Territorial dimension and lived space in the Yaqui towns

María Eugenia Olavarría *Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa. English translation by Denisse Piñera Palacios.

From the identification and analysis of the significant regularities of the territorial and spatial dimension of the Yaqui communities, I would like to show how, when combining with the movements characteristic to the rite, the space constitutes a text that, apart from showing a specific settlement, establishes rhythmic patterns —regular and repetitive— that are particular to that culture. In this sense, I consider the spatial dimension to be inseparable from the temporal; both will be conceived as different only from a technical perspective. In fact, it is a bipolar relationship which is representative of a particular rhythmic principle.

The ritual life that develops in a space thus constituted puts on view the significant dimension of the landscape since the occupation of said place. This occupation, which is consummated by means of the movement of the ritual actors, is definitely not continuous; on the contrary, it is a statement, in the strong sense of the word, that marks the beginning and end of each sacred event. The regulated repetition of the movement, characteristic to the rite, arranges in this way the singular rhythm of the cultural event that interests us.

This approach to the spatial pole consists in the reading of the spatial markers where community life takes place, constituted concentrically by the territory, the eight towns, the built-up area, the tebat or yard, the church and the altar, as well as of the associated notions, the most important one being the distinction East-West (up/down) and the one that distinguishes the center from the periphery (inside/outside), both pairs of categories modeled by the ritual activity.

Construction of the space

In fact, this process includes two dimensions: the first one, which I will synthetically develop, refers to the historical mechanisms based on which the ethnic group’s metonymic sign par excellence was built: the territory. So, we talk about a fabrication of the territory, in the sense that this is not only a preexistent fact in the Yaqui history, but rather a product, that is, the result of a conscious effort to obtain and preserve the most important identity referent of this people. In other words, the fight for the territory holds a central importance provided that this identity core of the Yaqui settlements, as proved by suitable ethnohistorical and ethnological research works,1 is the permanent state of struggle regarding the possession and delimitation of their territory. In other words, the history of the Yaqui tribe is the history of the dispute for their land.2

Thus conceived, we talk about a set of representations, an example of what Bourdieu3 designates as the struggle for classifications, that is, how the Yaqui society has come to occupy a space, both physical and expressive, in the context of contemporary national reality. I identify three moments of this process: the first one (1525-1767), product of the first encounters facing the military expeditions and the permanence of the Jesuit mission, ends precisely the year in which Charles III decreed estrangement to the Company of Jesus. During this period takes place the founding process of the mission and of the grouping around the eight towns.

The key event represented by this date marks the beginning of the second moment (1767-1936), which goes from the presence of the Franciscan order and the beginning of the War of the Yaquis, until the ratification of the presidential decrees that restored part of their traditional territory to the Yaqui people. This period is of crucial importance in the formation of the spirit of identity, and marks the most important attributes of their character.

The third moment (1937 to this date) corresponds to the stage of relative stability reached since the occupation of a part of their traditional territory, the reintegration of the eight towns—with the founding of two new head towns— and the restoration of a social and ritual organization.4 Of course there have been critical stages in the fight for land, such as the one in 1976 and, more recently, the restoration of the southwest limit and the mobilizations to control the water resources (1996-1998).

The second axe, which properly constitutes the object of this article, is formed by a synchronic examination, whose purpose is the identification of the syntax principles of the space where everyday and ritual life take place. I think that the territory, thus evoked, and as a product of the forces that still operate, is far from being a virgin space, undifferentiated or neutral, only useful as a stage for social action or as a container of social and cultural life.5 On the contrary, it is always about a valorized space, both instrumentally —from the ecological, economic or geopolitical point of view— and under the cultural perspective I am interested in knowing: the symbolic angle – which is expressive of the space.

