Seyewailo: The Flower World Yaqui Deer Songs

Video Credits


Larry Evers, Producer
Dennis Carr, Director 
Felipe Molina, Narrator, Translator & Consultant 
Anselmo Valencia, Consultant 
Michael Orr, Post Production Supervisor 
Andy Peterman, Engineer
Special thanks to: Fern Cupis, James Griffith, Pasqua-Yaqui Association, Arizona Desert Sonora Museum, & KGUN-TV 
In Cooperation with the University of Arizona Radio-TV-Film Bureau 
© Arizona Board of Regents 1978

Performers: Damacio Romero, Moro; José M. Valencia, Violinist; Cayetano Matus, Harpist; Juan Amarillas, Tampaleo; Reyno Romero, Pahkola; Felipe Galaviz, Pahkola; José Alvarez, Pahkola; Luis Cinfuego, Maso; Leonardo Buitimea, Water Drummer; Juan Buli, Deer Singer; Loretto Salvatierra, Deer Singer

This program was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

It is hard to go far in the borderlands country of Arizona and Sonora without encountering images of the Yaqui deer dancer. Fixed in bronze and larger than life, he stands as a public monument in Ciudad Obregon. Travel posters, hotel directories, salsa bottles, even the official seal of the state of Sonora feature his image. Yet even when he cavorts wildly in the interpretive motions of one folk dance troupe or another, he is mute. What speaks are the political and economic motives that cluster around him. He is the aboriginal connection of the politicians, the romantic lure of the ad man, the borderlands equivalent, in many ways, to the warbonneted Plains Indian horseman of the wild west.
To all Yaqui Indian people, the deer dancer is "little brother," and when he dances for them he has a voice. The voice speaks to all who attend a deer dance through the songs to which the dancer moves. The songs of the deer singer are the voice of the deer. In them, as one deer singer puts it, "he does not talk, but he talks in an enchanted way."

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


Yaqui History Yaqui people call themselves Yoemem , The People. Their homeland is along the Rio Yaqui Valley in the southern coastal region of Sonora, Mexico.
The Yoemen From the time Diego de Guzman and his band of Spanish slave traders encountered them in 1533, the Yoemem have regularly needed to defend their lands against Spanish, and later Mexican, encroachment and domination. Yaqui resistance was always strong and Yaquis developed a reputation as the fiercest fighters in the New World. But in the last decades of the 19th century the Mexican government launched a massive offensive and began to deport Yaquis to work as slaves on plantations in Oaxaca and Yucatan. It was during this time, roughly 1890-1910, that many Yaquis sought political refuge in the United States.

The Yoemem who fled to the United States settled in villages and towns and on ranches along the Santa Cruz River in southern Arizona. Eventually major villages were established at Pascua and Barrio Libre in Tucson and at Guadalupe near Tempe. There they were able to live and continue their cultural traditions without fear of oppression.

In the early 1960s a group of Yaqui people formed the village of New Pascua southwest of Tucson on 202 acres they received from the federal government. In September 1978 the Arizona Yaquis were legally recognized as American Indians and made New Pascua the center of their tribal government.

Throughout their history the Yoemem have gained a reputation as a fiercely proud and independent people.

The Surem

The Yoemem believe that they are descended from a tribe of small men called the Surem. Contemporary Yaqui leader Anselmo Valencia tells this story of how the Yaquis came to be separated from the Surem;

It has been many centuries, in times long gone, that the Yaquis were not as they are now. They were Surem, a very little people that lived in El Centro Surem in Sonora. The Surem 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 the 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 Surem, 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 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 Surem 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 Surem 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.

These prophecies began to be fulfilled when the Spanish Conquistador Diego de Guzman reached Yaqui country in 1533. Mr. Valencia tells the following story from Yaqui tradition of the Spaniards' reception by the Yoemem and how Spanish religion, Catholicism, came to be a part of the Yaqui way of life:

The Invaders
It was a very long time ago, the people say, that a band of Spanish conquistadores rode toward Yaqui territory in Sonora. These Spanish soldiers were the "white invaders" predicted by the talking tree many years before, in the time of the Surem. They were armed and dressed exactly as foretold by the talking tree.


