Journal of the Southwest
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volume 34, number 1 Spring 1992Special Issue Hiakim: The Yaqui Homeland

The Journal of the

Contents Volume 34, Number 1, Spring 1992

edited by
Joseph Carlton Wilder

University of Arizona Press
The Southwest Center


Hiakim: The Yaqui Homeland

The Holy Dividing Line: Inscription and Resistance in Yaqui Culture.


We believe that Don Alfonso Florez Leyva's "Testamento" descends from a text that was produced in the early 1940s during an intense period of redefinition of the relations between the Yoemem, the Yaquis, and the T'oim, the Mexicans. That text is what Edward H. Spicer called the "Rahum Land Myths," a group of narratives written down early in 1942 as Spicer worked with Juan Valenzuela, a charismatic Yaqui elder from the pueblo of Rahum. It is probable that "the big book" from which copies of the "Testamento" were made in the early 1950s is a product of the sessions Juan Valenzuela held with Spicer in 1942.

Spicer lived in Potam during the first four months of 1942 along with his wife Rosamond, their one year old son, Barry, and Ruth Warner ("Bets") Giddings, a graduate student and research associate. 6 Juan Valenzuela emerges as a major figure in Spicer's monograph from that time, Potam It is Juan Valenzuela who administers Spicer's rite of passage into the Yaqui community by forcing him to speak only Yaqui in front of the assembled Rahum elders. Once Spicer gets through this initiation experience, he writes that Valenzuela, "the most respected old man" in the pueblo, took it upon himself to become Spicer's teacher, guardian, and friend. Spicer describes Valenzuela as knowledgeable about practical pueblo affairs as well as about "the Mexican Yaqui political situation." Valenzuela reads Spanish, owns books, and is a ready conversationalist willing "to talk about any little thing from weather to ways of cooking oysters." He presides over the Spicers' Potam household "like a pleasant old patriarch, mildly amused by and indulgent with the various children who were also there." Despite these very practical, human qualities, Juan Valenzuela impresses Spicer as "living in some other world," as "a mystic," whose "eyes were not bright and burning, but rather dim and burning." And even when Juan Valenzuela is not at the house the Spicers and Giddings have the feeling that "maybe Juan was sitting in the rafters up there looking at us and listening to what we said." They begin to call him the Brujo, the nickname "an indication of the feeling of unearthliness which he gave rise to in all of us" (Spicer 1954:6 7). What emerges in Spicer's Potam narrative, then, is a figure of a man with great authority and presence: knowledgeable, trusted, and respected in the Yaqui community; practical but mystic; innovative, but traditional enough to be centrally involved in the intellectual life and governance of his community. 7

Of the creation of the written transcription of the "Rahum land myths," Spicer's research associate, Ruth Warner Giddings, writes that Juan Valenzuela knew "the material from memory and wrote out what is translated here in mixed Yaqui and Spanish" (Folk Literature 1945:44, n. 2). Spicer, who published only English paraphrases (1954:125 28; 1980:164 76), writes "the word for word versions from which these summaries have been made were told under the most solemn circumstance with village elders and with most of the young men of the struggling new village present" (Spicer 1954:214, n. 64). Giddings's "wrote out" contrasts with Spicer's "told." Spicer writes elsewhere that Juan Valenzuela had convened a school at Rahum prior to Spicer's arrival at the Rio Yaqui at which "he recounted regularly to younger men the texts as he had written them in both Spanish and Yaqui " (emphasis added). These texts "included the Flood, the Singing of the Boundary, the Founding of the Towns, The Talking Tree, and some legends . . . ." Spicer also tells us that Juan Valenzuela and his associates "all read Spanish and wrote Yaqui in a more or less standardized script which had been in general use since at least the early 1800s" (Spicer 1980:175 76). Spicer's understanding, then, seems to have been that the texts were written in some form before he arrived on the scene. What was produced in the ethnographic encounter between Spicer/Giddings and Valenzuela, in that event, was a particular written version of text that already existed in writing, though possibly in other forms. We will explore possible antecedents below.

