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


The Journal of the
Southwest


Contents Volume 34, Number 1, Spring 1992

edited by
Joseph Carlton Wilder

University of Arizona Press
The Southwest Center
Tucson

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Hiakim: The Yaqui Homeland

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

HOW THE TESTAMENTO RELATES TO TRADITIONS
OF YAQUI LITERACY

Don Alfonso believed that the "Testamento" was created by "the ones who were left" when the great flood subsided. To us at least he did not say that "the ones who were left" wrote it down. He said, "they talked like this/they made this." When was the Testamento first written down? Was it written in Yaqui or Spanish or some combination? Did the "Testamento" or any parts of it exist in written form before Juan Valenzuela set down his version? These are questions that we pursued in two ways. First we searched published sources and those archival sources available to us in the hope of turning up some prior version. Second and more generally we considered the question of the extent and function of Yaqui vernacular literacy as a way of creating a context for understanding this one piece of Yaqui writing. With regard to our first concern, as might be predicted, we did not find much. One tantalizing reference we report below. What follows is a discussion of what we have learned about the history and functions of Yaqui vernacular literacy that illuminates the Testamento.

Don Alfonso recalled that "in ancient times" Yaquis used the white bark of the nawPo [Acacia willardiana] as hiosia, paper. However, there is no suggestion among the Yaquis of a native writing system that predates the Conquest, such as the Mayan, nor of a "native" writing system that developed later independent of the European alphabet, such as the one devised by the Apache visionary, Silas John Edwards, early in the twentieth century (Vazquez 1978; Basso and Anderson 1977). The earliest context for Yaqui literacy seems to have been the church. In this regard, the Yaqui situation seems consistent with the well documented global pattern of missionary efforts spearheading the spread of literacy, especially through the agency of such "literacy specialists" as catechists and lay readers (Goody 1968; Reder and Green 1983).

Church based Yaqui literacy began in the seventeenth century. Jesuit missionaries lived on Yaqui lands from 1617 until they were removed from the New World in 1767. Some Yaquis became literate during that time in connection with their work as catechists for the Jesuits. And it is possible that those Yaquis began to write in their own language at that time as well.

Don Alfonso suggested this to us in a startling way April 15, 1989, when, during a visit to Yoem Pueblo, he gave us a handwritten document titled "Primer Matros Yaquis del Afio 1619." The document names the first eight maehtom, Yaqui lay priests, and identifies them as catechists for Andres Perez de Rabas, the first Jesuit to enter Yaqui lands in 1617. Neither of us asked about or requested such a document. We had not the slightest notion that one existed. Don Alfonso brought it forward, we assume, in response to the continuing interest we had shown in the "Testamento" and to general questions we raised regarding traditions of Yaqui vernacular literacy. Don Alfonso could not (would not?) say where he got the list. The following is a transcription of the document:

Primer Matros Yaquis del Afio 1619
Coihocoi: Maesto Juan Jose Taspahalia
Bascom: Maesto Jose Lauti Kaita
Torim: Maesto Jose Sule Paulea
Vicam: Macsto Jose Sipriano Tajillamea
Potam: Maesto Jose Francisco Gohita Amauteki
Raum: Maesto Jose Juaqum Lilibela Masak
Huiribis: Maesto Juan Antonio Machihi Huikit
Belem Maesto Jose Ma[ria] Tailla Masakame

Catequisado por Andrez Perez de Viva
Primer del Yaqui de jesuista del Afio 1619

Again, it seems likely that traditions of Yaqui vernacular literary are rooted in the practice of the Yaqui catechists, the lay priests, the maehtom .

a copy of this document, "Primer Matros Yaquis del A&no 1619," listing the names of the first Yaqui maehtom, lay priests

How widespread such a priestly literacy was among the Yaquis during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is an open question, a question that can only be answered following intensive research in the scattered documents from that era. At present we know of no documentation that indicates that Yaquis practiced the kind of vernacular literacy in their daily affairs that speakers of the Massachusett Indian languages practiced about the same time period in the praying towns of late seventeenth and eighteenth century colonial North America (Goddard and Bragdon 1988). Goddard and Bragdon's intensive research indicates that Massachusett writers left a variety of records they kept in the Massachusett language. Some of this relates to the work of preachers but there are also documents written by magistrates, justices of the peace, constables, school teachers, and so on.

