The Snake People
Long ago there lived a Yaqui by the name of Habiel Mo'el. He was an orphan, but he had many relatives all over the Yaqui country. This man did not enjoy hunting as most young Yaqui men did. Instead, he liked to travel from house to house and from pueblo to pueblo, attending fiestas and eating and chatting with his friends and relatives.
The only weapon he ever carried was a big, thick club. He lived at the foot of the hill, Mete'etomakame. One day he started out for Hekatakari where there was to be a little fiesta. When he came to Maata'ale, the monte became too thick for passage, and he turned around and went to ]ori. From ]ori, he cut across towards Bataconsica, where an arroyo empties into the Rio Yaqui. Travel there was very difficult, for the undergrowth was extremely dense. He crawled on his belly under branches, crawled over them, or pushed past them.
When he came upon a sort of clearing, a big snake appeared, crawling across his path. Habiel Mo'el hit the snake right in its middle, but it vanished into the underbrush before he could strike it again. So he continued on his path toward the rancheria at Hekatakari.
Suddenly, what had been nothing but thick monte stretching before him became a large Yaqui pueblo with many people in it, moving about their business. Habiel Mo'el felt very strange. As he walked between the houses, a cabo from the guardia came up to him, and greeted him.
He told Habiel Mo'el that his chief would like to see him at the guardia. So the two went over there. Inside, on the front bench was seated the head kobanao. On the next bench,
Habiel Mo'el was told to seat himself. The other kobanaom were seated on the other benches. To one side a young girl was sitting. About her waist was a bandage of leaves.
The head kobanao spoke to Habiel Mo'el, "We have brought you here to ask you why you beat a girl this afternoon as you were traveling along between Jori and Bataconsica."
Habiel Mo'el was very surprised. He replied that from Jori to this place he met no one on his journey. "I did not beat any girl," he said.
"You struck a girl this afternoon, and you are liable to punishment. Why did you do this?" insisted the kobanaom.
Habiel Mo'el could not remember having done so; and he repeated this. Then he explained where he had come from and his route, saying that he had seen no girl on the path. He respectfully asked their pardon, but insisted that he had done nothing at all.
The head kobanao turned to the girl, who was seated to one side, and asked her if this were the man who had beaten her.
"Yes," she answered. "And he is still carrying the stick with which he beat me and almost killed me. That is the man."
Habiel Mo'el said that he had never seen the girl before and that he remembered nothing of it. He again asked their pardon, but disclaimed guilt. The kobanaom considered the matter among themselves.
Then the head kobanao said, "We will pardon you this once, since it is your first offense. But after this, when you are traveling, never harm anyone at all who may cross your path offering you no danger. You may go this time."
Habiel Mo'el thanked them and left the guardia. As he went out, he found himself in the middle of the monte with no sign of a village.
He traveled on toward his destination. It was dark when he arrived at Hekatakari and the house of his relative. He greeted the little old man whose name was Wete'epoi.
They sat down to a meal of pitahaya and Habiel Mo'el told Wete'epoi about his strange experience concerning the appearance and disappearance of the large Yaqui pueblo, and of his accusation.
The old man listened and then said, "You have done a great wrong. All animals, as well as people, have their authorities and their laws. You hurt a snake which crossed your path, doing you no harm. The authorities of that group took action against you. You must never again do that thing. The chiefs of the snakes met when the girl complained. They turned into people to punish you. I will give you some advice. Never hurt any snake, coyote, or any kind of animal which is just crossing your path and offering no harm. If a snake lies coiled in the path, kill it. You are defending yourself then. But always kill it completely, never let it get away or it will complain and its chiefs will punish you."
As printed in Larry Evers, ed. The South Corner of Time. Tucson, Ariz.: The University of Arizona Press, ©1980, p. 207-208.