Words And Places native literature from the american southwest

Seyewailo: The Flower World
Yaqui Deer Songs


The videotape opens with a dawn scene in the desert. Perhaps it is the morning after a fiesta. The birds and animals in the desert are moving about, alert to the rising sun. A Yaqui house cross suggests we are near a Yaqui settlement. Flowers and water give beauty to the dawn world as a deer singer begins his song of the flower world.


When we have a fiesta, our brother comes to us.
He comes from a place filled with flowers, and
a place beneath the dawn, a spiritual place.
We think of that place as he dances the songs. We
call it seyewailo, the flower world.

As the titles of the programs appear we hear the violinist and harpist begin to play the opening song of the fiesta. They are seated in the fiesta ramada with the deer singers and the tampaleo. The three pahkolam are led through the desert toward the rama by the moro.


Long ago our ancestors, the Surem, felt that all
animals were our brothers. We talked with them.
We cared for one another. We felt especially
close to saila maso, our brother, the deer.

Before we entered the wilderness to hunt him,
we held an all-night fiesta in his honor. We
call the fiesta a pahko. We wanted to beg
the deer's forgiveness for killing him and
to thank him for giving himself up to the

Once inside the rama, the pahkolam pray, dance and cleanse the ramada.


The pahko begins when our master of ceremonies,
the moro, leads the pahkolam into the ramada.
The pahkolam play many different roles during
the pahko. They are hunters, dancers, historians,
clowns, and speech makers.

In our language their name means "the old men of
the fiesta."

Some say the first pahkola was the son of the
devil who turned against his father to help the
Yaquis. That is why when the pahkolam enter the
fiesta ramada they act confused. They shout and
yell. They try to scare away any evil which may be
lurking about the ramada. They cleanse the
ramada and make it safe for our ceremonies,
for our brother the deer.

We are a spiritual people. We believe that there
are other worlds where we can gain supernatural
powers. One of these worlds is the yo ania,
the enchanted world.

In the yo ania we believe we can pick up a talent
like dancing or singing or playing a musical
instrument without having to practice. The
masks of the pahkolam remind us of their connections
with the yo ania, the enchanted world.

The masks remind us of the goat and even of the
face of the devil himself. The crosses on the
forehead and the chin make the masks sacred so
that the devil cannot get at the pahkolam. The
knot of hair on the pahkola's head also keeps
evil away. The rattles around their legs are
butterfly cocoons. As the pahkolam dance, these
rattles celebrate the singing of the insect world.

After they danced to the violin and the harp, and again to the flute and drum of the tampaleo, the pahkolam stop. As they rest, they joke with one another. They address the bamboo canes they carried into the rama as they stick the canes in the ramada roof above them,




"Stay here and wait for me until the cactus
fruit is ripe."

"Oh, yes."

"And, watch over us."

"When I come back, I'll use you to pick
cactus fruit—if I'm in good health."

As the pahkolam continue to talk to one another and clean the floor of the rama. The deer singers begin their first song. The pahkolam look out into the desert in anticipation of the arrival of the deer dancer. Then he appears and approaches the rama warily through the desert. In the background, the cars and trucks of the Yaquis present are visible, as are those of the film crew. The deer dancer regards everything carefully before he enters the rama;


Our brother the deer comes to us from his home
in the flower world, a spiritual place beneath
in the dawn.

During the fiesta, the ramada becomes the flower
world, the home of the deer. It is a beautiful
and holy place.

Through the deer dance our brother the deer
remains close to us, as he was to our ancestors
the Surem.

The deer dancer becomes the spirit of the deer.
The rasper sound the breathing of the deer
the water drum his heartbeat. The spirit of
the deer speaks to us through the songs of the
deer singers.

The opening song speaks of our brother coming to
Little fawn, as you are coming out,
here you play in the flower water.

Little fawn, as you are coming out,
here you play in the flower water.

Little fawn, as you are coming out,
here you play in the flower water,

From inside the most enchanted mountain,
swaying with the flower wind,
as you are coming out,
here you play in the flower water.

Little fawn, as you are coming out,
here you play in the flower water.

Finally after a long and careful approach the deer dancer enters the rama through the opening to the east. As he enters, his motions explode. He shakes his gourd rattles and leaps and whirls before the deer singers. The deer song too becomes more intense as its initial verse is repeated over and over during the dance. The first dance stops as the deer places his right foot down before the deer singers at the very moment they complete their song.


Long ago, we invited the Spaniards into our country.
Their God reminded us of itom achai, our father.
We combined our Yaqui religion with the Spaniard's
Catholic faith in a way that was acceptable to Yaqui
people. It became a part of the inheritance we received
from our ancestors. At the beginning of each pahko the eldest
pahkola reminds us of this inheritance in a sermon.


Well, yes, gentlemen, my fathers, mothers, and little
children. This many people of God, likewise, have come
through the night on this Holy Saturday in good health.