On the basis of the reports of the early Jesuit missionaries available to him, Spices writes that "the prayers and the Mass for the Dead had been written in Yaqui since the 1620s" (Spices 1980:326). Schools run by the Jesuits were sites for the development of this literacy, which centered on the religious practice of the maehtom, the Yaqui lay priests. The Yaqui maehtom became increasingly active and central to the religious IIfc of tllr YaquI pueblos after the Jesuit removal in 1767, although Spices notes that a Franciscan priest, Francisco Joaquin Valdez, revived a Jesuit mission school at mnturv (Spices 1980:126).

Yaqui priestly literacy, as we know it in the twentieth century, involves writing in Spanish, Latin, and Yaqui. It is practiced in the preparation and transmission of liturgical prayers and the like by Yaqui priests, and is motivated by a desire to continue Yaqui religion. The practice of keeping nnimnzji, a "Book of the Dead" is an example. An individual family purchases a notebook, then has a mczehtom come over to the house and write in the names of the deceased from that family. The family might prepare written notes prior to the maehtom's visit, but the maehtom must inscribe the names in the book. In addition, he adds special drawings that have meaning in Yaqui religion. This priestly practice is one longstanding tradition of Yaqui literacy to which the "Testamento" may be related.

Although a church based literacy seems prior historically and prominent in contemporary settings, contexts for Yaqui literacy have been multiple. Certainly, the uses of literacy for Yaquis have long extended into active political resistance. The earliest known document written in fadui is a letter by a Yaqui from Torim in 1747 protesting the behavior of a Jrsnit priest (Lemmon 1980). Spices suggests of Yaqui writing that thrrr \\,is "a more or less standardized script which had been in general nse since at least the early 1800s" (Spices 1980:176). Ten letters written in 1'aqui between 1830 and 1832 by Juan Ignacio Jusacamea, the famous fayni political leader known as Juan Bandera, provide examples of this script (l)edrick 1985). Jusacamea wanted to unite Yaquis and other native peoples in an effort to drive out Mexican colonists and to return control of their homelands to the native peoples of Sonora. The context for his writing in Yaqui was his political resistance. Other early examples of 1'aqui literacy include lists of Yaqui battles organized chronologically by years (Johnson 1962). All of this suggests the practice of Yaqui political leaders as another (non church based) context for Yaqui vernancular literacy.

An extremely suggestive example of this context in terms of our discussion of the "Testamento" is the case with which William Curry Holders opens and closes his collection Studies of the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico (1936). Holders reports that his own interest in Yaqui studies was sparked in the early 1930s by the stories of a U.S. Border Patrol agent named Ivan Williams. Holden met Williams in Texas, where Williams had moved after working with the Immigration Service in Tucson, Arizona. While Border Patrolman Williams was working in Tucson in 1926, he befriended a group of Yaqui refugees who were driven out of Mexico by an aggressive campaign on the part of the Mexican government to take the Yaqui homelands along the Rio Yaqui. This was no doubt a part of the same campaign we noted earlier that forced Miki Romero and his family into the Vakatetteve Mountains to live off agave.

Williams was sympathetic to the Yaquis' political struggle against the Mexican government, and he was apparently trusted by the Yaquis to the extent that they made him an honorary member of the Coyote Society. Williams and the leader of the refugees, a "General" Angel Flores, sent word down to "the chiefs of the Yaqui villages on the Rio Yaqui in Sonora requesting them to have some of their history written down and sent to Tucson." That General Flores was in contact with leaders in the Rio Yaqui is attested independently by respected anthropologist Ralph Beals, who, looking back at the beginnings of his own research among the Yaquis, writes that it was the same General Angel Flores, "a Yaqui war chief living in Pascua Village," who provided Beals "a letter of safe conduct, written in Yaqui." Beals used this instance of Yaqui vernacular literacy to introduce himself among the Sonoran Yaquis as he began his fieldwork there in the 1930s (Crumrine 1987:1). The irony of an anthropologist beginning fieldwork for what is still widely regarded as the definitive work on "the aboriginal culture of the Yaquis" with a letter written in Yaqui by Yaquis to Yaquis should not be missed.