Symbolic limits

Provided that all limits, geographical or not, have a symbolic dimension of object representation, what I am interested in identifying here are, most of all, the markers that operate as signals, as frontiers of the sign due to proximity towards the ethnic group: their tribal territory.6

I base this affirmation on that the territory is one of the constitutive elements of the state-nation, and it is also the sign of the community by antonomasia, from which derive its sacred character and its inviolability – at risk of sacrilege – by the part of any invader. The reference about the first encounter between the Yaquis and the Spaniards, based on Pérez de Ribas’ chronicle (1992), is now, due to the reiteration of which it has been the object and due to the tone in which it is quoted, a mythical figure in the words of the ethnographer:

The Spaniards pass the Mayo River on Tuesday, September 30 (1533) in search for the Yaquis; on October 4 they reach its left margin and on the 5th, they cross it, arriving to an uninhabited town whose name is unknown; from here, they follow the course of the river, downstream, and they discover a group of Yaquis that come to meet them, throwing handfuls of earth to the wind, tempering their bows and signaling to them to make them go back. The Yaquis are warriors. At the head of the Indian army marches their leader, dressed up in a magnificent panache of multicolored feathers and pearl oyster; on his back he wears a fox fur also with feathers; around his waist a loincloth made of cotton, and sandals covering his feet. Both armies face each other; the Indian captain moves forward with an arrogant attitude and traces a long line on the ground with his bow, then he kneels down and reverently kisses his ancestors’ land; then he stands up haughtily and, with his right arm extended, he invites the Spaniards to go back on their tracks, because if they do not, if they cross the line, it would mean an invasion to their homeland and therefore war, and they would be mercilessly killed.7

In no way has this recollection lost its strength; after centuries of armed conflict, genocide and diaspora, the separation from their place of origin has not meant for the exiled and enslaved Yaquis either cultural loss or “deterritorialization” of their culture. On the contrary, the testimonies of Yaqui descendants sent as slaves to the henequen plantations in Yucatán in Porfirian times confirmed that the journey back home is nothing but a periplus:

I was born in Yucatán but I wanted to come back to my homeland. Since I had no money, I came by foot. All the people I met on the way helped me; some fed me and even gave me money for bus fares. Everybody treated me well, until I arrived in Sonora. No one helped me there. Whenever I said I was a member of the [Yaqui] tribe, they frowned at me.8

But in the same way migrants make of their destination a symbolic reterritorialization of their culture of origin, and also an effort to recover and rebuild in situ the geosymbols of their native land, when they reencountered with their territory, the Yaquis that in Porfirian times were deported and sold as slaves in Yucatán, Quintana Roo and Tlaxcala proceeded in the opposite sense: they rebuilt in their ancestral territory the new quarters, geosymbols of their exile, as remind us the quarters in Mérida and Tlaxcala in Pótam. Those who managed to escape genocide took refuge in Arizona, in the United States, where up to this day reside their descendants in the towns of Pascua, Guadalupe and Barrio Libre. In spite of their extraterritoriality, we are impressed by the fact that the Yaquis who reside in Arizona are considered as authentic Yoemem,9 who periodically authenticate their sacred and ritual kinship community bonds, during the visits they pay on ritual occasions to the communities in Sonora.

Traditionally, the Yaqui group occupied a long coast and valley line to the southeast of today’s state of Sonora, which extended from the south bank of the Yaqui river to the Tetakawi hill, north of today’s city of Guaymas. With the sedentarization of the group under the control of the Jesuit missions, the population concentrated in eight colonies located from southeast to northeast along the Valley of the Yaqui, which have constituted the organizational and territorial base of the group.

The whole of the territory is formed by three differentiated zones, which are supported by specific geophysical characteristics: an area of highland, the sierra del Bacatete; a coast zone that includes colonies of fishermen such as Las Guásimas, Bahía de Lobos and Los Algodones; and the valley, where we find the irrigated lands, the eight head towns and more than fifty settlements.

Each of these geographical markers is surrounded by fields of meanings we find in myths and in the references of the positional and clothing language present in rituals. Now I will describe each of the three differentiated zones so that, later on, I can analyze their relationship and, therefore, the sense derived from it.

The sierra kawi or júuya as it is also called in everyday language, is associated to the more complex concept of pocho’oria, whose literal translation would be the hill. This region includes the sierra del Bacatete, whose etymology very much reflects its character: “where the people are”. Historically, it constituted the refuge and base of operations of the Yaqui rebels, as well as the stage for some of the most sanguinary episodes of the war. Even today, the sierra constitutes the support for the mythical discourse about the territory and about the war itself. In times of the wars, it was identified as the home of the Yaqui broncos, as opposed to the mild ones who, back then, inhabited the pueplum.

