Los Matachines is both a dance and a symbolic reenactment of various aspects of both the medieval Hispanic culture and the indigenous tribes that they met when they set out to conquer the New World. It is performed, in various forms, from southern Colorado to the southern most tip of Central America but is perhaps most dominant in New Mexico. In the town of Bernalillo Los Matachines dances have been performed for more than 300 years.
The costumes worn by many of the dancers borrows elements of Moorish influence. Recall that the Moors dominated the Iberian peninsula until the end of the fifteenth century. This influence is most prominently seen in the tall, ornate headdresses worn with silk scarfs which cover the mouth and lower face and elaborately fringed scarves worn on the top of the head which cover the eyes.
It is uncertain as to the original intent of Los Matachines dances but they have evolved to dances with religious symbolism which reflects elements of both the Christian and indigenous religious beliefs. The dances are now done to mark Holy Days and festivities.
In northern and central New Mexico the Tewa culture has strongly influenced the dance. Many costumes have rattles, leggings, and sometimes loincloths borrowed from the Tewa. Also, the appearance of Abuelos, who keep order to the dance (and the audience) appear to be borrowed from Tewa fiesta dances.
Many versions of Los Matachines feature "la Malinche", portrayed by a young girl (or several young girls) dressed in white. La Malinche is the Aztec princess who helped Hernan Cortez conquer the Aztec empire and who eventually gave birth to his children. The depiction of la Malinche, though, as a young virgin, gives some reference to both "La Conquistadora" and "La Virgen de Guadalupe".
Los Matachines are performed in a variety of locations throughout northern New Mexico. At El Santuario a dance is performed after the noon mass on Easter Sunday. Also, Los Matachines dance during the Santo Niño Fiesta. This is a local fiesta which occurs in mid-July.