The Yaquis gathered to meet them. One of the Yaqui leaders drew a line along the ground, knelt and kissed it reverently, saying, "Up to this line and us far as the eye can see in these three directions, is Yaqui land. No invaders will be allowed to enter." They asked the soldiers to return from whence they came. When the Spanish soldiers tried to do battle with the Yaquis, there was such fierce fighting, that the Spaniards had to retreat hastily. They had never met such valiant fighters, they said. Thus, the Yaquis drove back the white invaders exactly as predicted, and they were well satisfied with that day's work.

Over seventy years later, some Mayos, cousins of the Yaquis, who had been converted to Christianity, came to the Yaquis and told them about the Spaniards who were peaceful and carried no weapons. The Yaquis asked that these peaceful ones be brought in, but that no armed man could enter their territory. They were converted easily because when the missionaries called their God "Our Father in Heaven," pointing upward toward the sky, then the Yaquis thought that here were others who shared their beliefs about "Achai Taa'a, Our Father, the Sun." And then, too, the missionaries' cross looked almost like the Yaqui sun symbol. The missionaries came and stayed on, converting the Yaquis to Christianity.

Yaqui Religion Yaqui religion then has changed dramatically since Yaquis invited Jesuit missionaries onto their lands in 1617. It consists now of both aboriginal Yaqui and Spanish colonial Christian elements which have been fused over the centuries to form a spiritualism that is wholly Yaqui. Under the direction of the maehto, the Yaqui lay priest, Yaqui religion is practiced communally on such occasions as saints days, weddings, funerals, and death anniversaries. The high point of the Yaqui ceremonial year is the lenten season during which the Yoemem add a dramatization of the passion and death of Christ to their version of the Christian lenten liturgy.
The Pahko On the occasions mentioned above (though only on Palm Saturday and Holy Saturday during Lent), a pahko is held. A pahko is a fiesta, a celebration of a religious holiday. During a pahko the deer dancer and the pahkolam perform. They express some of the oldest parts of the Yaqui religion. The pahko was originally held the night before Yaquis went out to hunt the deer. It was a way of begging the deer's forgiveness for killing him and of thanking him for giving himself up so that the Yoemem might live. Today the pahko continues to be held as an occasion of spiritual renewal for the whole Yaqui community. It is said all are blessed by the pahko if they attend with a good heart. The deer dance is the Yoemem's oldest and most visible expression of their religion. They would not, they say, think of themselves as Yoemem without it.

As a spiritual expression, the deer dance gives physical form to some of the most central and elusive parts of Yaqui religion. Yaquis believe in the existence of several otherworlds, and the pahko is intimately connected with two of them: the flower world (sea ania) and the enchanted world (yo ania).

The Enchanted World

The yo ania is a source of supernatural power. Some say World it is located in a cave in the mountains near the Rio Yaqui valley in Sonora; others that it is a place more mental than physical. Once within the yo ania an individual can acquire a talent like playing a musical instrument or singing without having to practice. The pahkolam are sometimes thought to be connected with the yo ania. The following story from Yaqui tradition was told by Mrs. Carmen Garcia and was recorded by her granddaughter Mrs. Mini Valenzuela Kaczkurkin:

Some time ago there was a pahkola who, when he first started out, was a very terrible performer. He was clumsy and unable to dance gracefully. He did not even know how to chat with his audience. The people only kept him on because they pitied him. One day he was requested to dance at another pueblo, so he set out alone, the others having gone ahead.

As he was traveling along, the pahkola heard the most beautiful music coming from the hills. There was a small cave there, and he heard the musicians playing so beautifully, so very beautifully, that he wanted to dance right then and, there. Then he said within himself, "But, what use is that beautiful music to me, I am so ungraceful."

At this point, a goat came out of the cave, a goat so frisky that it could not stand still. It went toward the pahkola, who stood and waited for it. The goat stood up on its hind legs leaning its forelegs on the pahkola's chest and licked the pahkola's face—first on the mouth then on the ears, and finally on the throat. He stood back and stared pahkola who waited calmly. The goat zoomed off and, turning very sharply, came charging at the pahkola, but the pahkola with arms crossed still waited calmly. The animal stopped short and the music stopped.