In the caves of the sierra del Bacatete, those who are initiated as “pascolas” and musicians receive in dreams the visit of the chivato. The cowboys gather during vigil nights around the fire in order to talk about the choni, and if they are lucky, they might be able to have an encounter with him and benefit from his power.10

Then it must be understood that frontiers are not absolute demarcation lines, but rather the object of a continuous definition. If the sierra kawi, extends to the east, fading into the sierra of Chihuahua, the last point of fixed occupation, the ascent of the sierra is constituted by the head town of Loma de Bácum. Something similar happens to the west: the ocean, báawe, does not imply the margin of the Yaqui territory; it somehow also belongs to them because in it dwells, according to the myths, a group of those tiny forefathers of the Yaquis, the surem, who did not want to resign themselves to the destiny of evangelization forecasted by the talking tree; on the contrary, they fled from it and took the form of whales and sea animals that still populate the Sea of Cortés. Those who took refuge at the sierra mainly became ants and small animals of the hills: centipedes, scorpions, lizards.

The spot that connects these two areas is Bácum, being the head town that is closest to the unpaved road that communicates with the sierra and, at the same time, the connection with the marine world. Bácum, from the Yaqui word bajkom, literally means “to the limit of the water” and there we find the lagoon of the same name, mythical home of the cultural Yaqui hero Bóbok, the toad.11

Since 1937, both the town of Bácum and the lagoon stopped being officially Yaqui land, which originated the foundation of the alternate head town of Loma de Bácum, where takes place the most important festivity of the year: that of the Virgin of the Road. On this day takes place the journey from north to south of more than fifteen troops of matachines, who take possession of the territory and, with their ritual work: tekia, make it sacred. When they reach the Loma, between the 2nd and 7th of July each year, the Soldiers of the Virgin dance together to see off the highest traditional authorities in their ascent to the caves of the Buatachive; they take out from them and then store in a cave the image of the three little virgins, who come out of their confinement in order to visit the church during the festivities.

Since its foundation in 1617 by the Jesuits, Bácum has been considered a sacred center; in this town was born the guerilla leader Cajeme, and in the church consecrated to Saint Rosalie were murdered 120 prisoners that had come to request peace, on February 18, 1868. The church was set on fire with the bodies inside.

Between the sierra and the shore, east and west, are located the eight traditional Yaqui towns. In this way, East is “the direction from which all proceeds”, as well as the highest solar point that indicates the start of the contis or counterclockwise processions, performed in all the collective celebrations of the ritual year. And West, as confirmed by the location of the cemeteries, is associated to death, and is the dwelling of the kurues snake, which devours the flesh of the dead suspected of incest; then what happens between one thing and the other, between east and west, between sunrise and sunset, is the life of the towns, pueplum.12

The towns are the stage for the vital rites of passage and for the blessings and promises the Yoemem make before the teopo ya’ura –who is literally the church authority-, in the public space, both during Lenten season and ordinary time. At the conti vo’o or way of the cross of each town take place the processions that mark the significant periods of the ritual year, the set of counterclockwise processions along the year, and the journey in inverse direction that marks the point of return of the cycle, the journey of the Judas or Malhumor (“Bad mood”) on Holy Saturday.

Each of the eight traditional towns maintains a spatial organization that only varies according to population density and to the rate of mestizo inhabitants that have taken up residence in them. The eight towns have practically the same limits: the sea to the west, the highway to the east and beyond it the sierra kawi; south of Loma de Guamúchil and north of Huírivis, the surrounding mestizo universe. At the same time, for most of the Yoemem, the territorial space is represented as divided in two blocks: to the southeast the towns of Tórim, Loma de Guamúchil and Loma de Bácum, somehow led by Vícam; to the north Ráhum, Huirivis and Belem by Pótam.

