast dedicated to the saint that gave its name to the town was being held. Within the multiple activities that took place during the celebration, a very peculiar dance was presented that astonished the authorities of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, especially the commissioner Antonio Prieto de Villegas, who was among those present and said he had witnessed something unheard of.

In the courtyard of the main church, a colorful dance known as the tumbeleche was performed, which consisted of simulating the sacrifice of a woman and offering her heart to God by raising it to the sky. Commissioner Antonio Prieto quickly stopped the dance and the whole festivity clarified that this was worthy of heresy and superstition, that these perverse representations of sacrifices were to venerate the devil because God being the lord of creation never asked to be honored or worshiped with the sacrifice of men, or rational creatures as the Indians did.

The Holy Office of the Inquisition prohibited the tumbeleche to be performed again both in public and in private, besides asking for the immediate punishment of those present, since rumors had arrived that the dance had been done before in the presence of the clergymen and they could not be allowed to overlap this type of representations and did nothing to prevent it, since it was their absolute responsibility to incline the Indians to the faith and take them out of their old customs to avoid the sacrifice of a man in honor of God and to pervert the Christian canons.

For this reason, the Inquisition ordered all clergymen who were in charge of administering the sacraments and preaching the gospel to prohibit and obstruct with all their might such representation, or else they would be excommunicated and would have to pay a fine of 500 ducats, and the mayors of the Indian towns who did not prevent it were condemned to 200 lashes and banishment from their town for three years.

Source: AGN