Yaqui (Native Americans of the Southwest)

Yaqui is a name established by Jesuit missionaries in the early seventeenth century. It was taken from the name of a nearby river. The traditional Yaqui name for themselves is Yoeme.

Location The Yaqui originated in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora. They have lived in southern and southwest Arizona from the late nineteenth century.

Population The Yaqui population stood at perhaps 30,000 at contact (1533), the largest native tribal population in northwest New Spain. Roughly 6,000 now live in U.S. villages out of a total U.S. tribal enrollment (1992) of almost 10,000. About 25,000 Yaquis live in Sonora, Mexico.

Language Yaquis spoke a dialect of Cahita, a member of the Uto-Aztecan language family.

Historical Information

History The aboriginal land of the Yaquis consisted of roughly 6,000 square miles in Sonora, Mexico, approximately between the Rio Matapa and the Arroyo de Cocoraqui. The Yaqui believe their boundaries were made sacred by singing angels (batnaataka) who traversed them in mythological times. Although the Sonora region is primarily a desert, Yaqui lands in the river basin were quite fertile as a result of the annual flood cycles.

A party of Spaniards first encountered the Yaqui in 1533 but were prevented by force from trespassing on Yaqui territory. In 1609, after defeating the Spanish for the third time, the Yaquis arrived at an accommodation with them and accepted Jesuit missionaries in 1617. Over the next seven years almost all Yaquis converted to Catholicism.

The next 150 years were a period of creative cultural and economic growth for the Yaqui. Transformations in agriculture and technology led to increasing agricultural surpluses and economic diversification (mining and sheep herding for the Spanish wool trade). In 1740, the Yaqui staged a major revolt as a result of growing tensions over land incursions, Spanish attempts to secularize and control the missions, and missionary abuses. The Indians’ defeat strengthened both Spanish colonial power and the Jesuit missions, until the latter were expelled from the New World in 1767.

The 1800s were a time of semiautonomy, with gradual loss of land and continual resistance against the Mexicans. Juan Ignacio Jusacamea, also known as Juan de la Cruz Banderas or Juan Banderas, emerged as the uncontested leader of the Yaquis and their allies in the early Mexican rebellions until his capture and execution in 1833. Further periodic revolts culminated in the so-called Cajeme era (1875-1885), a period of Yaqui cultural and economic renewal during which Yaqui society made a final defensive stand against Mexico under Jose Maria Leyva, called Cajeme.

The defeat of Cajeme in 1885 was followed by military occupation, repression, and mass deportation under the regime of Porfirio Diaz, although Yaqui bands continued guerrilla resistance in the Bacatete Mountains into the twentieth century. Most Yaquis not exiled to the Yucatan dispersed throughout rural Sonora, assisting the guerrillas and working in the mines, on the railroads, and on haciendas. Many also headed north to the United States to begin new Yaqui communities there.

The Mexican Revolution of 1910 offered the Yaqui a chance to regroup and reestablish their identity, with the formation of their own revolutionary army. Following the wars, Yaquis began a gradual return to their traditional lands and a reconstruction of their culture. For Yaquis living in Mexico, the last half of the twentieth century has been marked by the integration, albeit at the lowest levels, into that country’s economy. In 1964, the U.S.

Congress gave 202 acres of land to the Pascua Yaqui Association. This grant became the basis of New Pascua, which became officially recognized in 1978.

Religion The Yaqui Indians have been practicing a heavily Christian-influenced religion for nearly 400 years. They recognize a two-part universe: one is town and church, whose dwellers are mortal; the other is the Huya Aniya, spirit world and source of spiritual power, whose dwellers are immortal. The two worlds are integrated ritually. Every Christian ceremony requires participation of ceremonialists, such as Pascola and Deer Dancers, whose power derives from the Huya Aniya.

Other important religious elements include honoring of and concern for ancestors, the sharing of accumulated wealth for help in curing (healing), maintaining and distributing the benevolent power of Our Mother (the supernatural), honoring the patron saints of the eight towns (see "Dwellings"), and affirming the sacred relationships between the Yaqui and their traditional territory.

In addition to a number of feast days, the most important and elaborate ceremony of the year is the waehma, or the reenactment during Holy Week of Christ’s (the great curer) final days. A central theme is the accumulation of evil in the town and the destruction of that evil during a ceremonial battle on Holy Saturday, through the ritual use of flowers, followed by a great celebration.

Government The largest political unit was the town. Authority consisted of five groups: church, civil governors, military, "custom authorities" (kohtumbre), and fiesta makers (Pahkome). Each had its own clearly defined jurisdiction, but they worked together on matters of the public good. Decision making was by consensus in town meeting except in time of military emergency, and even then the military leader’s power in nonmilitary affairs was highly circumscribed. A constant process of interaction and sharing promoted continuity among the towns.