The pahkola, wondering over what he had seen, continued his journey. He began to think of many good jokes to entertain the people and his feet itched to dance right then and there. Thus he arrived at the village, where all was in readiness. He dressed and began his entertainment when -- cosa rara! -- the once ungraceful pahkola danced as no one has rivaled him. It is said that that goat was an enchanted pahkola. At any rate, the much-loved pahkola lived to dance beautifully at many fiestas.

The masks of the pahkolam are said to suggest the face of the goat or even of the Devil himself. During a pahko they bring the yo ania to Yaqui minds.

The Flower World By contrast with the darker powers of the yo ania, the sea ania or seyewailo is thought to be a place of complete beauty and harmony. It is thought to be located beneath the dawn in a place filled with flowers, water, and natural abundance of all kinds. The sea ania is the home of the Yoemem's little brother the deer, saila maso. It is a spiritual place, one that is brought into the minds of the Yoemem by the pahko.

The deer dancer at a pahko takes on the spirit of saila maso, little brother the deer. The songs of the deer singers describe the seyewailo and are expressions of its spirituality. Much of the regalia the performers wear at a pahko brings images of the seyewailo to Yaqui eyes.

Seyewailo means flower world. The opening sequence on this videotape, as well as the images of flowers used throughout are intended to suggest the connections with the flower world the pahko provokes in the minds of the Yoemem. They suggest that the spiritual dimension of the pahko is as real as the harmonies of the violin and harp or the rattle of the pahkolam's dance.

Place A pahko usually takes place in a pahko rama, a fiesta ramada. A ramada is a rectangular, roofed shelter usually open on at least one side. The pahko rama is said to become the flower world during a fiesta. The pahko rama you see in this videotape was specially constructed for this taping. It has been altered somewhat to permit better viewing and more light for the cameras. The pahko rama is usually closed on three sides and open to the east. It is divided into two halves: one used by the deer dancer and pahkolam; the other by the maehto (Yaqui lay priest) and the kopariam (the lady singers) who accompany him. It was not considered appropriate for us to include the maehto and the kopariam in our taping, so the rama we used in the taping consists only of the deer dancer's side. It is open to the east as usual but also to the south, and in the late afternoon, to the west to permit filming. This is a diagram of the pahko rama you see on the videotape:
The Performers
The Moro Usually eleven men have traditional roles at a deer dance. They are led by the moro. He serves as a master of ceremonies, directing and caring for the other participants throughout the pahko. It is the moro to whom sponsors come to arrange a pahko. It is common to have two moros: one for the pahkolam (moro ya'ut) and another for the deer dancer (maso moro). On this videotape there is one moro. He is the man with a straw hat who leads the pahkolam in to begin the pahko.
The Pahkolam The pahkolam are literally "old men of the fiesta." They have many roles during a pahko. They give sermons, serve as hosts, joke with the audience, and generally play the part of the clowns. An example of pahkolam humor appears on this tape just after their entrance into the rama. As they place their canes in the rama roof above them, the pahkolam address the canes humorously. Frequently, the pahkolam also mock and mimic the deer dancer and the deer singers.

Usually three pahkolam perform at a pahko. Each pahkola ties a knot of his hair together when he dances. This is called a sewa, a flower, and is thought to deflect evil. Usually the pahkolam wear a necklace (kokam). The cross on the necklace is thought of both as a Christian symbol and as a representation of the four directions of the universe. A blanket (pisam) and a string of bells (koyolim) cover the pahkolam's mid-section. Rattles made from butterfly cocoons (teneboim) wrap the dancer's ankles. When they dance with their masks on, the pahkolam play a hand rattle (senasom). The pahkolam always dance alternately to the music of the violin and harp and to the music of the tampaleo's flute and drum. The order of their dancing is always youngest to eldest.

