Surems and the Talking Tree

Yaqui history is preserved in the memories of the people, the Yoeme. Yaqui leader Anselmo Valencia told the following two parts of Yaqui history to his niece Mini Valenzuela Kaczkurkin in 1976. Mr. Valencia presently serves as head of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and is a religious leader in the village of New Pascua.


Surems and the Talking Tree
as told by 
Anselmo Valencia

    It has been many centuries, in times long gone, that the Yaquis were not as they are now. They were Surems, a very little people that lived in el Cerro Surem in Sonora. The Surems were a peaceful, quiet people who couldn't stand noise and violence. One day, the people noticed a tree that seemed to be making noises in a strange language. This tree was one big, ash-colored Palo Verde, which was growing in the middle of the region, on Omteme Kawi.

  While the villagers gathered around, the leaders attempted to communicate with the talking tree. However, it was of no use, not even the most important leader could interpret the message. During this time, a very young girl, Yomumuli, kept tugging at her father's hand and whispering that she could understand the talking tree. At first her father ignored her, then he became angry at her insistence.

  "All right, you will do it in front of the village, and then you will be punished publicly for your foolishness."

  So Yomumuli sat down close to the tree and translated word for word what the prophetic tree foretold for their future. It warned of the coming of the white man with armor and new weapons; it told of the coming of much strife and bloodshed against these intruders and others, and of much suffering for a long time among the Surems, but that they would eventually overcome their adversaries. It told of the coming of modern man's trains, "A road will be made of steel with an iron monster on it." It told of much much more to come, then it said, "There will be much suffering for years, much noise, and confusion. You must decide what to do. For those among you who cannot stand noise, you have a choice of leaving if you do not want to face such a future."

  So, the Surems divided into two parties, and those who could not stand such a future walked away. Some say they walked into the sea and live there still. Others say they turned into black ants and live underground under the hills. Those Surems who stayed eventually grew taller and changed into the Yaquis as they are now, and they were strong enough to fight off the Spaniards when the time came.

As printed in Larry Evers, ed. The South Corner of Time. Tucson, Ariz.: The University of Arizona Press, ©1980, p. 190.