The political center of the group, since it is the meeting point of the traditional authorities of the eight towns, is now Vícam Pueblo. As another example in the process of attempting to classify, the Yoemem decided to detach the headquarters of their traditional government from Vícam Estación (Station) to Vícam Pueblo (Town), because since the twenties, due to the railway, more Yoris than Yaquis live in the first of these two towns. If we travel only five kilometers following the road, we can see the enormous distance between Vícam Estación (place of commerce, administrative center, see of the federal powers represented by the army), and the resource economy of Vícam Pueblo, whose tebat barely holds the church with its crosses and the simple precinct of the traditional guard. The contrast between these two towns opposes a saturated settlement before a discrete but significant commune.13

The graphic expression of this perspective allows us to identify the territorial frontiers which, somehow, coincide with those of the ethnic group. In the continuous process of definition to which they are subjected, we distinguish two poles. One pole refers to the external border of the ethnic group, that is, the line in front of the neighbors, the Mexicans or members of the other republic. It is an interethnic frontier that mostly corresponds to the north and south areas of the region, which have been the object of struggle not only in the domain of classifications —preferably expressive— but in an effective process of instrumental character, which transports the struggle to the judicial-political domain. The sea and its resources, as well as the sierra land are the object of legal and political battles, since it was until the seventies that the exclusive access to the marine resources was conquered.

The other pole is constituted by the internal margins, which delimit the valley opposite the sierra and the coast; the center opposite east (up) and west (down); they are also the margins that separate the Yoemem from their historical ancestors —the broncos of the sierra— and from their mythical ancestors, the surem. These borders are equally unclear although less negotiable; in order to communicate with the inhabitants of the mountain and of the country of the surem, an expressive effort is necessary: a ritual. The spatial model I present below summarizes in a schematic way the set of pertinent categories (see fig. 1).

The eight towns

In this example, the architectonic registers together with the natural markers have their own relevance as contexts of the ritual life, and they refer a history that is obviously pertinent: that of the sedentarization, urbanization and conversion of the Amerindian population of the region by the Jesuit missionaries. Spicer’s perception in this sense is conclusive:

When the Jesuits so successfully encouraged the creation of towns, they were introducing not only a new material base of life, but also the foundations of a new conception of the universe. Huya aniya became a specialized part of a larger whole, instead of the whole itself. However, huya aniya was not replaced, as the Jesuits would have undoubtedly wished; it became the other world, the wild world that surrounded the towns. Houses were built in a more or less harmonious plan around the new and only church and its enclosed buildings, such as the missionary’s house and yards. There was considerably less fusion with the environment.14


In this perspective, the ordered and ideal continuity between human activity and the natural world, characteristic to the pre-Christian universe of the Yoemem huya aniya, acquired its first significant border with the establishment of the new threshold between the mountain and the towns, the huya aniya and the pueplum. Before the continuous past exclusively assured by the movement of the sky, only referent to determine the cardinal points or any other reference considered fixed, the town immediately became the new center of the world and its assignment was, somehow, to guarantee the rotation of the universe around it.15

According to Spicer’s ethnohistorical studies, there was a spread belief in the XIX century about the existence of a lost document, which would appear someday, and which was presented by the Yaquis to the Mexican who refused to acknowledge their limits. This secular legend, the Canto de la Frontera (the Song of the Frontier),16 also reported in the XX century, became sacred due to its close relationship to the need to defend the land against the intrusions of the Mexican. According to this new mythology, once the sacred frontier was defined — fact that is placed by the Yaquis long before the arrival of the Spaniards—, the Yaqui prophets turned their attention to the foundation of the eight towns. They were founded from east to west with the same names they had in the XIX century; a Yaqui prophet performed ceremonial work tekipanoa during each foundation at the area of the town, thus designating the place as sacred.

According to some tales, the name of each place was already known, but in several cases the site is compared to a place of biblical reference and a patron saint for the town or church is appointed.

