Book: Yaqui Myths and Legends
Author: Ruth Warner Giddings

Yaqui Myths and Legends By Ruth Warner Giddings

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 168
Publication Date: 1959

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This is a delightful collection of Yaqui folklore, illustrated throughout with line drawings which invest Mexican folk-art motifs with quaint atomic-age cheerfulness. The Yaqui are part of the Southwestern Native American culture-group, and live in the Sonoran desert on the west coast of northern Mexico, opposite Baja California. The stories here are a mixture of ancient folklore blended with Mexican Catholic themes.

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THE YAQUIS are a Sonoran tribe. They are Cahitan-speaking peoples, affiliated linguistically with the Tarahumaras, Opatas, Conchos, Mayos, and other nearby tribes. Aboriginally, the Yaquis and the Mayos occupied the flood plain areas from the town of Sinaloa north to the pueblo of Cumuripa on the Yaqui River in Sonora (Sauer 1934: 79). Cahitans are of the Uto-Aztecan stock. Of the tribes which adjoined the Cahitan territory to the north, only the Hokan-speaking Seris were not Uto-Aztecans. On the east, the Cahitans were bordered by the Sonoran tribes of the foothills. These tribes separated the lowland Cahitans from the Tarahumaras of the plateau who were also of Uto-Aztecan stock. On the south, the Cahitan area was bordered by rude, barranca or coastal tribes such as the Guasave. These were possibly variants, culturally and linguistically, of the Cahitans. No equal number of people spoke a single language in northern Mexico (Sauer 1934: 22-28).

YAQUIS have been in close contact with European culture since the Spanish conquest of their region by Jesuit missionaries in 1617. The Spaniards influenced Yaqui religion through the work of the Jesuits, but they also instigated changes in the material culture and social organization of the natives. The Indians were gathered from scattered rancherías into eight large pueblos, each with its church at the center. Governors were appointed by the Spanish and new forms of civil rule were introduced. For the Yaquis, the period of Jesuit occupation was one of peaceful acculturation and material development.

In 1767 the Jesuits were expelled from the region. Foreigners exploiting the riches of the area brought the Yaquis to a state of unrest. The new Mexican government attempted to tax the Yaqui land. In 1825, Juan Banderas began a united Indian revolt against the Mexican inhabitants of the Yaqui region (Troncoso 1905: 112). For six years fighting continued intermittently and the Yaquis learned the use of fire-arms. Temporarily they drove out the Mexican settlers.

These early victories of the Yaquis can be attributed to the weakness of the politically disunited Mexican government. As Mexican internal unity was re-established, war without quarter ensued. This was the beginning of a century of intermittent strife between Mexicans and Yaquis.

In 1876, the great Yaqui leader, Cajeme, took advantage of Mexican disunity in Sonora to drive again the Mexican settlers from the Yaqui valley. When Cajeme was executed by the Mexicans in 1887, another Indian leader, Juan Maldonado Tetabiate, continued the revolt of his people. As the strength of the Mexican army increased, Yaquis were forced either into guerrilla bands in the rugged mountains of the region or into hiding as laborers on Mexican ranches, in mines, or on the new railroad which was being built. Indians in hiding secretly sent supplies to their troops in the hills, and the raiding continued.

In the early 1900's Governor Yzábal of Sonora inaugurated a policy of deportation against the Yaquis. Captives were sent to Yucatan to work on henequen plantations. Many executions took place (Calvo 1949: 96). Peaceful Indians suspected of helping the raiders were hunted out. Many were killed and families were separated. This caused a great reduction in the numbers and efficiency of forces in the mountains, since their source of ammunition was cut off. Mexican settlers filtered back into the Yaqui valley under protection of Mexican troops (Spicer 1943a: 23).

However, small bands of Yaquis still fought on until as late as 1927. Thus, for forty years Yaqui culture was forced into dormancy. A few Indians were living in the hills and many more were living and working with Mexicans and so were subjected to various foreign influences. Since 1927 some nine thousand Yaquis have returned to their region, repopulating many of their old pueblos and following the old way of life.

In 1937 the Mexican government's attitude changed toward the Indians. President Cardenas set aside for the Yaquis twenty per cent of their original territory (Fabila 1940: 194). Here they live today under Mexican military supervision, although they govern themselves in most ways.

Since the late 1920's the official Mexican policy has been more friendly and constructive, aimed toward educating the natives, improving their material welfare and attempting to break down past social barriers between Indians and the Mexicans. However, social barriers in the region are still very real. Slowly, the new policy of contact is inaugurating a period of acculturation for the Yaquis along lines of directed change. There has been and promises to be little decay in the traditional ceremonial life of the Yaquis which has survived the period of persecution and forms the backbone of Yaqui culture as it is being practiced today (Spicer 1943a: 28).