The Holy Dividing Line: Inscription and Resistance in Yaqui Culture

The Holy Dividing Line: Inscription and Resistance in Yaqui Culture.

LARRY Evers is professor and director of the graduate program in literature in the English department at the University of Arizona FELIPE MOLINA, a member of Yoem Pueblo, the Yaqui community in Marana, Arizona, is currently at work on a Yaqui English dictionary. Every and Molina regularly collaborate on projects regarding Yaqui literature. Among other publications, they are the authors of Yaqui Deer Songs: Maso Bwikam (Arizona, 1987).

Research for "Hiakim: The Yaqui Homeland" was supported by The Southwest Center at the University of Arizona

The Holy Dividing Line:
Inscription and Resistance in Yaqui Culture

Larry Evers and Felipe S. Molina

It is in culture that we seek out the range of meanings and ideas conveyed by the phrases belonging to and in a place , being at home in a place .
- Edward Said

On October 4, 1533, an expedition dispatched by the slave raider Nufio Beltnan de Guzman reached its northernmost point, a major river in what we now call southern Sonora. Historian Evelyn Hu DeHart translates an anonymous expedition reporter who recorded what happened that first day Europeans encountered Yaquis, the indigenous people living there: "[They] began to march towards us very boldly, throwing fistfuls of dirt into the air, flexing their bows and making fierce grimaces." The leader of the Yaquis was "an old man more distinguished than the others, because he wore a black robe like a scapulary, studded with pearls, and surrounded by dogs, birds and deer and many other things. And as it was morning, the sunlight fell on him, he blazed like silver. He carried his bow and arrows, and a wooden staff with a very elaborate handle, and was in control of the people." Hu DeHart continues, "the old man drew a line on the ground as a demarcation, threatening death to any intruder who dared cross it" (1981:15) . The old man's line was as far north as these Spaniards got. They went away describing the Yaquis as "the fiercest fighters in the New World." This first scrap of writing about Yaquis by Europeans links Yaqui resistance to an act of inscription. It describes roots of a Yaqui resistance to colonial domination, a resistance to control by those outside their aboriginal homeland that persists today. Stephen V Lutes is one of many scholars to comment on this continuity: "the Yaqui are notoriously sensitive about the issue of autonomy, even today, and have shown a will to resist the encroachments of alien colonists and authority" (1987:12).

At some time, perhaps long after the Yaqui elder drew that line on the earth, other Yaquis wrote a narrative on paper as a way of reinscribing the same boundary, a boundary Yaquis have come to call the Holy Dividing Line. We write in order to make available a version of this narrative. It is one Don Alfonso Florez Leyva copied for us in 1988 from a copy he had received from his wife's uncle, Miguel "Miki" Romero. Titled "Testamento," the text records a complicated discourse in a combination of Spanish and Yaqui. It narrates original events in Hiakim, the Yaqui homeland: a world flood; the definition of the Holy Dividing Line, the tribal boundary; and the establishment of the Wohnai&i Pueplom, the Eight Pueblos which are the backbone of Yaqui social, cultural, and political life. The "Testamento" continues to circulate in the Rio Yaqui area today as it has demonstrably for fifty years, perhaps, as Don Alfonso suggested, much longer:

cuando el viluvio heewi
vaata kom sik vea
ume ve'ekame huname vea
nau etehok hunuen
hunuka yak

when the flood, yes,
the water went down then
the ones who were left then
they talked like this
they made this 1

Whatever the precise date of its postdiluvian origins, the "Testamento" is of interest for a number of reasons. First, it is one of the cornerstones upon which Edward H. Spicer built his theories about Yaquis as one of the "enduring peoples" of the world. Spicer regarded this text, which he usually referred to as the "Rahum land myths," as the preeminent example of the synthetic "new mythology" that Yaquis evolved during the nineteenth century as a "harmonization of European and native American conceptions" of the world (Spicer 1980:165). While Spicer and his associates published versions of the text in English, they never published a version of the "Rahum land myths" in the original language of Yaqui narrators. We do so here.

Second, Don Alfonso's text suggests that the "Testamento" circulates now in writing from Yaqui copyist to Yaqui copyist while it remains a part of Yaqui oral tradition. The "Testamento" thus provides another case for ongoing inquiry into the complex relations between oral and textual practice. Who was involved in the production of the "Testamento," how it continues to circulate among Yaqui communities, how the text is understood by the Yaquis who transmit it, what conventions of Yaqui discourse it represents, who the audiences for the "Testamento" are, and how this discourse has been reinterpreted and authorized by Yaqui communities over time are all questions that we will take up below.