So, to mention them in the order marked by the myth of the Towns Foundation, Cócorit was chosen by José Ignacio Vailutey; Bácum by a prophet of the Canto de la Frontera; Andrés Cusmes appointed Saint Rosalie as patron saint and compared the town to Eden; Tórim by Patricio Huilocolli, who appointed Saint Ignace as patron saint; Vícam by Justo Liozo; Pótam by Juan José Sealey; Ráhum by Couguama, who appointed Saint Manuel as patron saint; Huírivis by Simon Yomomoli, and Belem by Cosme Ta’ajinkoi, who designated Saint Peter to be the patron saint.17

What we have here is the sacred sanction to the location of the eight towns in a myth that, apart from clashing with the historical facts we know, inverts them. The foundation of the eight towns, similar to the Canto de la Frontera, is placed before the arrival of the missionaries, or of any other Spaniard, and is attributed in each case to a Yaqui prophet. The historical evidence indicates there were no towns before the arrival of the Jesuits, and that all the towns that were founded were the result of the religious’ efforts to persuade the Yaquis to concentrate their houses in eight places. By affirming the founders were Yaqui and that this event was prior to the foreign intervention, the myth clearly indicates a tendency, characteristic to the period between the XVIII and XIX centuries, towards the intensification of ethnic conscience. That is, the Yaquis reject the idea of the Europeans performing any role whatsoever in the creation of the institutions under which they are already used to living.

In this way, the eight Yaqui towns, not only today but also in their origins, were founded by Yaqui prophets and thus obtained divine sanction for their creation, in the exact same way they obtained it for their tribal territory. The use of Christian names for all the prophets, together with Yaqui last names, does not suggest any contradiction, since they are governed by mythical reason.

In this way, each mountain formation receives its sanction: its sacred name and character, from the myth. The supernatural ones were the origin of the frontier delimitation, when they crossed the whole territory from the southeast to the northwest singing Christian hymns; some time after this, the Yaqui prophets, who would have met with the supernatural, had visions in eight different places: “One of them saw the garden of Eden, and ordered the foundation of Potam, another one saw Saint Rosalie, which originated Bácum, and the same happened for the eight towns”.18

As we can see, the journey from south to north along the territory is one of the constants of these myths, as evidenced by the myth gesturally represented by the Yaqui matachines, who repeat it every year during the feast of the Virgin of the Road, but in the opposite direction. The myth constitutes a text in itself, understood as a multiplicity of codes of a diverse nature, some sort of proclamation dictated in situational language, which is at the same time an effective act of taking of possession.

The last tale of this sacred geography is the one Fabila titled “Leyenda yaqui de las predicciones” (Yaqui legend of the predictions), one of whose codes registers the origin of the Yaquis themselves. This interpretation goes beyond the origin of the elevations of land and mountains of the Bacatete, which we might consider as the result of a superficial reading.19 This legend, from whose different published versions I allow myself to present a summary, refers that:

In times of the surem the land was being desolated by a huge snake that came from the north. The Yaquis prepared militarily to attack it, but their arrows did not damage the scaly shield of the animal and they were defeated. Being in this situation, the Yaqui chiefs, led by one named Vía Láctea (Milky Way), decided to ask for the help of the magician Chapulín Guóchimea (Large Grasshopper Guóchimea), and they appointed Golondrina (Swallow) to be their messenger. While the warriors waited for the swallow, the magician came in one leap to where the generals – with names such as Vía Láctea, Nieve (Snow) and the Chiquihuite – were; after a vegetal bath, he sat on top of a tree to wait for the passage of the snake. When the giant reptile passed by, the grasshopper beheaded it with its spurs until the head, already detached from the body, rolled to the spot known as Boca Abierta, where it talked to the Yazicue chief: “I could not exterminate the Yaqui, because I was defeated by the grasshopper magician, my purpose was to reign among the tribes of Sonora, but since I have been defeated, I warn you and invite you to take good care of yourselves because after some years pass by, from the East and South, white men who vomit fire will come. If you want to succeed in the fight, take away from them their own offensive means and fight them fearlessly and relentlessly; otherwise, you shall be enslaved, and they shall divest you of your territory.20

The journey of the prophecy, from north to south, marks the hills of the Bacatete: Yazicue, Omteme, Cúbuae, Corasepe, Akimore, Re’epecame and Guochimea. The last one, which corresponds to the body of the snake transformed into a hill, contradictorily bears the name of its executioner, the grasshopper. The detail with which the journey of the prophecy is narrated, from one point to the other, reminds us of the (ritual) gesture that proclaims proprietorship over a symbol.21

This ambiguous character of the snake is present in the deepest part of the Yaqui thought. At the same time threatening, (since it devastated the territory) and protective (since it warns them of the white men), the gigantic snake appears as the center of a field of meanings that is only evident, from analysis, in the aspects of the ritual, the Weltanschauung and mythology.