We, the tribe that is called Yaqui, were given this
poor inheritance from God, my fathers, mothers. That is
why we have the holy songs and the mysteries over in all
eight pueblos. That is where we have the holy churches,
the big fiestas, the holy vespers, the holy death anniversary,
and the holy novena fiesta.

Just as God gave us this inheritance, so too he created us
poorly. Likewise, we were given this poor memory of ours to
work with. The saints gave it to us like this my fathers.
It is truly not created for all, my fathers. Like this
the inheritance was sent down to this weeping earth. Like
this, we were given the inheritance to work with.

We are the workers, my fathers: the dancers, the official
pascualente, the violin player, the harp player, the
tampaleo, and the people of San Luis, the maso bwikleom.
That is why the official pascualente does this, my fathers.
The truth is that in the beginning the ancients, the pahkolam,
worked like this. That is why those who have gotten it from
them are continuing it.

Well, like this, the people of God who are here will
know itt my fathers, we likewise, with your permission,
are going to work with our Yaqui religion, my fathers.

And now with your permission, gentlemen, fathers, mothers,

The audience responds:

"Heewi, heewi."
(Yes, go ahead.)

The pahko now continues more slowly with each cycle of dancing taking perhaps an hour to complete. We compress the following cycle into a few minutes.


Usually we dance all night from dusk to dawn. Our
dances always come in the same order. First the pahkolam
dance to the violin and harp.

The pahkolam dance youngest to eldest to the string music. Then we hear the tampaleo and deer singers begin their music.


Then they put on their masks and dance again to the
music of the tampaleo's flute and drum.

The pahkolam dance youngest to eldest to the tampaleo's music. As the deer singer
begins his song the deer dancer begins to dance.


As they dance again, the deer singers begin
their song, and finally the deer begins to dance.

We dance this way throughout the night. The
deer dancer listens to the songs and he tries
to dance their meanings for us. Through his
dancing, we enter the spirit of the flower

Everything the deer dancer uses in his dance
has held life.

The cocoon rattles around his legs were once
the homes of the butterflies. As we dance
we want the butterfly to know that, even if
he is dead, his spirit is alive and his house
is occupied.

The gourd rattles in the dancers' hands give
life to the plant world.

The rattles around the dancer's waist are deer
hooves. They represent the millions of deer
who have died so that men might live.

The dancer's headdress helps him make the
spirit of the deer come alive.

The deer dance is our spiritual expression.
Through it we celebrate with all living things.

We listen to the songs during the pahko.
The spirit of the deer speaks to us through
them. They take our minds to the seyewailo,
to the flower world, to the home of our
brother, the deer.

Following the completion of this first cycle of dancing, the performers rest in the rama. Once again we see the pahkolam talking among themselves and joking with anyone nearby.


The pahkolam have many duties during the pahko.
They open and close the pahko with prayers and
sermons. They act as host during the long night,
passing out water and cigarettes.

They entertain us with humorous comments. They
are like clowns. They mock and pantomime the
movements of the deer.

The cycles of dancing throughout a pahko are punctuated by skits given by the pahkolam. We enter the performance of one of these skits near its beginning. The tampaleo is beginning his song. The pahkolam, who have already danced to the stringed instruments, are now taking positions on all fours outside the rama as they complete their dance. The moro, who holds their regalia, gives each a carrizo plume tail. They are taking the parts of coyotes and yelp and howl so realistically they are joined by a couple of ranch dogs who are in the area.


Sometimes late in the night the pahkolam entertain
us with little skits.

In this skit, the pahkolam pretend to be coyotes
who are hungry. They go after a deer and chase
him into the desert.

The deer singer begins his song, the d eer dancer dances, as does the eldest pahkola, the last to join his "coyote" brothers.


All the while this skit is going on, the deer singers
sing this song:

Let's go, little brother
to that enchanted place
where the coyotes are howling.

Let's go, little brother
to that enchanted place
where the coyotes are howling.

Let's go, little brother
to that enchanted place
where the coyotes are howling.

In the middle of the flower desert,
at the edge of the enchanted pond
he is howling in the flower desert.

Let's go little brother,
to that enchanted place
where the coyotes are howling.

The deer song is repeated over and over throughout the skit. The pahkolam/coyotes howl as they begin to chase the deer dancer out of the rama and into the desert. The deer circles a sahuaro cactus a couple of times, then returns to the rama to seek refuge. The pahkolam are just behind all the while, howling and falling over each other throughout the pursuit. Finally, near the rama, they close in. The deer's activity is more frantic. The raspers and the drum, his breath and his heart beat, quicken. The pahkolam/coyotes encircle, lunge and pull the deer to the ground. The singers, raspers and drum stop. The song is over. The deer is captured.

But now the fun begins. The pahkolam/coyotes, who have already provoked laughter among the audience with their antics during the chase, pull out all stops now as they fight one another for the deer head. Their coyote sounds are interspersed with Yaqui and Spanish words in an additional effort to delight the audience. English speakers might even recognize a "bow wow wow wow wow."

