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Yaqui Indians
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( Arizona,  Nevada,  California,  Texas) 11,324
 Mexico ( Sonora,  Sinaloa,  Chihuahua,  Durango) 14,162 [1]
Yaqui, English, Spanish
Indigenous Religion, Peyotism, Christianity, Roman Catholic
Related ethnic groups
Mayo Uto-Aztecan people

The Yaqui or Yoeme are Native Americans who inhabit the valley of the Río Yaqui in the Mexican state of Sonora and the Southwestern United States. They also have small settlements in Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and Durango. The Pascua Yaqui Tribe is based in Tucson, Arizona. Yaqui people also live elsewhere in the southwestern United States, especially Nevada and California.

General Information[edit]

The Yaqui territory comprises three distinct areas: a mountainous area (Sierra de Bacatete[2]), a fishing area (Guásimas and Lions Bay) and cropland (the Yaqui Valley[3]). Today the population reaches about 32,000 habitants, having been significantly reduced because of the wars they fought for their survival for more than 50 years. At the end of the 19th century, under the government of Porfirio Diaz, they were confronted and many were deported to plantations in Yucatan and Quintana Roo.[4] Many of them returned to their homeland on foot, and others immigrated to Arizona (United States) in order to escape the repression of the Mexican government.

The Yaqui population in Arizona is currently about 8,000 habitants and the tribe is recognized by the United States government.Today, in addition to the inhabitants of the traditional Yaqui area, other groups are found within different cities of the state of Sonora. Since they did not return to their villages, they form their own colonies inside of various prominent cities. In the capital of Sonora, the city of Hermosillo, colonies such as La Matanza, El Coloso and Sarmiento are known as Yaqui Districts. These are places in which the inhabitants make an effort to conserve the traditions and cultural roots or the Yaqui nation.

Housing generally is composed of three rectangular sections: the bedroom and the kitchen, which have floors made of wood supports, walls made of woven reeds, and a roof of reeds coated with thick layers of earth; in addition to a living room called “portal” made of branches, in which they spend a large part of the day, especially during the hot season. The patio is used for raising animals and, in the more remote areas, is where the latrine is installed, which is built with the same material as the houses.


The location of the Yaqui people in Sonora, where the largest population of Yaqui still reside

The Yaqui language belongs to the Uto-Aztecan language family. Yaqui speak a Cahitan language, a group of about 10 mutually-intelligible languages formerly spoken in much of the states of Sonora and Sinaloa. Most of the Cahitan languages are extinct. Only the Yaqui and Mayo still speak their language.[5] About 15,000 Yaqui speakers live in Mexico and 1,000 in the U.S.A, mostly Arizona.[6]

The Yaqui call themselves Hiaki or Yoeme, the Yaqui word for person (yoemem or yo'emem meaning "people").[7] The Yaqui call their homeland Hiakim, from which some say the name "Yaqui" is derived. They may also describe themselves as Hiaki Nation or Pascua Hiaki, meaning "The Easter People", as most had converted to Catholicism under Jesuit influence in colonial Mexico. Many folk etymologies account for how the Yoeme came to be known as the "Yaqui".[8]


The Pascua Yaqui flag

Conquistadors and Missionaries[edit]

When the Spanish first came into contact with the Yaqui in 1533, they occupied a territory along the lower course of the Yaqui River. They were estimated to number 30,000 people living in 80 rancherias (Yaqui villages) in an area about 60 miles (100 km) long and 15 miles (25 km) wide. Some Yaqui lived near the mouth of the river and were dependent upon the sea for subsistence. Most lived in agricultural communities, growing beans, maize, and squash on land inundated by the river every year. A few lived a nomadic existence in the deserts and mountains and depended upon hunting and gathering.[9]

Captain Diego de Guzmán, leader of an expedition to discover lands north of the Spanish settlements, encountered the Yaqui in 1533. A large number of warriors confronted the Spaniards on a level plain. Their leader, an old man, drew a line in the dirt and told the Spanish not to cross it. He denied the Spanish request for food. A battle ensued. The Spanish claimed victory, although they retreated. Thus began 400 years of struggle, often armed, by the Yaqui to protect their culture and lands.