The tebat

A constant that attracts our attention, when we look at the landscape of the eight towns, is the way in which each one of them builds its sacred space based on a discrete number of elements. I do not mean to say that they are identical, but only that the disposition of the most significant components, of what constitutes the center of the town, formed by an open space called tebat, presents regularities that allow me to consider the analysis of one of them, the town of Loma de Guamúchil, as a base of my presentation.


I leave aside the evident differences between the towns as to population density and types of settlement, to focus my description on the spaces that are subjected to prohibitions, those constituted as sacred. In this sense, the concentric perspective seems to dominate not only in the municipalities of Sonora, but also in those of more recent foundation in Arizona, United States of America.22

On the sketch above (figure 2), the space consecrated to ritual activity at a community level is indicated, and the significant spatial markers are also located.23

The town may be distinguished thanks to its “center”, tebat or yard, delimited by four crosses. One of them, at the center, is the cross of forgiveness. On this space are located, without exception, the church and the cemetery —to the west—, and bowers that vary in number according to the season of the year: at least two permanent ones, used for the meetings of the governors and members of the military group; and two more bowers made of fresh reed —one to the west, in front of the church, and another one to the east— which are built specifically for each feast. This organization corresponds to the type of ceremonial center.24

As we can see in the following sketch, (figure 3) the tebat is circumscribed by an earth road that surrounds the church and then continues along the external periphery of the square; it is the conti vo’o, the way of the cross, which is marked by fourteen wooden crosses that remain there all year long and that may be associated to the stations of the cross. The seventh one, which is called Calvary, may be distinguished thanks to the three crosses erected there.

The space surrounded by the conti vo’o is also considered a privileged area for social and political activity, because people stop there to greet each other and “visit the cross”; due to the fact that it shelters the bowers of the comunila and of the guard, it is also considered the point where authority assembles. This quality of stage for the meetings of “the chiefs” contrasts with its purpose during the Holy Week when, sitting at the cross of forgiveness, the masked ones receive the alms. In this sense, the tebat of Vícam Pueblo deserves to be mentioned separately because it hosts the headquarters of the Yaqui tribe, that is, it is the meeting point of the eight cobanaos, representatives of the traditional government.


The crosses

The markers of the sacred space, in all cases, are the crosses. All ceremonies and processions in and to the tebat are presided by one: a cross may be lifted at the threshold of the recently occupied household and, finally, crosses, kusim, occupy a privileged place in the paraphernalia, and they may be used as protection against envy and sorcery.

According to the testimony of a liturgical master, “the cross may face any direction, but it should never face west; east is better”. My remark is that crosses are always oriented towards the sierra, towards the point where the sun rises, which corresponds to the east.

In this way, if the cross is at the center, what is beyond it is the town; if the town is the center, what is beyond it is the sierra, the sea, the Yori world and the desert; furthermore, if the human world corresponds to the pueplum, what is out of the Yoeme cultural sacred universe is the huya aniya, the mountain, the natural sacred universe, inhabited by the surem, the choni, the snake kurues and the small animals of the hills. In the middle of this center we find the church, the teopo. Yaqui churches are buildings that, though significantly different as to their age, essentially repeat the Romanesque structure: axial solid wall and two towers. This results in a cross-shaped floor plan whose towers are, they too, crowned by crosses. The churches do not have in the inside the furniture characteristic to the mestizo catholic temples, and the religious images are reduced to those displayed on the main and the two secondary altars.

The placement of the sacred statuettes on the altars follows explicit rules that may be seen in the following sketch: while the male statuettes, Itom Achai, crucified Christ, (who may only be touched by the master and the temastianes) occupy the central and right parts of the altar; the representations of the Virgin occupy the left side; the images of Mary are transported and taken care of by the kiyohteis, assisted by other women of the teopo ya’ura, fraternity that assembles all those who are fulfilling a promise. (figure 4)


Only the Virgin of Guadalupe, despite being a feminine image, may be placed on the right side, which is reserved to the male representations, because she is the patron saint of the military guard, field of authority formed exclusively by men.