Customs Traditional Yaqui households consisted of any number of nuclear families related in a variety of ways. Yaqui elders were respected as the tribal spokespeople and maintained schools for young men.

The godparent system, introduced by the Jesuits, has evolved into a highly complex and important institution.

Dwellings Prior to 1617 the Yaqui lived in roughly 80 rancherias, most containing fewer than 250 people, consisting of clusters of dome-shaped, cane mat-covered adobe houses with flat or gently sloping roofs. Consolidation under the Jesuits of the scattered rancherias into eight towns, each with between 2,000 and 4,000 people, occurred by the mid-1600s. Each town was built around an adobe-walled church, with new civil, military, and ceremonial organizations grouped around the church and central plaza. Houses built near churches always included ramadas as well as walled rooms, surrounded by a cane fence. After 1887, the Mexicans succeeded in imposing the grid plan of settlement on Yaqui towns.

Diet Cultivated crops such as corn, squash, beans, and amaranth were supplemented by abundant wild foods such as mesquite beans, cactus fruits, succulent roots, grass seeds, wild game (including deer and rabbits), and many kinds of shellfish and large saltwater fish from the Gulf of California. By the late seventeenth century, the Jesuits had introduced wheat, pomegranates, peaches, figs, and other crops as well as cattle (including oxen for plowing) and horses.

Key Technology Rudimentary irrigation ditches were improved by the Jesuits, who also introduced the plow to the region. The Yaquis traditionally fashioned cane into a great number of articles, including mats for roof and wall materials, household compound fences, sleeping mats, cutting instruments, spoons, and shelves as well as numerous ceremonial items.

Trade Yaquis generally had many items to trade, including crops, cane items, and woven articles.

Notable Arts Yaqui traditional arts consist of ritual dance (all male) and religious drama, music, wood mask carving, cane mat making, and blanket and mat weaving in both cotton and wool.

Transportation Horses were introduced into the region in the seventeenth century.

Dress Yaquis wore cotton and wool clothing and blankets as well as special ceremonial kilts, masks, rattles, stuffed deer heads, and red ribbons (symbolizing flowers).

War and Weapons Members of the military society served for life and had their own rituals, which included flag-bearing ceremonies and dances. Although the elected captains generally tended to dominate Yaqui society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries because of the continual state of crisis, community leaders were always consulted for important decisions.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations Significant U.S. Yaqui communities are located in and around Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona (Guadaloupe, Eloy, Old Pascua, New Pascua Pueblo [Yaqui Reservation; population 2,737 in 1992], and Barrio Libre). Village organization is church oriented and controlled by the ceremonial groups. A Bureau of Indian Affairs-approved Yaqui constitution (1988) calls for an elected tribal council. In Mexico, an unofficial tribal structure, created by the Mexican government and loosely based on and operating with the traditional government, has been in existence since the 1930s.

Economy In the United States, tribal members participate in the local economy in a number of urban occupations and professions and as farm or construction workers. In addition, the tribe runs a landscape nursery, a charcoal-packing business, and a bingo enterprise. Unemployment remains very high. In Mexico, government water diversions and rapid development have removed the possibility of subsistence farming.

Legal Status The Yaqui received official U.S. government recognition in 1978, primarily through the leadership of Anselmo Valencia; the Pascua Yaquis are a federally recognized tribal entity. Many Mexican Yaquis live on their reservation and in the "original eight" and other small towns.

Daily Life Wherever Yaquis have settled, they have maintained some degree of devotion to the ideal of life in the eight towns. Religion remains a distinct blend of Catholic and native beliefs, and the ceremonial cycle still follows the life of Christ. Saints’ days are celebrated with fireworks, feasting, and entertainment, such as masked dancing and musicians. Lenten and Holy Week ceremonies remain especially elaborate, culminating in the unique Passion Play.

Yaquis living in the United States enjoy close contact with the Tohono O’odham (Papago) tribe, including mutual attendance of ceremonies and festivals. Children attend public school, where they have access to Yaqui language preservation programs. Contemporary issues include obtaining decent health care and housing, in addition to solving the high unemployment rate. Yaqui arts especially include music, dance, and painting. Rural houses in the United States are built primarily of adobe. Most houses feature a fenced-in yard, with a few trees, small plots of green grass, and flowers. Open ramadas serve as the main living spaces and also as gathering places at fiesta time. Typically, a small white church sits at one end of the village plaza with a fiesta ramada at the other end. Over 50 homes at Old Pascua were rebuilt in the 1980s.

In Mexico, Yaquis are still relatively isolated and more traditional than other Indian groups. In clothing and material culture they are nearly identical to rural Mexican mestiso peasant farmers.

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