What we do know is that narratives were written down under the direction of Juan Valenzuela, a respected community elder, and that from the point of view of the Rahum community they were regarded as narratives worthy of very serious consideration. Spicer reports that "when it is told to a Yaqui audience in Rahum it is received in an atmosphere of profound respect and solemnity by both young and old men" (Spicer 1954:127). Indeed, community response to the story may be one reason that Spicer and Giddings did not preserve a Spanish or Yaqui/ Spanish language transcription of "The Flood and the Prophets." Both Giddings and Spicer report that the Rahum elders were concerned that the information contained in the stories that they were recording not reach or be available to the Mexicans, whom they believed would use the information in their continuing attempts to take Yaqui lands. It is very possible that Spicer and Giddings possessed transcriptions of Juan Valenzuela's "Rahum Land Myths" in the original languages) of their telling but chose not to publish them or even to keep them in deference to the wishes of Valenzuela and his Rahum colleagues. Of the versions of the "Rahum land myths" that he heard performed, Spicer reports: "At first strict prohibition against their publication was enjoined. Later the Rahum village council decided that they might be published in English, but not in Spanish. When it was pointed out that they could be easily translated if so published, the elders decided that advantages gained through their publication in English would probably outweigh the disadvantages" (Spicer 1954:214, n. 64).

In any case, the Spanish transcriptions from the Spicer/Valenzuela sessions do not appear to survive among Spicer's papers." We assume that Spicer left copies of the transcribed stories with Juan Valenzuela and the other Rahum elders and that these are the "very big book" (si bwe'u livrom) from which Don Alfonso's "Testamento" most immediately descends. A translation into Yaqui Spanish from published work by Giddings or Spicer in English seems very unlikely.9

Given Juan Valenzuela's very wide knowledge of Yaqui traditions and his close relation with Spicer, it is interesting that Valenzuela chose to give Spicer only two narratives: one, a story of Mexican treachery and Yaqui heroism during a "peace conference" at Pitaya (Pitahaya), Rio Yaqui, January 9, 1909; the other, the "Flood and the Prophets." By contrast, Spicer and Giddings recorded a very extensive collection of narratives from Ambrosio Castro, whom they describe as more marginally involved with the cultural and political life of the Rio Yaqui.'° That Juan Valenzuela selected these particular stories out of the many that he must have known to give Spicer was probably influenced by the political and historical context. At about the same time Valenzuela worked with Spicer, he and a group of Yaquis were in the midst of reestablishing the Yaqui pueblo of Rahum and reiterating the boundaries of Yaqui lands. Both the revitalization of Rahum Pueplo and the concern with boundaries were no doubt actions closely related to the decrees of Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas in the late 1930s that designated some 485,000 hectares as the Yaqui Indigenous Community (Lutes 1987:1113). The activities mark an end to the "Yaqui diaspora" and the beginning of a period of rebuilding, reintegration, and renewal. The context for the inscription of the "Rahum land myths" was in any case a time of significant changes in the political status of Yaquis." And Juan Valenzuela, "author" of the texts, was a man situated at the center of an active effort to revitalize one of the original Eight Pueblos and to revise Yaqui cultural history.

What Juan Valenzuela and the Rahum elders provided in the "Rahum land myths," the central text of their effort, was an emergent version of Yaqui cultural history, at once prophetic, nativistic, and synthetic, that served immediate political functions of reintegration and renewal. Valenzuela's role in the production of the text was that of a cultural historian motivated by a very particular historical and political context (CE Bricker 1981:180 81). What seems clear is that Juan Valenzuela wanted to record narrative traditions that served the political cause of defining and perserving the Yaqui land base and of defining and preserving the authority of the Eight Pueblos. Protection of both the perimeter and the center was Valenzuela's concern. He functioned not only as a keeper of Yaqui sacred traditions but as a "former" of his people's political consciousness who used a "Christian vocabulary for the purpose of Yaqui patriotism" (Bahr:7, 11).

