Kicking off with this entry, I’ll start talking about the legend of the Yaqui pearl diver whose name has been all but forgotten and who is now only remembered for his nickname “El Mechudo” or “The Long Haired One”. My previous post contained a small fragment of this legend, as was heard and reported by Fernando Jordan in his book “The Other Mexico” (1967). But today’s audiences may not understand what the story is all about, being so brief and abridged, so I’ll start by first explaining this issue of “the Virgin”… why were the pearl fishermen relieved when they found “the Virgin’s pearl”?
The Virgin of Pearls
The virgin which is referred to in this legend is no other than the “Madonna of Loreto”, which is still inside the temple of the town that was once the capital of the territory of “The Californias” from 1697 to 1777: Loreto . September 8th marks the day of the “patron saint” of Loreto, when the worshipers of this figure walk the streets in a religious procession, carrying the image. This depiction of the virgin Mary and infant Jesus was brought to Mexico on the bequest of Father Francisco Eusebio Kino himself, although some sources state that it was not father Kino who carried it into the Baja California, but the Jesuit Salvatierra in the year 1667.
Here’s a picture of the “Virgin of Loreto” (which I got from this webpage: http://francona.com/travels/mexico/cortez.html ).
Just as it was required to pay the “Quinto Real” or “King’s Fifth” (a special tax, typical of feudal Spain’s colonialism in Mexico) when fishing a pearl oyster bed or a in a mining operation or when a “treasure” was discovered; in those days, the pearl fishermen and pearl armada owners would offer up a pearl to the Virgin of Loreto out of the pearls they extracted in a given day (some references cite a pearl for every 10 pearls or 10%, which is equivalent to the traditional “tithe“). In this way, fishermen would have the “blessing” of their “patron saint” and they would have a good pearling season.
Now that we can understand the reference to the “Pearl of the Virgin” within this story’s frame, we can continue to examine other aspects of the legend, such as that of the “Perla del Diablo” or “Satan’s Pearl”, but that will in a future post.
The Mantle of the Virgin of Loreto
Perhaps more famous than the “Maddona of Loreto” herself, is the mantle that she does not have anymore. One of the many thefts of sacred art that have been perpetuated in Mexico (see the entry on “The Virgin’s Pearl”) and many other Latin American countries… but in this case the thieves did not steal the image’s clothing (being just plain textile) but they focused only in its “mantle“, a type of cape that protected the image and on which the wives of the pearl fishermen would sew the pearls offered up as tribute.
Suffice it to say that after decades of adding up pearls to this mantle, it was quite a treasure and thus attracted the attention of thieves; neither the thieves nor the mantle were ever found…
It is interesting to examine historical records and find out that such thefts have been all too common in Mexico and even with several images of the “Virgin of Loreto”: many of these religious images have been stripped of their jewelry and clothing (this link will download a PDF file containing the theft of many religious images throughout Mexico and through the ages). However, I could not find a single reference to this particular theft, and I have been unable to find some of my original sources in our “arcane” (paper) library.
In my next blog-entry I will start by comparing two versions of the “Legend of El Mechudo” and will offer up additional details and I will even propose my version of the tragic events of this great regional legend, but -of course- it will be covered with technical details that I’m sure will be of your interest.
Until next time!