In 1565, Francisco de Ibarra attempted, but failed, to establish a Spanish settlement in Yaqui territory. What probably saved the Yaqui from an early invasion by the Spaniards was the lack of silver and other precious metals in their territory. In 1608, the Yaqui and 2,000 Indian allies, mostly Mayo, were victorious over the Spanish in two battles. A peace agreement in 1610 brought presents from the Spanish and, in 1617, the visit of Jesuit missionaries.[10]

The Yaqui lived in a mutually advantageous relationship with the Jesuits for 120 years. Most of them readily converted to Christianity while retaining many traditional beliefs. The Jesuit rule over the Yaqui was stern but the Yaqui retained their land and their unity as a people. The Jesuits introduced wheat, cattle, and horses. The Yaqui prospered and the missionaries were enabled to extend their activities further north. The Jesuit success was facilitated by the fact that the nearest Spanish settlement was 100 miles away and the Yaqui were able to avoid interaction with Spanish settlers, soldiers and miners. Important, too, was that epidemics of European diseases which destroyed many Indigenous populations appear not to have seriously impacted the Yaqui. The reputation of the Yaqui as warriors plus the protection afforded by the Jesuits perhaps shielded the Yaqui from Spanish slavers. The Jesuits persuaded the Yaqui to settle into eight towns: Pótam, Vícam, Tórim, Bácum, Cócorit, Huirivis, Benem, and Rahum.[11]

However, by the 1730s, Spanish settlers and miners were encroaching on Yaqui land and the Spanish colonial government began to alter the arms-length relationship. This created unrest among the Yaqui and led to a brief but bloody Yaqui and Mayo revolt in 1740. One thousand Spanish and 5,000 Native Americans were killed and the animosity lingered. The missions declined and the prosperity of the earlier years was never regained. The Jesuits were expelled from Mexico in 1767 and the Franciscan priests who replaced them never gained the confidence of the Yaqui. An uneasy peace between Spaniard and Yaqui endured for many years after the revolt with the Yaqui maintaining their tight-knit organization and most of their independence from Spanish and, after 1821, Mexican rule.[12]

Yaqui Wars and the Díaz enslavement[edit]

Gen. Obregón and staff of Yaqui, c. 1910
Main article: Yaqui Wars

The struggle for independence from Spain by Mexico in the early 19th century revealed that the Yaqui still considered themselves independent from Spanish rule. They remained neutral and, after Mexico won its independence, refused to pay taxes to the new government. This led to a Yaqui revolt in 1825 led by Juan Banderas. Banderas wished to unite the Mayo, Opata, Pima, and Yaqui into a state that would be autonomous or independent of Mexico. The combined Indian force drove the Mexicans out of their territories, but Banderas was eventually defeated and executed in 1833. This led to a succession of revolts as the Mexican government in Sonora attempted to gain control of the Yaqui and their lands and the Yaqui resisted. The Yaqui supported the French during the brief reign of Maximilian I of Mexico in the 1860s. Under the leadership of Jose Maria Leyva, known as Cajemé, the Yaqui continued the struggle until 1887, when Cajeme was caught and executed. The war featured a succession of brutalities by the Mexican authorities, including a massacre in 1868, in which the Army burned 150 Yaqui to death inside a church.

The Yaqui were impoverished by a new series of wars as the Mexican government adopted a policy of confiscation and distribution of Yaqui lands.[13][14] Many displaced Yaquis joined the ranks of warrior bands, who remained in the mountains carrying on a guerrilla campaign against the Mexican Army. During the 34-year rule of Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, the government repeatedly provoked the Yaqui remaining in Sonora to rebellion in order to seize their land for exploitation by investors for both mining and agricultural use.[13] Many Yaqui were sold at sixty pesos a head to the owners of sugar cane plantations in Oaxaca and the tobacco planters of the Valle Nacional, while thousands more were sold to the henequen plantation owners of the Yucatán.[13]