The pahkolam leave their coyote roles behind. They stand and receive their regalia from the moro. They take on a new role, that of Yaqui trackers who search for the coyotes they have heard howling in the desert. They hope they will be able to share the rewards of the coyotes' hunt, the meat of the deer. In their change of roles, the pahkolam have not left humor behind.


The pahkolam make us laugh. After they catch the deer,
they change from coyotes to Yaqui trackers.

They track the coyotes who chased the deer. Of course,
they are tracking themselves and all the while they
joke around.

As if they were Yaqui trackers, the pahkolam greet each other and set out to track the "coyotes" they have heard in the desert. They begin under the rama and follow their own tracks out into the desert. Little escapes their notice and they continue to delight themselves and the audience with their comments.


"God help you."

"God bless you, uncle."

"Where did you go?"

"Carambas, we walked real
far, way out there where
the wilted cactus are."


"Somewhere out there, the
coyotes were howling."

"Well. . . out there . . . towards
wapa'im (a Yaqui mountain).


"Well, over there, they always
howl, but it's because they
live over there."

"Well, carambas, just. . .
right through here they
chased, do you see?"

"Some have real big feet,
do you see?"

"Here's a footprint."

"Carambas, here he crapped
maybe, man."

"Through here they chased
him, do you see?"

"He craps dry, man."

"You see it is it (the deer),
because of the pointed tracks. "

"It seems like tortoise
tracks here."

"The tortoise left tracks
there, they are scaly."

"And right here are the tracks
of the mountain lion, do you
see? Real big paws!"

"And here might be the
lead coyote, because it
(coyote) followed him

"Carambas, just like elephant
tracks and here seems like
gorilla tracks, because it
leaves big tracks."

"Elephant, man."

"Alifunto, alifunto."

"You see, here, look how
it left the head."

"You see here it is."

"They got full, I know."

"Heewi, well we didn't
get anything with them (coyotes)."

The skit concludes back in the rama as the trackers discover that the "coyotes" have not left them anything to eat.

There is a lull. The pahkolam rest, and the pahko continues with the music of the violin and the harp beginning a new cycle of dancing. Film time and fiesta time are the same now as we follow the performers through a complete cycle. We note the intricacy of the pahkolam's motions and how each has developed his own style of dancing. We have the opportunity to experience the place of the pahko.


No sight is so beautiful to Yaquis as the dancing
of the deer. No sounds are so beautiful as the
sounds of the deer songs. They lift our hearts
to that place beneath the dawn the seyewailo,
the flower world.

Many of the songs sing of things our brother the
deer sees in the wilderness, like this one about
the buzzards:

These three hover above me
like enchanted night buzzards.

As they come with the light before dawn,
here from the enchanted light before dawn,
on the highest point where the mountain side
they are swinging.

These three hover above me
like enchanted night buzzards.

The deer singer continues to repeat this song until the deer dancer signals him and they conclude together. As the deer dancer concludes his motions are repeated by the pahkolam. They mimic him, his motions and his song.

We come to the closing movements of the pahko. The violin and the harp play a final song. The younger pahkolam dance; the eldest pahkola gives a brief closing sermon before he too dances a last time to the strings.


At the close of the pahko the eldest pahkola
speaks to us again in a sermon.

He thanks us for helping him and the others
work with their Yaqui inheritance.

He reminds us that our inheritance is something
that is very important to all of us.

He asks us to return to our homes with happy
hearts, for we have been reminded again
of what it is to be a Yoemem.

After the sermon, the deer singer begins the "pick-up" song as the performers begin to
gather their instruments:

We must pick up
the enchanted flower raspers,
little brother.

We must pick up
the enchanted flower raspers,
little brother.

Over in the flower patio,
we must pick up
our enchanted flower raspers,
little brother.

All the musicians, save the deer singers, pick up their instruments, and the deer singers begin an "exit" song. It is the final song of the pahko and during its performance all the performers file out of the ramada with the deer dancer bringing up the rear. The deer singers are left alone in the rama to finish their song.

Flower person went.
On the flower road, he went.
Flower person went.
On the flower road, he went.

Over in the middle of the flower world,
he went.
Toward the dawn,
he turned.
Without small antlers,
he went.

Flower person went,
On the flower road, he went.

The pahko is over. The deer singer collects his raspers and gourds. The basin of water in which the water drum floats has been made sacred by its use. Often at the end of a pahko it is thrown on the audience. Here one of the deer singers throws it out in the shape of a cross on the ground before the camera

Return to the contents page for
Seyewailo: The Flower World
Yaqui Deer Songs

By This Song I Walk: Navajo Songs | Seyewailo: The Flower World Yaqui Deer Songs | The Origin of the Crown Dance: An Apache Narrative and Ba'ts'oosee: An Apache Trickster Cycle | Iisaw: Hopi Coyote Stories & Hopi Songs | Natwaniwa: A Hopi Philosophical Statement | Running on the Edge of the Rainbow: Laguna Stories and Poems | Songs of My Hunter Heart: Laguna Songs and Poems | A Conversation with Vine Deloria, Jr. | Home