Don Chema Kupahe is a man that we visited in Hkam Suicbi when we were traveling with Don ANnso. Don Chema comes to Tucson sometimes to participate in ceremonies as a violinist. On one of his trips Don Chema was staying at a house across the street from my brotber's house in New Pascua. He visited with my brother several times and asked for me. Finally I met with him during the Santa Cruz pahko at Barrio Libre on May 7, 1991 and we talked. He wanted my opinion on a letter that was drafted in Yaqui land by a certain faction who were talking for the raqui land. He gave me and my brother the letter. I told Don Cbema that I would read over the letter to better understand it. In my mind 1 kept thinking about gettirg involved in such serious and dangerous matters concerning the problems with the continuous attempt to overpower the Yaqui nation and take Yaqui land by making it free for all non Yaqui Mexicans. The letter carries such a message. It begins: "We belong to a people of indomitable fighting spirit, our race never gave in during the dark days of the Spanish and we set an example as a people who never allowed ourselves to be conquered, nor for our lands to be taken away during the colonial period." It goes on to tell how "Lazaro Cdrdenas del Rio," the President of Mexico recognized our title to our land and dedicated it for the exclusive use of the roomer people. Then it brings up the present situation and says many more things like this: "With the strength which we get from our traditions which our people have been able to preserve, the richness of the land which has been recognized as ours, and the great fighting and working spirit of our people, the raqui community began to be a prosperous and united people. However, our richness was coveted; the renters came, the profiteers, the great landholders who, with the help of evil officials, grew rich at the expense of our people. "Anyway Don Cbema was happy that I met with him and be told me that he wanted Yaqui people in Arizona to read the letter and study it and be would sign that letter if all agree that the content of the letter contained the truth.

As we talked more and more about the sacred Yaqui land he mentioned the "Testamento." He said that he had a copy of the Testamento and that the prophecies from the Testamento are occurring and that we should not allow the yoim to take over the land. He said that the sacred mountains that once saved the lives of our ancestors still dot the land. He said that many of them are just small hills and not the big mountains. "How could such a small hill like Avas Kaure or Tosal Kawi save the people from the rising water of the flood?" he questioned himself. "The hills rose from their bases and floated in the water," he answered. "Because of occurrences such as this in our land, we respect the land and want to live, work, and enjoy, ourselves here." He promised to bring a copy of the 'Testamento" for me and my brother but we have not received it yet. 1 told Don Chema that 1 agree with his concerns and that 1 am fully aware that this is not a small matter. l said that it was complicated and that 1 could only participate in such a group by giving advice.


The relationship between Don Alfonso's "Testamento" and Juan Valenzuela's "Rahum Land Myths" is clarified somewhat by a third version of the text that became available to us as we worked on this project. This third version dates from the early 1950s, possibly from the Rahum meeting we discussed above.

Gilbert Bartell, writing on the formation of the Yaqui fishing cooperative at Guasimas and other "Directed Culture Change Among the Sonoran Yaquis," quotes a version of the "Testamento" that he "translated from the Spanish from a Yaqui text taken in Rahum by John Dedrick" (Bartell 1964:142 43). When we asked about this version, John Dedrick, linguist and longtime student of the Yaqui language, generously sent us a copy that he collected in the early 1960s. Dedrick lived and worked in the Rio Yaqui area for extended periods from December 1940 into the middle of the 1980s. In a letter, he recalls that in the early 1960s some students from the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia a Historia (INAH) were doing research in the Rio Yaqui area. Seeking help in translating the Yaqui, the INAH students brought Dedrick a text they had collected from a maestro in the pueblo of Belen. With their permission, Dedrick hastily made a copy of their copy using his typewriter. He writes, "My copy probably has typos and holidays but ought to be over 95 percent correct."

Dedrick made his copy from a four page original titled "Testamento Principal." His copy is very similar to the version of Don Alfonso's "Testamento" we print here. The major difference is its double closing part. After the concluding list of the founders of the Eight Pueblos, the Dedrick/Belen text continues:

Pues senoresim achalim pueblo leym principlaim malestom ilen a
tahane jume itom gojnaiqui pueblom itom herenciam pueblo san
manuel custodio ragum pueblo 14 de matzo de 1951 primer copio.

Well, gentlemen, fathers, pueblo law principals, maehtom , like this know it, our eight pueblos, our inheritance, patron of Rahum
Pueplo, San Manuel, 14 March 1951, first copy.

This passage is followed by a narrative description that attempts to locate the Holy Dividing Line more exactly in relation to particular named places. The writer of the passage signs off: "Pueblo de Belen, Jiac Batgue, Febrero 25 de 1952"/Belen Pueblo, Yaqui River, 25 February 1952. This version, which Dedrick collected in the early 1960s, is then a copy made in 1952 of a "first copy" made in 1951. The source of this "first copy" is probably the meeting of representatives of the Eight Pueblos at Rahum that Don Alfonso described.