In any case, as W C. Holden tells it, the Sonoran leaders decided to comply with the General FloresiIvan Williams request and "directed one of their tribe who could operate a typewriter to write the tribal traditions as dictated by the old men." Yaquis then were writing their own culture on a typewriter years before the anthropologists most known for writing Yaqui culture arrived on the scene. The results of this early Yaqui community history project were initially sent north through the mails. Unfortunately, "the Mexicans intercepted" the letters and they did not reach Tucson. Another plan was devised: "They typed a chapter on cloth, sewed it in the lining of a shirt, put the shirt on a runner who carried it over the secret trails to Tucson." Williams reported that "every few weeks a runner would arrive at Tucson with a `shirt full of history"' (Holden 1936:7). These installments were written in Yaqui and, once translated into Spanish by Flores and into English by Williams, added up eventually to "about 8,000 words."

We do not know if any of the cloth documents or the translations made from them now exist. W C. Holden wrote to us August 21, 1989, that ,Ivan Williams promised to show but we never saw him in Tucson or the shirts." Holden closes Studies of the Yaqui Indians with a piece titled "The Life and Doings of the Yaqui Indian of the San Ygnacio Yaqui River, as furnished to Ivan Williams, of the U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration Service, Tucson, Arizona, by General Guadalupe Flores, of Pascua Village, Tucson, Arizona, written by Juan Amarillas, Yaqui historian" (Holden 1936:126 31).

This may be a version of the translation of the "shirt full of history." It is a tangled and difficult narrative account that orbits around conflicts, suffering, and deceit involving such Yaqui leaders as Juan Banderas, Jose Maria Cajeme, and Juan Tetabiate. At one point the Yaqui historian tells, intriguingly for our present purpose, how the Mexican forces captured Cajeme who had "all the honors of the Yaquis . . . flags and Testano and everything else." Notes preserved in the Spicer Collection Archives at the Arizona State Museum contain an entry dated September 1, 1942 and attributed to Lucas Chavez that amplify this intriguing connection. We quote the entire entry:

Lucas has heard not only from his relatives (when a boy in R.[io] Y [aqui]), but from Yaqui ranch and railroad hands all up through the country thru which he has passed, discussions and comments on the fact that the Mexicans can never really conquer the Rio Yaqui because, try as they may, they will never learn where to find the documents of the Yaquis history, the conquest, how they got their flag, exactly where the Yaqui "line" is. They will never find the documents because nobody but Cajeme knew where they were hidden (buried); and they will never know the contents because no Yaqui will ever tell them. (Nobody knows all of what is written in these documents, but there are those who know parts of it. Those who knew it well are now dead.)

When the war started, Cajeme made up from these documents a series of papers which serve as title to the Rio Yaqui. So with this I tell you that the Yaqui property is hidden. Diaz wanted to get these papers; for if he could have them in his possession he could say of the Rio Yaqui, defining the Yaqui territory exactly, "This is mine." But he was never able to get the papers. I know they are somewhere; and because of this I'm always searching. Many Yaquis claim to know nothing. (As indeed they did; for Cajeme alone knew.) The Mexicans, in their hunt for a Yaqui who could be made to tell them this secret, were like Herod, who killed all the children at that time, in order that one, Jesuscristo, might not live. Pues, no tiene Mexico ninguna cosa a probar que el Rio Yaqui es de Mexico. They have even made Yaquis into padres in the hope that these may sign the Yaqui nation over to them. Se los llevaron a hacerles sacerdotes para que pudieron firmar que es de Mexico. No to han hecho, no pueden firmar eso. Alla esta la razon.

Could Cajeme's "Testano," Juan Valenzuela's "Rahum Land Myths," and the "Testamento" under discussion descend one from another? Possibly, but of course, we do not know. The link remains a tantalizing possibility.