By 1908, at least 5,000 Yaqui had been sold into forced slavery.[13][14] At Valle Nacional, the enslaved Yaquis were worked until they died.[13] While there were occasional escapees, they were far from home and without support or assistance; most died of hunger while begging for food on the road out of the valley toward Córdoba.[13] At Guaymas, thousands more Yaquis were put on boats and shipped to San Blas, where they were forced to walk over 200 miles to San Marcos and its train station.[13] Many women and children could not withstand the three-week journey over the mountains, and their bodies were left by the side of the road.[13] The Mexican government established large concentration camps at San Marcos, where the remaining Yaqui families were broken up and segregated.[13] Individuals were then sold into slavery inside the station and packed into train cars which took them to Veracruz, where they were embarked yet again for the port town of Progreso in the Yucatán. There they were transported to their final destination, the nearby henequen plantations.[13] On the plantations, the Yaquis were forced to work in the tropical climate of the area from dawn to dusk.[13] Yaqui women were allowed to marry only non-native Chinese workers.[13] Given little food, the workers were beaten if they failed to cut and trim at least 2,000 henequen leaves per day, after which they were then locked up every night.[13] Most of the Yaqui men, women and children sent for slave labor on the plantations died there, with two-thirds of the arrivals dying within a year.[13]

During this time, Yaqui resistance continued. By the early 1900s, after "extermination, military occupation, and colonization" had failed to halt Yaqui resistance to Mexican rule, many Yaquis assumed the identities of other Tribes and merged with the Mexican population of Sonora in cities and on haciendas.[14] Others left Mexico for the United States, establishing enclaves in southern Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.[13] Many Yaqui living in southern Arizona regularly returned to Sonora after working and earning money in the U.S., often for the purpose of smuggling firearms and ammunition to those Yaqui still fighting the Mexican government.[13] Skirmishes continued until 1927, when the last major battle between the Mexican Army and the Yaqui was fought at Cerro del Gallo Mountain. By employing heavy artillery, machine guns, and planes of the Mexican Air Force to shell, bomb, and strafe Yaqui villages, Mexican authorities eventually prevailed.[15]

The objective of the Yaqui and their frequent allies, the Mayo people, remained the same during almost 400 years of interaction with the Jesuits and the Spanish and Mexican governments: independent local government and management of their own lands.

The Yaqui and the Cárdenas Government[edit]

In 1917, General Lázaro Cárdenas of the Constitutionalist army defeated the Yaqui. But in 1937 as president of the republic, he partially acceded to the 10,000-member tribe by providing the Yaqui land on the north bank of the Yaqui River and ordering the construction of a dam to provide irrigation water to the Yaqui. Thus, the Yaqui continued to maintain a degree of independence from Mexican rule.[16] In the official government report on the sexenio (six-year term) of Cárdenas, the section of the Department of Indigenous Affairs (which Cárdenas established as a cabinet level post in 1936) indicated that there were 7,000 Yaquis over the age of 5 and they received 500,000 hectares of land.[17] They also received advanced agricultural equipment including tractors, threshers, disc plows, harvesters, trucks, and water pumps as well as mules, shovels, and picks.[18] In 1939 they produced 3,500 tons of wheat, 500 tons of maize, and 750 tons of beans, whereas in 1935 they produced only 250 tons of wheat and no maize or beans.[19]

Today, the Mexican municipality of Cajemé is named after the fallen Yaqui leader.[12]


Traditional everyday dress worn by Yaqui women at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City.

In the past, the Yaqui subsisted on agriculture, growing beans, corn and squash (like many of the Indigenous peoples of the region). The Yaqui who lived in the Río Yaqui region and in coastal areas of Sonora and Sinaloa fished as well as farmed. The Yaqui also made cotton products. The Yaqui have always been skillful warriors. The Yaqui Indians have been historically described as quite tall in stature.[20]

Yaqui cosmology and religion[edit]

The Yaqui conception of the world is considerably different from that of their European-Mexican and European-American neighbors. For example, the world (in Yaqui, anía) is composed of five separate worlds: the desert wilderness world, the mystical world, the flower world, the dream world, and the night world. Much Yaqui ritual is centered upon perfecting these worlds and eliminating the harm that has been done to them, especially by people. Many Yaqui have combined such ideas with their practice of Catholicism, and believe that the existence of the world depends on their annual performance of the Lenten and Easter rituals.[20]

The Yaqui religion, which is a syncretic religion of old Yaqui beliefs and practices and the Christian teachings of Jesuit and later Franciscan missionaries, relies upon song, music, prayer, and dancing, all performed by designated members of the community. They have woven numerous Roman Catholic traditions into the old ways and vice versa.[20] For instance, the Yaqui deer song (maso bwikam) accompanies the deer dance, which is performed by a pascola (Easter, from the Spanish pascua) dancer, also known as a "deer dancer". Pascolas perform at religio-social functions many times of the year, but especially during Lent and Easter.[20] The Yaqui deer song ritual is in many ways similar to the deer song rituals of neighboring Uto-Aztecan people, such as the Mayo. The Yaqui deer song is more central to the cultus of its people and is strongly tied into Roman Catholic beliefs and practices.