The Violin and Harpist The string music to which the pahkolam dance is made by a violin (laaben) and a harp (aapa). The violinist and the harpist usually sit near the rear of the pahko rama. During the pahko they use several different tunings. Each tuning is used during a different part of the pahko; one (alabansa) from evening until midnight, another (campanilla) from midnight until dawn, and a third (partillo) from dawn to sunrise.
The Tampaleo When the pahkolam dance to the music made by the tampaleo they wear their masks and play their hand rattles. The tampaleo plays the drum (kubahe) and the flute (baka kusia) simultaneously. He traditionally sits at the front of the rama, leaning against a board planted in the earth as a backrest. Just before the pahkolam dance with their masks on, the tampaleo may often be heard tuning his drum by heating it over a small bed of mesquite coals which the moro deposits beside him.
The Deer Singers The deer singers (maso bwikleom) are sometimes called the people of San Luis (as they are in the opening sermon on this tape). Usually there are three. One plays a water drum (bakubahe), a half gourd (bueha) floating in a basin of water struck
by a drumstick (ba hiponia). The beat of this drum represents the deer's heartbeat. The water in the basin is made sacred during the pahko and is thrown on the crowd in the shape of a cross at the end of the singing. Two other singers play raspers (hirukiam), notched rosewood sticks, on half gourd resonators (bweham). The rasping represents the breathing of the deer. As they play their raspers, these men sing the deer songs. The deer singers generally sit just to the left of the tampaleo.
The Deer Dancer The deer dancer is said to become the spirit of the deer as he dances during the pahko. He dances only to the music of the deer singers. He is, without question, the central symbol of Yaqui identity. The deer dancer's ankle rattles are butterfly cocoons like those of the pahkolam. The cocoon rattles commemorate the singing of the insect world as they sound during the dance. The rattles around the deer dancer's waist are made from deer hooves. They commemorate all the deer who have died so the Yaquis might live. The dancer wears a Yaqui cross as a necklace. Like those the pahkolam wear it represents both the Christian cross and the four quarters of the universe. The white cloth on the dancer's head helps to hold the dancer's headdress in place as he dances. The headdress itself is made with the head of a whitetail deer. The scarf tied to the deer's antlers is called a sewa, or flower." Some say it suggests the rays of the Yaqui's father, the sun, and that in older times strips of deer hide dyed red were used to adorn the antlers. As the dancer represents the spirit of the deer, he must remain aloof throughout the pahko, not speaking or interacting with anyone when he is not dancing. In addition to these men who have specialized roles, others have important duties. The audience, which is very small on this tape, responds to the sermons of the pahkolam with the affirmative "heewi" and to their clowning with laughter.
Cycles of Dancing The pahko is usually held at night, beginning at dusk and lasting until dawn. Though we have reversed the temporal setting on this tape, we have represented the sequence of events at a pahko as accurately as we could. The pahko begins with the entrance of the participants: first the pahkolam, then the deer. The entrance is followed by a sermon which is given by the eldest pahkola. The pahko closes with the reverse: a sermon by the pahkola followed by the exit of the participants. Between the entrance and exit the pahko is organized around cycles of dancing which are repeated again and again through-out the night.

The experience of a pahko requires a patient, attentive presence, but there are moments of heightened climax. Sometimes late in the night the pahkolam perform traditional skits or plays for the crowd's entertainment. In these plays, the pahkolam may take on the roles of various animals -- raccoons, lions, coyotes. On this videotape the pahkolam play out a skit about coyotes who chase and capture a deer.

A Coyote Skit In the skit the pahkolam play two parts. First they are coyotes (note their realistic howls and carrizo plume tails); then Yaqui trackers who track the coyotes who are trailing a deer, thus tracking themselves. This skit is enormously popular with Yaqui audiences. They especially enjoy the pahkolam/coyotes' fight over the deer they "capture" and, of course, the pahkolam/trackers' comments as they track themselves. Contemporary Yaquis say that the skit is done strictly for the entertainment of the people and that it has no direct relation to the original pre-hunt purpose of the pahko. In viewing the coyote skit, a sharp eye and an open ear will reveal the traditional scatalogical inclinations of the pahkolam. It is also helpful to recall that the water drum and rasper are said to represent the deer's heart and breathing respectively. Notice how these instruments reflect the mood of the deer during the chase and capture.

Remember that time is compressed throughout the videotape. A coyote skit performed at an actual pahko might last several hours; the entire pahko an entire night from dusk to dawn. 