We should note that these Yaqui oral traditions dramatically counterpoint the "official" documentary history about Cajeme. Racoon Corral, a contemporary of Cajeme, published a "Biografia de Jose Maria Leyva Cajeme" in a collection, Obras Historicas. Corral's "Biografia" is "official" in this sense: when Cajeme was finally captured in April 1887 he was interviewed at great length by Corral, whom Evelyn Hu DeHart calls a "Sonoran statesman," "leading Porfirista spokesman for progress," and self appointed official biographer of Cajeme. Hu DeHart reports that Cajeme was very open and responsive to all of Corral's queries regarding his personal life. She continues that "with total recollection of dates and details, he also proudly recounted how he had built the separate state in the Yaqui River and how he led his people to defend their independence" (Hu DeHart 1984:114 15). Finally, however, the Corral portrait of Cajeme is of a man who accepted his defeat and who in defeat even claims to be a "patriotic Mexican," one who had joined other Mexicans in resisting North American domination. Such a story could hardly accommodate the actions Lucas Chavez attributes to Cajeme. It is not surprising that a testamento or other Yaqui written documents, whether in Yaqui or Spanish, are not mentioned by Corral.

What is known to us about writing by Yaquis prior to the 1930s thus leaves key questions unanswered: Did the "Testamento" exist in written form before Juan Valenzuela committed it to writing? Was the 'Testamento," especially the first part, lines 1 128, ever written entirely in Yaqui? What we think our review does strongly suggest is that Juan Valenzuela and his colleagues at Rahum wrote, that they participated in a very longstanding tradition of Yaqui vernacular literacy practiced in both Yaqui and Spanish, and that such a tradition had already been used for centuries in the service of political resistance.

Since we have been writing and talking about the "Testament" many people have asked me about the use of Spanish in Yoeme communities. Are there Yoeme words for "line," "boundary," "book," etc. ? I want to try to answer ,scone of these questions.

When we talk about a line on a piece of paper, on the wall, on a board, and etc., we usually use the Yoeme word lima, which is from the Spanish word lines. Many Yoeme people are comfortable in using this word in everyday conversation. This word has been completely adopted into the Yoeme language and made into a different sound by dropping the Spanish "e" and putting in the Yoeme sound.

In certain instances when we are talking about a line we use the word witta. This word means to make a line with a pencil, stick, or other instrument. When the line is made, it is called with. Witti can also mean "straight." Here are two examples: with siika/went straight and with nookaltalking straight.

So in remembering the first encounter of the Yoeme with the Spanish we remember the elder Yoeme telling the Spanish soldiers not to cross the line he had drawn on the ground. When we picture that past moment mentally and pretend that we were there to witness the action, and then talk to the family about it, we might say: a yoem yo'owe kutai bwiata wittah/ The elder man shade a line with a stick on the earth. And then looking at the line drawn on the ground we would say: bwiapo with/ line made on the earth.

"Im tahti atteari/ up to here is owned" would be the way we would say "boundary" or "dividing line" in Yoeme. We use this expression a lot in regard to land, to parcels of farmland or grazing land. If you were standing at the limit, the edge of such land, you might say: ini si'ime hick bwia/ this is all Yoeme land. The Yoeme in Sonora use the word lindero/ boundary a lot too.

With regard to written lines on paper, books, we use the word livrom, from the Spanish libro. Again the Yoeme of Sonora and Arizona have completely adopted this word into our language. The Yoeme words hiohte/ writing and hiosia/ paper makes some of us wonder if some sort of writing system existed in the ancient past, but nothing is really known about this. Hiosa noka/ talking paper is what we call reading. I think that more research could be done on this subject.

Now with regard to the first part of the "Testamento," many people ask if that was ever written in Toeme. I have thought about this a lot, and I don't think so. I think that we have told the stories of the Testamento in Toeme since the beginning. But it doesn't seem that these stories have ever been written in Yoeme. I think for some reason they just wrote that down in Spanish. People also ask if the first part of the Testamento could be written in Yoeme. The answer to that is yes, of course. The "Testamento" could easily be translated into Yoeme from Spanish. I could do that, and others could too. It might be nice to see it written in Yoeme, but not that many people would be able to read it with pleasure. Fluent Toeme speakers would read it roughly, stop andgo. Telling the story orally in Yoeme is much better understood by the speakers and the listeners.