Flowers are very important in the Yaqui culture. According to Yaqui teachings, flowers sprang up from the drops of blood that were shed at the Crucifixion. Flowers are viewed as the manifestation of souls. Occasionally Yaqui men may greet a close male friend with the phrase Haisa sewa? ("How is the flower?").[20]

Yaqui in the United States[edit]

A Yaqui mother holding a baby, Arizona, ca.1910

As result of the wars between Mexico and the Yaqui, many fled to the United States. Most settled in urban barrios, including Barrio Libre and Pascua in Tucson, and Guadalupe and Scottsdale in the Phoenix area. Yaquis built homes of scrap lumber, railroad ties and other materials, eking out an existence while taking great pains to continue the Eastern Lenten ceremonies so important to community life. They found work as migrant farm laborers and in other rural occupations.

Because of their poverty, in the early 1960s spiritual leader Anselmo Valencia approached University of Arizona anthropologist Edward Holland Spicer to help his people. A noted authority on the Yaqui, Spicer, Muriel Thayer Painter, and others created the Pascua Yaqui Association (PYA). U.S. Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., agreed to aid the Yaquis in securing a land base. In 1964, the U.S. government gave the Yaqui (817,000 m²) of land southwest of Tucson, Arizona. It was held in trust for the people. Under Valencia and Raymond Ybarra, the PYA developed homes and other infrastructure at the site. Realizing the difficulties of developing the community (known as New Pascua) without the benefit of federal Tribal status, Mr.Yberra and Mr. Valencia met with US Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) in the early months of 1977 to urge him to introduce legislation to provide complete Federal Recognition of the Yaqui people living on the property conveyed to the Pascua Yaqui Association by the United States through the Act of October 8, 1964. (78 Stat. 1197). Senator DeConcini introduced S.1633 on June 7, 1977. After extensive hearings and consideration, it was passed by the senate on April 5, 1978. It was accepted in the Conference Committee with the House of Representatives and the Report was passed by the senate and became public law, PL 95-375, on September 18, 1978. The law extends all Federal services and benefits including those provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service. It gives the tribe powers of self-government and Reservation status to Yaqui lands. The Pascua Yaqui Tribe was the last Tribe recognized prior to the formal BIA Federal Acknowledgement Process established later in 1978.

The Yaqui have dwelt in the area of the present-day southwestern United States since before the incursions by Spanish missionaries and soldiers in the 18th century. Yaqui oral tradition and history says there were small Yaqui settlements there centuries before the arrival of Europeans. The town of Tubac, Arizona, had Yaqui in its Spanish garrison. Several communities of Yaqui have existed in Arizona since the 19th century: Pascua Pueblo is in the northwestern part of Tucson and Hu'upa was to the south. It has since been absorbed into the Valencia and Freeway neighborhood of Tucson. In addition, Marana has had continuous settlements of Yaqui.

In the late 1960s, several Yaqui, among them Anselmo Valencia and Fernando Escalante, started development of a tract of land about 8 km to the west of the old Hu'upa site, calling it New Pascua (in Spanish, Pascua Nuevo). This settlement has a population (estimated in 2006) of about 4,000 and is the center of administration for the Tribe. Most of the middle-aged population of New Pascua use English, Spanish, and a moderate amount of Yaqui. Many older people also speak the Yaqui language fluently, and a growing number of youth are learning the Yaqui language in addition to English and Spanish.

Many Yaqui moved further north, near Tempe, Arizona. They settled in a neighborhood named after Our Lady of Guadalupe. The town incorporated in 1979 as Guadalupe, Arizona. Today, more than 44 percent of the town's is Native American, and many are trilingual in Yaqui, English and Spanish.