The Spirit

The men who appeared on this videotape agreed to share an important part of their lives with us so that it might be preserved and appreciated by both Yaquis and non-Yaquis. We ask that all who use this tape treat the gift it contains with respect. To do otherwise would do a great disservice to these men and to their religion. After he helped us to understand Yaqui deer songs and sang them during the preparation of this videotape, deer singer Loretto Salvatierra left us with the following thoughts. We hope all who view this videotape will reflect on them:

In the beginning, like this, 
our grandfathers, the ones that are Surem ,
the ones that first appeared here, left this inheritance.
Then the baptized ones received it and were given it.
Like this now it is taken care of in the songs.
It is known like this.
This is all that was told to us,
but we still work poorly with it.
Perhaps we are not taking care of it
like the ones who stood up to it in the beginning.
But for the births that are coming,
the people you are going to talk with about it,
like this the inheritance is left.
This is cherished and respected.
Now it is taken care of like this.
Like this we have worked our fathers' sacred request.
This is all the truth you asked for.
Like this it stays in your hands.

For Comment and Discussion

Deer Songs Yaqui deer songs are religious expressions of the seyewailo, the flower world. In the deer songs saila maso speaks to the Yaqui people, or, as deer singer Loretto Salvatierra puts it "he does not talk, but he talks in an enchanted way." The concise, powerful images of this enchanted speech have an evocative power which even in translation on the printed page may remind the non-Yaqui reader of lyric poetry.
Compostion Deer songs may be composed by the deer singers, but most of them have been in Yaqui tradition beyond memory. Older deer singers teach and give their songs to younger singers so that the songs will not be forgotten.

In looking at the translations of the deer songs on this videotape we can see immediately that they share a two part structure. The first stanza is repeated over and over as the song is performed. The second stanza only once at the end of the performance. Carelton Wilder suggests that the first stanza of a deer song usually is a statement concerning this world, while the second stanza often relates the ideas in the first stanza to the seyewailo, the flower world. In this way the songs balanced outward structure reflects a similar balanced internal structure. 


Of the images which appear in deer songs the most frequent is that of the flower, sewa. Flowers are more than just beautiful objects in nature to Yaqui people. They are a religious symbol of all that is good. They represent all the goodness and harmony that is present in the seyewailo.

To this aboriginal idea about flowers, generations of Yoemem have added a Christian concept. To the contemporary Yoemem, flowers suggest not only the flower world but also heavenly glory and divine grace. One basis for this connection is the apocryphal Yaqui story which tells of the blood of Christ flowing as flowers from the cross. Both heaven and the Seyewailo are places filled with flowers.

Theme There is no single theme included in all deer songs. But it is common for the singers to think of the deer as a little fawn who grew into a mature deer over the course of the fiesta. Notice how the deer is described in the first and the last songs here. As the pahko begins, he is a "little fawn." At the close he goes out as a mature deer, one "without small antlers."

There is no set corpus of deer songs which must be sung during a pahko but a few songs are traditionally sung at the open (the first song on this tape) and the close (the last two on this tape) of the pahko. In addition deer singers traditionally prefer to sing songs on certain topics during each of the traditional temporal divisions of the pahko: from the beginning until dark, from dusk until midnight, from midnight until the dawn, from dawn until the close. The idea behind these choices seems to be that the singers sing about the plants, birds and animals that the deer would see as he walks about at different times.

The Recording We originally intended to record a few songs from a Yaqui deer singer and ask him to talk about them as a way of hinting at their literary power. When we discussed this possibility with Yaqui linguist Fern Cupis in late winter 1976, she gently steered us toward the more ambitious goal of recording deer songs in the context of a pahko. Throughout the following spring and summer we explored that possibility with Mrs. Cupis and with Yaqui leader Anselmo Valencia, then chairman of the Pascua Yaqui Association. It was finally decided they should, proceed in the interest of educating non-Yaquis to an important part of the Yaqui way of life. It was agreed that to do this we should record near but not in the village of New Pascua so that the people might freely attend without a village obligation; that we should record the deer's side of the rama only; that we should record during the day; and that the performers should be the best available. We also agreed to provide an opportunity for all the performers themselves to review everything we recorded; to involve Yaqui people in the editing of a final program, and to return copies of the edited program along with copies of everything we recorded to the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. All of these agreements were met.