Then people ask if we ever will write this part in Yoeme. I don't know about that. Maybe, but it seems that for uncertain reasons the majority of the people who have worked with the Testamento so far have preferred Spanish overraqui. I have tried to consider what they had in mind when they did that. I think that they probably could have written it in Yaqui but they didn't. They wrote it in Spanish. Maybe the writers of the Testamento saw that many people in the future would be literate in Spanish so the decision was probably made to go ahead and write it in Spanish. It would be more easily read by a wider audience in the Toeme community. Maybe in back of the writers' minds it was intended for the invading and encroaching Mexicans. I think this is very possible even though the writers kept telling visting anthropologists not to share this with the Mexicans. Maybe they really did want the Mexicans to read the information and start understanding Yaqui people.

The "Testaments" in Yoeme is a possibility in the future. It would surely be kept as an example of Yaqui writing style of the twentieth century for future Yaqui people to study, read, and enjoy.

AUDIENCE

Audience is an issue that rises as we compare what we know of Don Alfonso's "Testamento" with what Edward H. Spicer reports from Juan Valenzuela and the other Rahum intellectuals. According to Spicer, Juan Valenzuela and his associates regarded the "Testamento" as a text written by Yaquis for Yaquis, a text that should not circulate beyond their villages for fear that it would fall into the hands of "the Mexicans." This attitude is underlined in the archival material from Lucas Chavez we have just

quoted above. Our discussions with Don Alfonso and other Yaquis in the 1980s indicate that audiences for the Testamento in recent years have certainly continued to exist within Yaqui communities on several levels: within individual families, among representatives of a single village, and among representatives of the Eight Pueblos.

At the same time, those like Don Alfonso who have continued and circulated the "Testamento" since Juan Valenzuela's time have clearly envisioned an audience beyond Yaqui communities as well. As we have seen, one factor that has motivated Yaqui vernacular writing historically has been the desire to gain the sympathy of possible supporters who might aid in the struggle against those who would appropriate Yaqui lands. Another statement written by Sonoran Yaquis and presented to Holden by "a delegation of Yaqui chiefs" in 1934 provides a useful example:

The Yaquis have possessed in common these lands, which amount to thirty thousand acres, from time immemorial. We raise on them abundant crops which permit us to live in absolute independence and with no need to do harm to anyone. These lands have tempted; the covetousness of several speculators. . . . We Indians say: The idea of our neighbors, the Mexicans, is merely to ruin our lands ... their idea is not to respect our rights. (Holden 1936:132-33)

The audience for this kind of vernacular writing appears to be external rather than internal, aimed at audiences far outside the Rio Yaqui area who might assist the Yoeme in their ongoing struggles to protect their land base. Don Alfonso's comments about the audience for the copies of the "Testamento" are notable in this regard for they connect the "Testamento" with just such an external audience. As we noted above, Don Alfonso reported to us that each of the Eight Pueblos was given a copy at a meeting in Rahum during the early 1950s. He suggested that these copies have been used in recent debates over implementing a "municipality" a proposed alternative to the traditional Eight Pueblo governance system that is rumored to be supported by the Banco de Credito Rural del Noroeste and other Mexican interests. What the substance of these allegations is we do not know, but it is important for our present purpose that this is the perception of those who are continuing to circulate the "Testamento." In addition Don Alfonso told us that sometime in the late 1950s a copy of the "Testamento" was sent to Washington, D.C. (Wachintowi), as part of a plea for the U.S. government to intervene in support of the Yaquis' claims to their aboriginal land. At about the same time a group of elders also took a copy to Phoenix to present to the governor of Arizona in the hope that he would side with them against the threats of Mexican colonists. We do not know whether the "Testamento" got to Wachintowi. We do know that a group of Yaqui leaders got as far as the office of the Governor of Arizona, then occupied by Ernest W McFarland, to discuss their land problems, and, according to Don Alfonso, a proposal that the Rio Yaqui area be made a part of the United States. 16