Several myths sanction this distinction. One of them narrates how Jesus, a hitebi or Yaqui witch doctor who traveled the towns doing his work tekia, in a time where their inhabitants were already Christians, occupied the place of cultural hero because he was responsible for originating the dances of the pascola, deer and coyote. On the other hand, Mary is the patron of the Matachines, who call themselves Itom Ae sontaom, the soldiers of the Virgin.

The central and sacred spaces thus constituted are places where the public ritual is displayed and besides, where the tension inherent to the bipolar system is manifested. This system, articulated around its own categories and around a diversity of languages like the positional and the mythical, -such as left and right, east and west, Jesus and Mary, Itom Achai e Itom Ae-, covers practically all the cultural expressions of this people.

Space as one of the poles of the rhythmic principle

Said tension, however, has to be resolved in one way or another. My hypothesis is that the space-time of the feast, by means of words and gestures, revives in the expressive field the tie in the life of the inhabitants of the eight towns. The distinctions, materialized in the registers we have already described, become the actors of each ritual staging, where the space acquires sense not only as stage of the rite –authentic spatial-temporal unity—, but also as one of its main characters. This unity, established by the movements of the ritual agents, which mainly consist of gestures, journeys and dances, follows a defining rhythm. The combination of two types of movement, the east/west oscillatory movement between the parties of the two bowers, and the elliptical movement of the procession, define a space and, thus, materialize the significant marks and directions in terms of their values.

So, the rite presents itself as the site where a perception of the world materialized in the spatial register (static) of the tebat takes place. It serves as base for the oscillatory and surrounding journey (dynamic) of the participants, towards certain directions –true meeting points with the world- thus originating a representation, a myth in which, in their own language, contradictions are set and then, cyclically, an ethnic drama is presented.


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Gimate-Welsh H., Adrián S., Espacio-Identidad. El territorio, la autonomía y los derechos de los pueblos indígenas de México, in Gimate-Welsh H., compilation,Ensayos Semióticos. Dominios, modelos y miradas desde el cruce de la naturaleza y la cultura, Mexico, Miguel Ángel Porrúa/Universidad Autónoma de Puebla/Asociación Mexicana de Estudios Semióticos, 2000, pp. 401-412.

Giménez Montiel, Gilberto, “Territorio y cultura” in Culturas contemporáneas, Época II, vol. II, num. 4, December 1997, pp. 9-30.

Leroi-Gourhan, André, El gesto y la palabra, Caracas, Ediciones de la Biblioteca, Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1971.

Olavarría, María Eugenia, Análisis estructural de la mitología yaqui, Mexico, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia – Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, (Científica), 1989.

____________, “Ritmo y estructura del ciclo ritual yaqui”, Doctoral thesis in Anthropological Sciences, Mexico, Department of Anthropology, UNAM-Iztapalapa, September 1999.

Pérez de Ribas, Andrés, Historia de los triunfos de nuestra santa fe, Introductory study. Notes and appendixes by Ignacio Guzmán Betancourt, Mexico, Siglo XXI, 1992.

Schechner, Richard, “Waehma: Space, Time, Identity, and Theater at New Pascua, Arizona” in Crumrine , Nye Ross and Rosamond B. Spicer (eds.), Lent and Holy Week in Northwest Mexico and Southwest United States, Lanhaus, Maryland, University Press of America, in press.

Spicer, Edward H., Los yaquis. Historia de una cultura, Mexico, UNAM- Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, (Historiadores y Cronistas de Indias, 9), 1994.