We believe that Don Alfonso's "°Testamento" may be regarded as a contribution from a long, if often inaccessible, Yaqui tradition of crosscultural interpretation. The "Testamento" is one result of Yaqui efforts to continue to define their own culture through a dialogue with the European history and Christian religion that followed Nuno Beltran de GUZman to the Yaqui homeland. The Yaqui elder who marked a boundary on Yaqui lands in 1533 backed by the authority of warriors, birds, deer, his impressive staff, the morning sunlight, and so forth has given way in Don Alfonso's "Testamento" to a group of Yaqui prophets with names like Rabbi Kauwuamea who establish the boundary of Yaqui lands under the authority of an angel sent by God. Don Alfonso's "Testamento" suggests, then, one way Yaquis have actively interpreted the European history and the Christian mythology offered them by Jesuits and other later missionaries in light of their own cultural traditions. The "Testamento" indicates that through this process, Yaquis managed to separate the Spanish conquistadores from their Christian gods and to appropriate those gods as their own. Yaqui interpreters have in this way attempted a bold reversal to protect their homeland. They have turned the authority of the gods they appropriated from the Spaniards back on the waves of Euro Mexican colonists who have followed in the long wake of the Conquest.


In February 1981 the two of us went to Las Guasimas, a Yaqui fishing village south of Guaymas, Sonora, in order to talk with Alfonso Florez Leyva, a Yaqui elder and a cousin of Felipe Molina. At the time we were trying to learn about Yaqui deer songs, and one thing our work with Yaqui singers and narrators was teaching us was just how many stories are connected with the physical landscape in the Rio Yaqui area. Felipe felt that Don Alfonso would be a good person to read this cultural landscape for us. And he was. Looking out from his home in Las Guasimas, Don Alfonso responded to our questions with a range of narratives that spanned places from the Vakatetteve (Bacatete) Mountains into the Gulf of California, genres from myth to personal anecdote, and times from those so distant that hard volcanic landforms were still "soft like mud" to narrow escapes the week before from the "mafiosos" and "cuchistas,"2 the drug dealers and thugs threatening Yaqui lands at that time. What we expressed most interest in were the areas of the Yaqui cultural landscape associated with deer singing and the other arts of the pahko: the huya ania/wilderness world, the yo ania/enchanted world, and the sea ania/flower world (see Evers and Molina, Yaqui Deer Songs). We have no doubt that these interests shaped what Don Alfonso chose to tell us as surely as they shaped what we chose to record and to remember.

One night during that visit Don Alfonso did something we did not request. He read the Yaqui cultural landscape for us in a much more literal way. He took us into his house, got out a spiral notebook, and read to us from its handwritten pages. The language was a mix of Spanish and Yaqui, with some Latin and many proper names. At several points Don Alfonso faltered over a word or phrase, but his reading was determined, in some places very rhythmic. As he read, several of his sons, their wives and children gathered around the table to listen respectfully. What was read seemed strange and distant to both of us. We said this. There were questions. Don Alfonso said that what he had read had to do with protecting the Yaqui lands. There was family discussion of continuing Mexican encroachment on Yaqui lands. We went to sleep on burlap cots Don Alfonso had set up under the trees in his yard, and in the morning, true to our immediate interests, we went off to work with deer singers in another Yaqui town and forgot about Alfonso's reading.

Only some six years later, as the two of us read and discussed Spicer's The Taquis, did it occur to us that what Don Alfonso read to us that night might have been a version of a cluster of stories that Spicer describes as "the Rahum land myths": the story of a world flood, of the singing of the boundary of Yaqui lands, and of the founding of the Eight Yaqui Pueblos. Spicer paraphrases this cluster of stories as he constructs

his argument that they manifest a new mythology of sacred land that Yaquis developed during the nineteenth century (Spicer 1980:164 76). The "Rahum land myths" form a cornerstone of Spicer's argument in The Y'aquis, but, we soon discovered, neither he nor his research associate Ruth Warner Giddings, who provides an English translation as "The Flood and the Prophets" in Yaqui Myths and Legends, published original Spanish or Yaqui language texts of the story. Nor, it seems, did either preserve such a document among their unpublished papers. During a "restudy" of Spicer's Rio Yaqui work, Thomas R. McGuire attempted to get the Yaquis "in and around Potam in 1975 and 1976" to tell him the Rahum land myths. The people he talked with could not or would not. McGuire concluded that the "transmission of historical knowledge seems now to be entirely haphazard and unstructured" (McGuire, 1986:54). We decided we should talk with Don Alfonso about his notebook.