Since at least the 1950s then the "Testamento" has been offered to audiences far outside the Rio Yaqui. This external audience for the "Testamento" relates to a longtime and often reported Yaqui political tactic of taking their complaints about encroachments on their aboriginal lands over the heads of local and regional Mexican officialdom to the doors of the most highly ranked officials they can reach, preferably the president (Lutes 1987:13-14; McGuire 1986)." The "Testamento," as it has continued since the 1950s, appears to be addressed to audiences both within and without the Rio Yaqui area. It provides authority to protect the perimeter from challenges without (encroachment by Mexicans and other outsiders) as well as to protect the center, the Eight Village governance system, from challenges within (those wanting to initiate other methods of governance).

On our way back from a trip to the southern part of the Toeme lands we pulled off the international highway to photograph the mountains Totoitakuse'epo and Samawaaka. It was late afternoon and the light was beautiful. All of the Vakatetteve Mountains wereglawing in the east againt a clear blue sky. David, Larry, and I walked over the railroad tracks, crossed a barbed wire fence, and went into the desert toward the mountains. DonANnso and Steve decided to stay with the truck.

It was nice to walk in the desert and look at the various desert plants. I felt good just walking and looking at various plants. We all walked in different directions. I had a camera so I took a few pictures of different plants that I wanted to think about some more. Birds were flying here and there and chirping away. Once in a while I would just stop and look out into the distance and study the mountains. As I continued to walk I feltgood inside. I wondered if Larry and David were feeling the same way. I knew my brother, Steve, felt good just being in the Toeme land. I wished he was with us walking in the desert at this time. Later he told me that he didn't come out to the desert with us because he was worried about Don Alfonso who had been sick.

Every time I go into the desert either in Arizona or Sonora I always feel happy. This is why some Toeme elders have complained about the clearing of desert land for more farming. They wanted the land to remain as before so that the cominggenerations may see and enjoy the beauty of the desert. The Toeme people in Sonora still have a chance to save the desert, but up here in Arizona it seems that we are just part of the system that destroys the beauty of the desert. All we can do is feel pity for the land.

Among the traditional Toeme people inArizona we say, "ata hiokole o'oven wakes huya aniata tavesa haisate anne-we feel sorry for the wilderness world but what can we do?" Other Toeme people are careless because they don't understand the meaning of caring for the land. Many times it is not their fault because they just don't know.

I was thinking about these things walking in the desert up toward the Vakatetteve Mountains when I saw Larry at a distance. I walked over to him because it was probably about time togo back to the truck. As Igor closer I saw that he had something in his hands. He looked happy and he told me that he had just found an arrow head. I said, "You did! I can't believe it. "All the time I have traveled in Yoeme land and I have never found one. I felt happy for Larry. I believe that when somebody finds something like that it is like a gift. We say "a miikwa, you are given it." Then as we stood there talking about the obsidian point we realized that the whole area around us was an area where the people stayed. There were mounds of shells and pottery sherds scattered all over. I wondered if this could have been one place that the Toeme people camped while they were fighting the Mexican soldiers. I thought of the stories told by Miki Romero, the man Don Alfonso got the Testamento from. Miki Romero talked a lot about how the people had to quickly move camps during those fighting times to escape the Mexicans. They went back and firth from the mountains to their village, maybe along these ridges where we were standing. "Itom achai oblates itom nunuk kaita intoko,"Miki Romero said, "'when our old father (God) asks for us there is nothing else." He said that those were dangerous times and that there were many hardships. The bullets were flying here and there past them. Some young men caught bullets and died. Some did notget hit because it wasn't their time. There has been much suffering in the desert that is so beautiful and peaceful to me.