We assume that both Don Alfonso's "Testamento" and the Belen Maehto's "Testamento Principal" collected by Dedrick descend from Juan Valenzuela's "Rahum Land Myths." Differences among the versions are suggestive of how the "Rahum land myths" have been transmitted and interpreted within the Yaqui community. For the purpose of our comparison, we identify four parts in Don Alfonso's "Testamento." We will discuss each of these parts and comment on the relation of each to the other versions of the text available to us at this time: Juan Valenzuela's "Rahum Land Myths," 1942; and the Dedrick/Belen Maehto's "Testamento Principal," 1952.

The first part, lines 1 128, includes two narratives: the story of the Flood and the story of the Holy Dividing Line. Dedrick's text for this part is essentially the same as Don Alfonso's, and the version of Juan Valenzuela's text published by Giddings as "The Flood and the Prophets." Although as we have noted Giddings is only available in English translation, differences among the three texts are minimal. The first part is written in Spanish, with occasional Latin words and Yaqui proper names and place names. The pervasive use of the second person familiar plural construction (vosotros and the like) reveals a strong connection with the language of priests, who, James S. Griffith pointed out to us, customarily use this form.

The second part, lines 129 213, is marked by a dramatic shift away from the diction and rhetoric of the first part. Don Alfonso notes this as a shift from Spanish to Yaqui in his commentary on the text, although of course the second part contains a great deal of Spanish as well as Yaqui. This section is not present in the Juan Valenzuela text published by Giddings. It is present and almost identical in the Dedrick version. The second part is written in a Yaqui Spanish combination and in a rhetorical pattern that is common in contemporary Yaqui speeches and sermons (Painter, Savala, and Alvarez 1955). It opens with a conventional litany invoking a great chain of Yaqui authority that culminates with the Bow Leaders' Society, the group responsible for the protection of the Yaqui homeland and the Kohtumbre, the group that oversees all the Yaqui Lenten ceremonies. This is followed by a reiteration of the origins of the Holy Dividing Line in 1414 17 (lines 149 208).

A conventional admonition bridges into Part Three, the founding of the Eight Pueblos. The third part, lines 214 64, continues in the same Yaqui/Spanish diction and style as the second part. It documents the "founding fathers" of each of the Eight Pueblos, the ones who received "the earth inheritance." Although this part is lacking from the version that Giddings published, Spicer's paraphrase of the "Rahum land myths" includes this as a concluding section (Spicer 1954:125 26). This section is present and nearly identical in the Dedrick version.

The fourth part, lines 265 77, includes Don Alfonso's colophon, final statement, and signature. These are absent, of course, in all other versions, but we note that the Dedrick version has two such signoffs with commentary. As additional versions of the text become known, this is the place where we would expect the Yaqui copyists to identify themselves and to provide additional commentary and interpretation.


The differences among the three versions highlight the different perspectives and expectations that may lead Yaquis to call this cluster of narratives a "Testamento" while non Yaquis have persistently labeled parts of it a "flood myth" or a "land myth."

A major difference between the Juan Valenzuela text and the two later versions, as we have seen, is the lengthy commentary that has been added to the text as Part Two. It seems very possible that this section, a Yaqui commentary on the first part written in the Yaqui language, was added at the big meeting at Rahum in the early 1950s remembered by Don Alfonso. This commentary, taken together with the commentary Don Alfonso offered as he read the "Testamento" for us in April 1989, suggests the way in which the "Testamento" is performed and interpreted in Yaqui communities. Though the "Testamento" was likely "fixed" in manuscript by Juan Valenzuela, it is clearly permissible, even necessary, for other Yaquis to "unfix" it as it is read and discussed orally. 'z What it means to the Yaqui audiences may to a large extent be determined by what gets said about it when it is read.

Note, for example, that the commentator(s) who added the second part (lines 129 93) chose not to say anything about the Flood. This is one element of the "Testamento" that has consistently attracted the interest of non Yaqui commentators on the text. In fact they have often called it a "flood myth." A part of the "Testamento" is certainly a version of "the flood myth" from some perspectives, but the versions and contexts that we bring forward from Yaqui community settings focus much more attention on the definition of the Holy Dividing Line and emphasize the continuing importance of defending it." Note that the commentator also (lines 185 93) takes some care to amplify the characterization of those who would deceive the Yaquis. They are not just "false prophets" but "wicked men from Gethsemane, that is New Spain." They are associated with "Lucifer" and are "invaders and enemies of our life." Don Alfonso's oral commentary continues strongly in this vein, as we have noted above.