When we next reached Las Guasimas, in November 1987, Don AIfonso was not home. It was shrimp season, and he was in Guaymas selling his catch. We explained to his wife, Juana, that we were interested in the story in the notebook and that we hoped Alfonso would permit us to photocopy it. Three days later Don Alfonso came to where we were staying in Potam. He did not want to let us photocopy the notebook, but he did want us to have a copy of the text which he called the "Testamento." So he had copied one for us in his own hand from his notebook. This copy he removed from a big zippered trucker's wallet and gave to us with some ceremony. We talked about the "Testamento" for a while. Don Alfonso directed Felipe in drawing a map on the back of one of the pages as an illustration.

About a year later, Don Alfonso decided to consult with some other elders and to make us a second copy of the "Testamento." We do not know why he chose to make this second copy for us. Probably it was in response to the interest we expressed through our questions about the first. In any case, we did not request another copy, did not know that Don Alfonso was preparing one, and still do not know whom he consulted in preparing it. Don Alfonso gave the second copy to us in December 1988; he chose to date it January 1, 1989. Don Alfonso regarded the second copy as his preferred copy. It is the copy that we publish here.

My cousin's husband Vicente Baltazar told me about agroup of men who looked out for the Yoeme lands .3 This was in the mid 1980s. I didn't ask him about them but when I heard some more about them from my cousin Don Alfonso Florez Leyva in the late 1980s,1 asked to find out more. Don ANnso called these men hiak bwiata susuame, those who are looking out for the Yoeme land. My cousin was concerned about Yoeme lands being taken over by the Mexicangovernment. I could sense his feelings and felt sorry for him and at the same time I felt anger inside of me because of the stories he would tell me of the mistreatment the Yoeme people were getting from the Mexican political forces. Every time I visited his house in Las Gudsimas there was always a different sad story. I would listen carefully and offer words of advice to remedy the situation. Sometimes Don Alfonso's wife Juana would join in the conversation and bring out her concerns. "Inien itom weiya ume yoim," she would say, alike this the Mexicans are taking us. "As I heard them talk I would sometimes think to myself and wish that I had the power to come up with a peaceful solution to the problem. Many bad deals and ill treatments of the Yoeme Nation still occur down there. Stories and talk abound that the Mexican government's final intention is to completely take over Yoeme lands. Yoeme people say, "kaitapo to tawane, we will be left in nothing."

Don Alfonso and his wife told me more about the ones who are looking out for the Yoeme land. I was happy to hear about them. At least there was an interest among my people to carry out the dangerous duty to check on the land boundary. My cousin told me that tbis group of Yoeme men were out there to see if anything suspicious was going on. The men also check and repair the fences. Don Alfonso told me that maybe one day I would have an encounter with these men. He said, "tell them that you area Yoeme and that you are out for a pleasure trip, nothing else." I have been in the mountains with Larry and my other friends but so far I have not had such an encounter.

When I was in Casas Blancas near Irkam Pueplo in November 1989, 1 learned more about the hiak bwiata susuame. I was there to help plan a Yoeme literacy conference up in Tucson. We wanted to invite Yoeme educators from the Eight Pueblos and so I met with Mini Valenzuelal cousin Amador at Casas Blancas. After our conference business was finished, we decided to visit Amador's house. We went there to look for him but a man told us that he was serving as a vihilante. I thought, what? vigilante? Right away I knew it had to do with the Yoeme land boundary. Finally, Amador came back to his house and was very happy to see Mini. He asked about people back in Arizona. Then he explained about the vihilante. I sensed that he felt comfortable with me because I only responded in Yoeme, never Spanish.