After several meetings with Mr. José Maria Valencia of Vicam, Sonora, we arranged to bring together a group of performers from Sonora and Southern Arizona at James S. Griffith's small ranch near the village of New Pascua. The major portions of this videotape were recorded there on October 20, 1976, under a rama constructed by us and the performers the day before. New Pascua is in a busy flight path from Tucson and jets may be heard periodically throughout this taping just as they are in the village.

A crew from KUAT-TV directed by Dennis Carr recorded the eyent on 2" videotape using three cameras. Mrs. Cupis, Mr. Valencia, and Larry Evers directed and coordinated the taping. Approximately five hours of material was recorded. Subsequently, we brought the principal deer singer, Loretto Salvatierra to Tucson from Vicam, Sonora, to re-record some of the deer songs and to advise us in editing. Throughout, Anselmo Valencia served as principal advisor and translator. He did preliminary translations of songs, sermons, and conversations.

Felipe Molina, a leader from the Yaqui settlement at Marana, Arizona, did the final translations for the tape and worked with us every step of the way in the final editing which was done by Michael Orr. Felipe Molina also helped to clarify most of the things discussed in the program and these notes. He serves as narrator of the program. Without his diligence and persistence, this videotape would not exist.

All original tapes recorded for this program have been archived in the Southwestn Folklore Center at the University of Arizona.

This program was made possible by a grant from the Education Programs Division of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is part of a series on American Indian singers, tellers, and authors titled Words and Place; Native Literature of the American Southwest.

Related Readings

Larry Evers, ed., The South Corner of Time (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1980) contains a large selection of Yaqui literature. Larry Evers and Felipe S. Molina, Yaqui Deer Songs/Maso Bwikam (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1987) is an ideal companion text for this video.

Mini Valenzuela Kaczkurkin's collection of Yaqui traditions Yoeme: Lore of the Arizona Yaqui People (Tucson: Sun Tracks, 1977) is probably the best source on contemporary Yaqui oral traditions. The stories of the Talking Tree, the coming of the Spaniards, and the enchanted pahkola are quoted from it with the author's permission. Another good collection of Yaqui oral traditions is Ruth Giddings's Yaqui Myths and Legends (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1959).

The foremost non-Yaqui authority on Yaqui life is Edward Spicer. His Cycles of Conquest (Tucson: University of Arizona) gives a complete account of Yaqui history in the context of the histories of other peoples in the Mexican northwest and the American southwest. He has done several studies of Yaqui villages both in Sonora and Arizona, such as Pascua: A Yaqui Village in Arizona (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940). His article "Highlights of Yaqui History," published in the spring, 1974 issue of The Indian Historian gives a very succinct account of the history of the Yoemem. Professor Spicer's The Yaquis: A Cultural History (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona, 1980) is the best single source on Yaquis presently available.

Carleton Wilder's The Deer Dance: A Study in Cultural Change, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 186, is a short study of many aspects of the Deer Dance as it was performed in 1939-40 in Pascua. It contains texts of twenty deer songs. The Traditional Poetry of the Yaqui Indians is an M.A. thesis written by Amos Taub at the University of Arizona in 1950. Prepared under the direction of Spicer and Frances Gillmor, it considers literary aspects of some thirty traditional Yaqui songs.

The Yaqui lenten ceremonies are well described in Muriel Thayer Painter's booklet A Yaqui Easter (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1971).

The Tall Candle: The Personal Chronicle of a Yaqui Indian (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1971) is the life story of Yaqui Rosalio Moises. It was edited by Jane Holden Kelley and William Curry Holden. Moises was grandfather to Mini Kaczkurkin, author of Yoeme (mentioned above). Kathleen Sands has recently edited Refugio Savala's life story The Autobiography of a Yaqui Poet (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, forthcoming). Savala published sketches of Yaqui life in the 1940s and 50s in such places as the Arizona Quarterly.

The writings of Carlos Casteneda are not regarded as accurate portraits of Yaqui life by most Yoemem. As Spicer wrote in an early review of The Teachings of Don Juan, "It seems wholly gratuitous to emphasize, as the subtitle does, any connection between the subject matter of the book and the cultural traditions of the Yaqui."

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