It is also notable that although Juan Valenzuela seems to have played a key role in shaping the narrative as well as in writing the text in its present form, his name is no longer associated with the text. When we mentioned Juan Valenzuela's name, Don Alfonso recognized him as "an elder from Rahum" but did not associate him with the "Testamento." Valenzuela is not named in the Dedrick/Belen version. Thus it appears that recognition of Juan Valenzuela's pivotal role in the creation of the text has submerged or even disappeared in Yaqui communities.14 It appears then that the "Rahum land myths" of Juan Valenzuela, which emerged at a volatile time in Yaqui cultural history, have been depersonalized over the last fifty years as they have been brought into conventional Yaqui rhetorical patterns through readings and commentary in Yaqui community settings.

When we asked Don Alfonso why his document was called "testamento," he replied:

a testamento tiara porque ini ori
u vatnataka a yo'Ora inim na
inena tekipanoasuk
inena huhusuk
emo hikkahan heewi
senu nokpo emo hikkaisuk

The Testamento
they call it a testamento because
the elders in the beginning
the ones who walked about
like this worked on it
like this have taken care of it
they listened to themselves, yes,
they listened to themselves with one word

We translate this, but we are unsure about what it means. What does it mean to listen with "one word" (senu nokpo)? It seems to us that this is a reference to a process of community or group decision making by consensus. Don Alfonso followed with a long discussion that connects this "testamento" with the practice of traditional Yaqui law. '5 Our provisional understanding of this discussion is that for Don Alfonso a "testamento" is a sacred word that is continually affirmed by the community as it goes about the day to day business of its governance, a sacred word that provides authority in what non Yaquis might factor out as legal, moral, and theological realms. Recent discussions of Yaqui systems of governance (such as Spicer, The Yaquis; Kelley, "Law Talk"; and Perez Garcia, "Authoridades Tradicionales") have not mentioned a "testamento" in this connection. Just what other Yaquis understand a "testamento" to be and just what relationships a "testamento" has to Yaqui law are questions worth investigating in the future.

In November of 1988 Larry Even, David Burckhalter, my brother Steve, and I went down to Woeme lands to gather more information about the Holy Dividing Line and to photograph the sacred mountains mentioned in the "Testamento." The trip turned out to be very successful. We visited with my cousins Alfonso Florez Leyva and Ignacio Amarillas and their families. We were well received and felt comfortable to be traveling together as a team.

We photographed most of the sacred mountains that I knew, and then Don Aybnso helped us agreat deal bygoing out with us on short excursions near Las Guaisimas. Don Alfonso was so happy to point out the sacred mountains and other places of interest. I think walking around with Y'oeme people from Arizona and two American gringos made him feel more hopeful about the future of the Yoeme nation. I sensed that he believed that we would somehow help him in his efforts to save the Y'oeme lands from Mexican people. The first morning as we got in the truck togo out to the mountains he said, "I dreamed that you would come and that we would be doing this."

We talked aboutgoing down to the southern end of Yaqui lands in order to photograph those places. Don Alfonso mentioned an elder named Don Chema Kupahe who lived in Ykam Suichi. He said the elder knew a lot about the Yoeme land and history. He also mentioned that we could invite the elder to ride with us to the different sites along the southern boundary. So plans were made. When we arrived at Don Chema's house he came out andgreeted us. Don Alfonso introduced our group and our intentions. Don Cbema was happy to hear of such intentions and agreed to travel with us but under one condition. He wanted to inform another elder beforegoing on any excursion. Don Alfonso agreed and so we went over to that elder's house just a few blocks down the street. That elder said he wanted the approval of the wholegroup of elders before he gave his approval. So word was set out by him toget the group together immediately. Two men served as runners or messengers. Finally, the group of elders got together except for two elders who were out of town for the day.