A small Yaqui neighborhood known as Penjamo is located in South Scottsdale, Arizona. Yaqui families in California are based in Fresno. Yaquis originally residing in the border town of Presidio, Texas, who fled Sonora in 1850 after killing Mexican soldiers in a fight, are now based in Lubbock, Texas, and are known as the Texas Band of Yaqui Indians, a state-recognized Tribe under Resolution SR#989 signed by Sen. Charles Perry and the Texas state Senate.

The Texas Band of Yaqui Indians, with more than 900 members, is petitioning for federal recognition.[21] In all, in 2008, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe counted 11,324 voting members.[22]

Notable Yaqui[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (Data by INALI counting only those who speak the Yaqui language [1])
  2. ^ "Mapcarta". Mapcarta. Retrieved 6 March 2017. 
  3. ^ "Sustainability in the Yaqui Valley". Stanford University. Retrieved 6 March 2017. 
  4. ^ Hu-Dehart, Evelyn (1974). "Development and Rural Rebellion: Pacification of the Yaquis in the Late Porfiriato". Hispanic American Historical Review. 54: 72–93 – via JSTOR. 
  5. ^ Hu-Dehart, Evelyn Missionaries Miners and Indians: Spanish Contact with the Yaqui Nation of Northwestern New Spain. Tucson: U of AZ Press, 1981, p. 10
  6. ^ Guerrero, Lilian. "Grammatical Borrowing in Yaqui." http://lilianguerrero.weebly.com/uploads/2/8/1/3/2813317/estrada__guerrero-yaqui_borrowing.pdf, accessed 5 May 2012
  7. ^ "Yaqui." U*X*L Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. U*X*L. 2008. Retrieved August 14, 2012 from HighBeam Research: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G2-3048800047.html
  8. ^ "Yaqui." Every Culture. http://www.everyculture.com/Middle-America-Caribbean/Yaqui-Orientation.html, accessed 6 May 2012
  9. ^ Hu-Dehart, pp. 10-11
  10. ^ Hu-Dehart, pp. 15, 19-20, 27-28
  11. ^ Spicer. Edward H. Cycles of Conquest. Tucson: U of AZ Press, 1986, pp. 49-50
  12. ^ a b Edward H. Spicer (1967), Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on Indians of the Southwest, 1533-1960 University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona. p. 55
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Turner, John Kenneth, Barbarous Mexico, Chicago: C.H. Kerr & Co., 1910, pp. 41–77
  14. ^ a b c Spicer, pp. 80–82
  15. ^ Spicer, pp. 59–83
  16. ^ Spicer, pp. 81–85
  17. ^ Seis Años de Gobierno al Servicio de México, 1934-1940. Mexico: Nacional Impresora S.A., 1940, 372.
  18. ^ Seis Años, p. 376.
  19. ^ ’’Seis Años’’, p. 375.
  20. ^ a b c d e Spicer, E. H. 1980. The Yaquis: A Cultural History, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.
  21. ^ "Home". Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  22. ^ Enric Volante Arizona Daily Star. "1 incumbent out, 2 added to Pascua Yaqui council". Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved 17 April 2016. 
  23. ^ "Hispanics in the United States Army". Retrieved 17 April 2016. 
  24. ^ Anita Endrezze
  25. ^ "Anita Endrezze". Retrieved 17 April 2016. 
  26. ^ "Mario Martinez: Contemporary Native Painting - Press". Retrieved 17 April 2016. 
  27. ^ http://tucson.com/news/local/education/prestigious-udall-award-goes-to-yaqui-student-from-tucson/article_6579578e-196e-52be-95c1-5ca16ec10354.html
  28. ^ "Redbone". Retrieved 17 April 2016. 


  • Folsom, Raphael Brewster: The Yaquis and the Empire: Violence, Spanish Imperial Power, and the Native Resilience in Colonial Mexico. Yale University Press, New Haven 2014, ISBN 978-0-300-19689-4. (Contents)
  • Miller, Mark E. "The Yaquis Become 'American' Indians." The Journal of Arizona History (1994).
  • Miller, Mark E. Forgotten Tribes: Unrecognized Indians and the Federal Acknowledgment Process (chapter on the Yaquis). (2004)
  • http://aip.cornell.edu/people/marcos-moreno

External links[edit]