as told by
Mrs. Carmen Garcia
A poor, old Yaqui man had twelve sons. When the thirteenth son came along no one wanted to take him as a god-son. Yaquis believe that the god-parents are obligated to christen three children in a row from that family, and thirteen sons was just one too many.
The father became very angry. "I go now," he said, "and the first person I meet shall be my compadre."
He went toward the mountains and saw a man coming toward him. He was a tall and distinguished-looking person, muy simpatico.
"Where do you go?" the stranger asked the father of the thirteen sons.
"You go in search of someone to serve as your compadre?"
"Yes, how did you know?"
"I am the devil, and I will serve as your
"I am but a poor man," said the father. "You are for the rich who can make deals with you. Vete." And the devil went off in a whirlwind, which is how he travels, in those dust devils.
The father of the thirteen sons went on traveling and met a second man. This man was tall, slender, and dressed all in black. In his hand he held a sword. This one said to the father of the thirteen sons, "And where do you go, my good man?"
"I go in search of someone who would be my compadre."
"I will serve you, if you give me your son when I ask. He will grow up to a very good healer, the best curandero of all."
The father asked him, "And who are you?"
"I am Death."
"Well, as you take from the rich as well as from the poor, and make all equal, you shall be my compadre." This the father said, "Be at the church this coming Sunday for the christening."
Thus it was that Death appeared at the thirteenth christening.
When the boy reached his thirteenth birthday, his god-father appeared and said to the
father, "I told you I would make this boy into a great healer. Leave him to me for instruction, as you promised."
Since that was the agreement, the father had to let his son go. The boy and his god-father entered into a hill in the forest, and into a large room. There were other rooms, all as big, and in each room there were flowers and rows upon rows of candles burning.
These candles were the lives of all people, the boy's god-father said to him. If the candle was tall, and just beginning to burn, that person had a long life to live. If the candle had burned half-way, that person had only half his life left, and if the candle was nearly gone, that person was going to die soon.
Death showed his god-father an herb. "This herb is used for curing." Death taught the boy: "Each time you visit a sick person, I will be there. When you see my form at the head of the sick one, you will use this herb to cure him. But when you see me at the foot of the sick one, then you know he must die. Give him no medicine."
So the boy went out to cure, and in a short time he was a good curandero, the best. Word of his skill went out and since he always asked a great deal of money, he was rich by the time he was thirty years.
Finally, it happened that a very rich man who was very sick called the curandero and said that if he could cure him, the curandero could marry his daughter.
When the curandero saw Death standing at the rich man's feet, he knew what he must do. But then he looked at the young daughter and, infatuated by her beauty and the thought of being her husband, he quickly turned the rich man about so that Death now stood at his head. The curandero administered the medicine, while his godfather looked on -black and angry.
The rich man got well, and the young girl was very happy. "Now, let us go to the church," she said to the curandero.
The wedding was held, complete with Pascolas, but before the fiesta could start, Death appeared at the door of the church. To his godson he said, "Well, I see that you got yourself married."
"Yes," replied the godson, and he thought within himself, "What can he do to me? After all, I am his godson."
"Come with me," said Death and he held his godson so firmly that the young man could not resist. They went back to the cave of the candles. Some of them were just beginning to burn, others were half-gone;. still others flickered weakly or lay about, extinguished on the ground.
"See, these are the Yaqui men's lives," Death said. His godson begged to be shown his own candle.
"This is your candle," said Death, pointing to one burned not even halfway down.
And Death blew it out.
As printed in Larry Evers, ed. The South Corner of Time. Tucson, Ariz.: The University of Arizona Press, ©1980, p. 209-210.