He told us that for two weeks a group of about seven to ten strong men rode horses and checked the activities along the Yoeme land boundary. These men rode on the line set up by Cdrdenas, the President of Mexico Sometimes there were Mexicans living on both sides of the line. The men carried guns for protection. They traveled slowly by horseback and walked sometimes. They would divide themselves to check on different sites. In the evening they made camp and slept under the stars. Amador said it was hard work and dangerous. Every village in the Zona Yaqui alternates for two weeks to share the burden of riding and walking the whole boundary. I would like to hear Amador tell more about experiences out there in the wilderness. Amador gave Mini a miniature pahkola mask. He said that the men carve the masks in their spare time while they are serving as vihilantes.

These actions are attempts by our Yoeme nation to hold on to our land. They have been going for a long time. I can remember Don ANnso's mother when she came to visit my grandmotber in Marana. She was always worried about the Mexican government. She was concerned about the land and told us that the Mexicangovernment was opening up more land for farming. She would say, "They are hurting our land. They are destroying our beautiful wilderness world. What are we going to enjoy once it is gone?" I sat by my grandmother and listened carefully to every word.


Alfonso Florez Leyva was born in 1917 and died February 20, 1990. He grew up in Potam, Rio Yaqui, Sonora. In the late 1950s he moved to Las Guasimas where a group of Yaquis were founding a Yaqui fishing cooperative.4 There he and his wife Juana raised six sons and a daughter. Don Alfonso belonged to the matachini society, and was a participant in the active political life of the Rio Yaqui area until his death.

Don Alfonso received his copy of the "Testamento" from his wife's brother, Miguel "Miki" Romero. What we know of Miki Romero, who died in 1987, comes entirely from conversations with Don Alfonso and his sons. They remember especially their uncle's stories of being driven by Mexican soldiers from their home in Wiivisim Pueplo into the Vakatetteve Mountains during the turbulent years of the 1920s.5 We transcribed the following vivid memory of those times from a tape of Miki Romero made by Don Alfonso's sons.

bwe si hiokot machi omme si ka tu'i
kia si rohiktiachi
ko'oko hiokotmachi
ili uusim hi"bwavaeka bwanne
haisa mamachi ume ill uusim
ta hitasa am bwatuane
waate hak ill kuu'uta
puanamame li am mimikne
ta kuu'uta hiva ill pinne
bwa'ame into kaita
saawam hitasa ket ayuk o'ovek
ta ume peronim into kia
um itot cha'aka na katne
haisa a hita bwa'amta hariune

Well, it is so pitiful, it is, man, so bad.
Just so sad.
Painful, it was pitiful.
The little children wanted to eat and they would cry.
That is how little children are.
But what did we have to give them to eat?
Some people somewhere there carried a little agave.
They gave a little bit of that to the children,
but they had only little pieces of agave to suck.
There was no other food.
There are other foods there in the mountains,
saawam [ Amoreuxia palmatifida ] and others,
but we didn't have time to get them because
of the Mexican soldiers.
They were after us there,
how could we look for food?

Don Alfonso's sons recalled hearing their uncle read the "Testamento" to them in the context of such recollections of those hard times, times when Mexican soldiers killed and deported thousands of Yaquis and drove many others to seek refuge in the Vakatetteve Mountains, times Spicer has called "the Yaqui diaspora." Miki Romero's statement indicates how readings of the "Testamento" may evoke intense memories of dispossession and displacement.

Don Alfonso believed that Miki Romero received his copy of the "°Testamento" in the late 1950s, at a time Yaquis were again experiencing increased encroachment and renewed threats to their lands. A meeting was held at Rahum in order to get the boundary of Yaqui lands, "the big line" (uka bwe'u liniata), settled. Representatives of the Eight Pueblos attended the meeting, and, according to Don Alfonso, the Eight Pueblos worked together to make "this paper" (inika hiosiata), that is, the "Testamento." Don Alfonso remembered several key participants at the meeting as Maehto Lion; Antonio Maavis, who was Sacristan at Potam; Manuel, who was Sacristan at Vikam; and Juan Maehto Uhyolime'a. According to Don Alfonso, Juan Maehto Uhyolime'a made copies for each of the Eight Pueblos from a "very big book" (si bwe'u livrom) that was in his possession. Don Alfonso did not know where this big book came from nor what happened to it, but suggested that it fell apart, disintegrated ( posi kia hak yootuk ):

para ke hunait vasaroaka ve
veha a teuwavaekai
pueplommet naikimtewak ume copiam
bwe i aya heewi
hiva mihmo ini'i
hiva mihmo

so then wanting to say it
they made a foundation on that
the copies were divided among the Pueblos
well, this is it, yes
it is still the same, this one,
still the same