INSCRIPTION, HOMELAND, AUTHORITY

We return by way of concluding to our epigraph from Edward Said: "It is in culture that we seek out the range of meanings and ideas conveyed by the phrases belonging to and in a place, being at home in a place" (Said 1983:8). Interpretive accounts of Native American cultures are of course legion, and quite a few of them offer extended analyses of the relationship to place as homeland. During a discussion at the First Convocation of American Indian Scholars in 1970, Alfonso Ortiz quoted a statement issued by the people of Taos Pueblo during their long fight to regain parts of their own homeland:

We have lived upon this land from days beyond history's records, far past any living memory, deep into the time of legend. The story of my people and the story of this place are one single story. No man can think of us without thinking of this place. We are always joined together. (Henry 1970:35)

Maricopa elder Ralph Cameron adds the complexity of his people's more recent history to this idea:

When I was young, I saw my land as I grew up.
The rivers were many and without price.
The mountains there had not been touched.
They were beautiful, tall and big and they
stood out.
The land I was born on was clean.
The rain washed it and purified it.
You saw it and it was very good.
Now it is not like that.
I see this.
This is my tradition.
A tree half fallen down with its roots showing-
I feel
I am like that,
I say we will stand again. (Cameron 1984)

Working from statements of this sort, leading interpreters of Native America as expansive as Vine Deloria, Jr. (God Is Red) and as exact as Keith Basso (Western Apache Language and Culture) have argued that a pivotal equation characterizes Native American cultures: a storied homeland establishes authority. Stories invested in the land return to invest authority. Alfonso Ortiz has translated a Tewa Pueblo prayer that expresses this reciprocity directly:

Within and around the earth,
within and around the hills,
within and around the mountains,
your authority returns to you. (Ortiz 1969:13)

Don Alfonso's "Testamento" is very much in the tradition of these stories about native homeland. His narrative realizes a reciprocity that is very like the one articulated in this Tewa prayer and a function that is very like the homeland traditions of so many other Native American communities. It generates an authority that the Yaqui have attempted to exercise in support of their land claims. Authority comes back out of the landscape through the stories "far past any living memory" and through the stories that tell of a common history of oppression and colonization. Appeals to such an authority have been the basis for countless tribal land claims cases.

What is challenging about Don Alfonso's "Testamento" by contrast with other native traditions of homeland is "the range of meanings and ideas" Yaquis associate with the phrase "being at home in a place," a range which seems considerably wider than that in many other Native American communities. So far as we can see this extended range of meanings and ideas does not create any problems for Yaqui people themselves. However, if our experience in talking about the "Testamento" with others is any indication, the presence of a Genesis-like flood and figures like Jesus Christ and angels sent by God greatly complicates the desire of non-Yaquis who want to think of all Native Americans, Yaquis included, as "pure," the guardians of an "unchanging aboriginal essence." "How can this be Yaqui?" they ask.

Don Bahr has written a study that compares the Yaqui "Testamento" to much longer texts recorded from the Pima-Papago and Riverine Yumans. Bahr argues that all three narratives share three elements: "a flood at the beginning, the murder of a man-god in the middle, and a long march at the end." His study demonstrates "a regional Indianness" in the "Testamento," despite its "relative brevity and the Christian references." Bahr suggests that Jesus is the Yaqui mythological equivalent to the other peoples' "murdered man-gods." Yet he observes that Jesus is only referred to by allusion in the Yaqui "Testamento," and that unlike the Pima-Papago and Yuman narratives, the "Testamento" is not about the murder of a man-god. Rather, it is much more about the "long march" which established the Holy Dividing Line (Bahr, "Easter, Keruk, and Wi:gita").

We believe then that Don Alfonso's "Testamento" demonstrates forcefully that Yaqui culture has been maintained over the last four hundred and fifty years, not through all-or-nothing conversions or resistances but through appropriation and interaction, a productive interpenetration of Christian and Yaqui sources and experiences that is transmitted both orally and in writing (Clifford 1988:342). Over the centuries a vital continuity has remained. Both the old man's line scratched on the earth in 1533 and Don Alfonso's "Testamento" copied in a spiral notebook in 1988 are acts of inscription that share a common goal: the preservation and maintenance of Hiakim, the Yaqui homeland.

Continue Holy Dividing Line