The meeting started off by a formal greeting by us to the eldergroup and then them to us. After the acceptance by the elder's group of the formal greet the intentions of our visit were explained. While 1 sat there 1 realized that this meeting was like a general meeting of the Eight Pueblos. They were granting access to visit sites on the Yoeme land. But as they talked I also soon realized that we were dealing with a faction of the Yoeme tribe. This faction was made of mostly elders who wanted to preserve Toeme history, culture, language, and the sacred land. To me it was a good cause, but I suggested to Larry that we not become too involved with their planning. Larry audiorecorded part of the meeting, and David took pictures. We played some of the tape back for the elders. Everybody felt good about the meeting. Anyway, after this long meeting it was agreed that we wouldgo and visit the sites along the southern boundary and take pictures. We would travel down to Kokoraaki Wash.

We stopped here and there to take photographs until we got to the outskirts of Cuidad Obregon. As we stood looking at distant mountains the idea came to somebody that we should look for the great crosses that separate Yoeme land from the Mayo land. One of the elders had mentioned this in his talk back in Ykam Suichi. So it was decided that we visit a Mayo person with the nickname Chacho Wuero. The rumor was that he was also fighting to save some Mayo land from the Mexicans. We turned into Guaymitas which is just north of Navojoa. We asked several people where Chacho lived. We were told that he lived just north of a panteon, cemetery. Sure enough the people were right, he lived across the road from the cemetery. The area is a beautiful low hill just north of the Mayo River.

As we drove into Chacho's yard we saw a man running away. None of us thought that this man could have been Cbacho. He was dressed so poorly and his hat was falling apart. He looked like somebody from the Ozarks, some hillbilly. That is the way I first viewed him. He was quite a character. We asked the children about Chacho and they were hesitant to answer. All that time we were questioning the children Chacho was behind a small shed looking our way. I don't know why he was trying to hide from us. We were driving a big white truck from the university, so maybe he thought we were bill collectors or government officials. I guess after he saw that we were not government ofcials or that we didn't even look like Mexican people, he decided to come out of his hiding place andgreet us. Still he probably didn't trust us. Anyway he came over to us and shook our hands and invited us into his ramada Chairs were brought out for us.

Chema Kupahe explained our visit and informed him of our project. Chacho seemed to be more comfortable after the explanation. Chema briefly related the history of the Yoeme people and their land and mentioned the brotherhood that existed between the Yoeme and the Yoreme. During this conversation the big crosses were mentioned, but it seemed that Chacho didn't really know much about them. The elder back in Vikam Suichi mentioned that some people had reported that the crosses were bulldozed down by Kokoraaki Wash.

As we sat around talking, coffee was brought out to us. Every tension started to ease especially that of Chacho. Chacho got into the problems that his family group was having with the Mexican government. It seems that they were in the process of trying to take over the land Chacho and other family and friends were residing on. Chacho went inside his house and brought out a big map and document. The document was dated in the 1700s. Itgave Chacho's ancestors a big parcel on the north bank of the Mayo River. Much of this land had been taken away, but Chacho, his family and friends were fighting in court to retain those remaining parcels. The map showed the parcels that were deeded to Chacol family.

During the interesting meeting a man drove up in a white pickup. He was bag and tall. He greeted us in Spanish and the Toeme elders greeted him in Yoeme. He was surprised so he greeted us in Yoreme. He was friendly to all of us and suddenly he pulled Chacho aside and asked him who we were, what did we want and why did he invite us into his home. He told him not togive out too much information because people couldn't be trusted. At that time I saw Chacho as a small child being scolded by an older brother. I know the older man meant no harm to Chacho but he wanted to be sure that Chacho was more careful the next time on who he invites into his home. In a way, I thought, Chacho's brother was absolutely right. We were strangers who were made up of Yoeme peoples from the Taqui River, Yoeme people from Arizona, and two Anglos from Arizona We were a very unusual collection of people and this was truly very surprising to Chacho and his brother: But towards the end of the visit everybody was happy and comfortable. Chacho's brother talked to the elders in Yoreme which sounded very beautiful. They didn't know very much about the places mentioned in the "Testamento" but they talked about the problems with the land. I think that the Mexican government considers Chacho's place as prime land maybe for developing a subdivision for the growing city of Navojoa I hope Chacho and his family can win the case and remain on the land that they love.

Continue Holy Dividing Line