  1. See the works inscribed in the current of the cultural history of the Yaquis, founded by Spicer (1994) which, given their extension and relevance, must be considered a separate object of study. My synthesis is based on Deeds, 2000, Figueroa, 1985 and 1994, Giddings. 1942-1943 and 1959. []
  2. If we take into account that the first antagonistic encounter between the Yaquis and the Yoris took place in 1553, and that these encounters would not stop until 1937 –when Lázaro Cárdenas passed the Act to solve the agrarian problem of the Yaqui region, by means of which 500 thousand hectares were granted to them, 20 thousand of which were irrigation hectares-, these rebellions constitute one of the longest armed conflicts of a people to maintain their territory. []
  3. Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, 1984. []
  4. The knowledge of this period, whose foundations are set in Lumholtz’s work, is strengthened by the activity of researchers among whom stand out Ralph Beals and Edward H. Spicer. The publication in 1980 of the synthesis of the work directed by Spicer along fifty years, The Yaquis: A Cultural History and the abundant production built in the past two decades, define the contemporary situation. []
  5. Gilberto Giménez, “Territorio y cultura”, in Culturas contemporáneas, 1997, p.9. []
  6. Gérard Bouchard, “La region culturelle: un concept, trois objects. Essais de mise au point”, in Fernand Harvery (ed.) La region culturelle, 1994. []
  7. Alfonso Fabila, Las tribus yaquis de Sonora, su cultura y anhelada autodeterminación, 1978, pp. 89-90 (the italics are mine). []
  8. Testimony collected in Las Guásimas, Sonora, in August, 1988. []
  9. The term Yoeme is the generic ethnonym for the Yaquis and Mayos; the Yaqui variant designates yoeme as singular and yoemem as plural. In this article, I use the terms Yaqui and Yoeme as synonyms. []
  10. The chivato is the mythological character who owns the arts of the pascola dancer. In some myths, he is presented as a goat, inhabitant of the caves, who attracts those that come near the sierra, to whom he sometimes appears in dreams. The choni is some sort of vision that is reached by means of a prolonged vigil during the stay at the sierra, and only certain chosen ones have access to the power and luck that this character, represented by a bunch of hair, may provide. []
  11. María Eugenia Olavarría, Análisis estructural de la mitología yaqui, 1989, p.84. []
  12. A deep analysis of the semantic fields associated to these categories, and the corresponding analysis of the Weltanschauung may be found in my work “Ritmo y estructura del ciclo ritual yaqui”, doctorate thesis in Anthropological Sciences, Mexico, Department of Anthropology, UAM-Iztapalapa, September 1999. []
  13. Emmanuel Desvaux, “L’ alliance et la filiation comme maitrise de l’espace, le territoire comme gouvernement des hommes”, in FranVois Héritier-Augé et E. Copet-Rougier (eds.) Les Stratégies de l’alliance matrimoniales: Economie, politique et fondaments symboliques, 1994, p.47. []
  14. Edward H. Spicer, Los yaquis. Historia de una cultura, 1994, p.77. []
  15. The main property of cities is to provide an ordered image of the universe” (Leroi-Gourhan 1971, 0. 320). []
  16. Edward H. Spicer, Los yaquis…op.cit., 1994, p. 216. []
  17. Ruth W. Giddings, “Yaqui Myths and Legends”, in Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona, 1959, p.45. []
  18. The myth “La inundación y los profetas” – The flood and the prophets- (Ruth W. Giddings, op.cit., 1959, pp.45-46) is a part of my analysis published in 1989. []
  19. María Eugenia Olavarría, Análisis estructural…, op.cit., 1989. []
  20. Alfonso Fabila, Las tribus yaquis de Sonora…, op.cit., 1978, p. 253. []
  21. In fact, identity as journey; metaphoric and metonymic simultaneity of cultural categories that realize themselves in spatial appropriation, the lived space. []
  22. See Richard Schechner’s analysis in Crumrine, Nye Ross and Rosamond B. Spicer (eds.) Lent and Holy Week in Northwest Mexico and Southwest United States, Lanhaus, Maryland, University Press of America, in press. []
  23. We must take into account that not all rites take place on this space because, for instance, those of family participation have effect at the domestic sites. []
  24. Adrián S. Gimate-Welsh, H., “Espacio-identidad. El territorio, la autonomía y los derechos de los pueblos indígenas de México”, in Ensayos Semióticos. Dominios, modelos y miradas desde el cruce de la naturaleza y la cultura, Mexico, Miguel Ángel Porrúa/ Universidad Autónoma de Puebla/Asociación Mexicana de Estudios Semióticos, 2000. []

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