While Don Alfonso regarded this "big book" as the immediate source of his copy of the "Testamento," he was very clear that his understanding was that the origins of the narrative date long before the 1950s and the "big book":

cuando el viluvio heewi
vaata kom sik vea
um ve'ekame honoree vet
nay ethic Hunan
hunker yak

when the flood, yes,
the water went down
the ones who were left
they talked like this
they made this

On the several occasions we attempted to engage Don Alfonso in talking more about the origins of the "Testaments," as well as interpreting aspects of the text, what he wanted to talk about was the way the text forewarned the loss of the Yaqui homelands. What follows is a comment. that we recorded in April 1989:

par Esc on satin men hia
tiempomak vela 'Mika lima divisoriata
tattabwim yorini now sualekateko
name saluki amemak cha'atuk vea inika itom bwia
erne a reruns ti ameu hia u
u u San Niger de Archangel
kom yepsakarne Diosta hoa vetana
hunak vea em emu achaika emu u'useka emo
haivu to a pasaroasuk
nahsuawampo si'ime ohvo wootek
into unume espanyolim itou yahak
chea vatnatekai hakwo heewi
nume vea si'imeta itom uurak uka tesorota
nim bwiapo
aukauta si'imeta tovoktaka a nuk sahak
hamuchim vea nasonteka bwan
am violaroak ume vevemem
ian ini cspanyolim ume
yoim name vea yea tomtilam

uu guerra into pos hiva to a vicha
into gobierno into hiva itou
tekipanoa lautia hachin huni
uka bwiata itom uuravae
hunuen hia ooven ini testamiento

con el tiempo Ilegaran unas gentes
uniquas tia este
vempo vea emo name inim yahak

uka enchim, enchim ya'ut
enchim sawemta
havetasa eme yoowaka eme im
hooka ti emou hiuna tia
hunain yea simla
hunaka kavetuk vea vempo vea emo
emo Diosta vetana emo katetiaka
vea am vaita'aneteatia
tuan hunaka susualek vea eme vea pues
auwa sutoine
huna vea kia si'imeta enchim
uuraka a nuk simne
into hunain yea simla ho

So then, ah, remember, like this it says,
with time this dividing line will [be threatened].
When we believe different Mexican words,
when we believe them, we will side with them.
We will lose our land, it says this to us,
San Migel the Archangel,
the one who came down from God's house, [says]
"As fathers, as sons, you will,
you will kill one another then."
Already this has happened to us.
In all the wars blood was spilled.
And those Spaniards came to us.
In the beginning, yes,
they took everything away from us, the treasure
in this land.
What was here, they picked it all up and took it away.
They polluted the women, you must know it,
they raped the young girls,
these Spaniards.
Now, the Mexicans, they started to be born.

The war, well, we will always see it,
and the government is always against us
working slowly somehow.
Even the land, they want to take away from us.
Like that this Testamento really says
if you understand.

With time some people will come,
wicked ones, this says.
They, they will come here by themselves [without authority].

"Who is your leader,
the one who orders you around,
the one you have as an elder here as you live?"
they will say to us.
It has happened like that.
If that elder is not around, they will [appoint] themselves,
they will say they themselves are coming from God,
they will lie to us, they say.
So when you believe them, you will, well,
leave it [the land] to them.
They will take everything away.
They will take it away, take it away,
and like that it has happened, do you see?

Don Alfonso's understanding of the "Testamento" emphasizes violation and loss, the realization of the prophetic statements in Yaqui history, and the continuing threat those prophecies announce for the future. He emphasizes the importance for Yaquis to protect their Holy Dividing Line by making explicit the connections this line has with Yaqui identity. Understood in this way, he recognizes that the Holy Dividing Line has been compromised, violated, in many different ways historically, that encroachment over this boundary means not only loss of land, but also loss of the "treasures" the homeland nurtures: Yaqui tradition and identity. When the boundary that separates Yaquis from the Spaniards was eroded by the rape, intermarriage, and loss of tradition, as Don Alfonso explains, the espanyolim, Spaniards, became yoim, Mexicans, a new and even more threatening other for the Yoemem.

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