The Holy Dividing Line:
Inscription and Resistance in Yaqui Culture


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 Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán 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 Wohnaiki Pueplom, the Eight Pueblos which are the backbone of Yaqui social, cultural, and political life. The "Testamento" continues to circulate in the Río 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 this1

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 cross-cultural 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 Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán 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 Guásimas, 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 Río 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 Guásimas, 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 Yaquis, 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 Yaquis, 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 Río 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 Guásimas, in November 1987, Don Alfonso 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 a group of men who looked out for the Yoeme lands.3This was in the mid-1980s. I didn't ask him about them but when I beard some more about them from my cousin Don Alfonso Florez Leyva in the late 1980s, I asked to find out more. Don Alfonso 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 Mexican government . 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 be would tell me of the mistreatment the Yoeme people were getting from the Mexican political forces. Every time I visited his house in Las Guásimas 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, "like this the Mexicans are taking us. " As I beard 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 te 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 bear 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 this 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 are a 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 Vikam 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 Valenzuela's 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 be was serving as a vihilante. I thought, what? vigilante? Right away I knew it bad 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 be 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 bones and checked the activities along the Yoeme land boundary. These men rode on the line set up by Cárdenas 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 bard 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 bold on to our land. They have been going for a long time. I can remember Don Alfonso's mother when she came to visit my grandmother in Marana. She was always worried about the Mexican government. She was concerned about the land and told us that the Mexican government 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, Río Yaqui, Sonora. In the late 1950s he moved to Las Guásimas 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 Río 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'ibwavaeka bwanne
haisa mamachi ume ili uusim
ta hitasa am bwatuane
waate hak I kuu'uta
puanamame li am mimikne
ta kuu'uta hiva ili 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
ume ve'ekame huname vea
nau etehok hunuen
hunuka 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 "Testamento," 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 commentary that we recorded in April 1989:

por eso ori katin nen hia
tiempomak veha inika linia divisoriata
tattabwim yorim nok sualekateko
name sualeka amemak cha'atuk vea inika itom bwia
eme a tarune ti ameu hia u
u u San Migel de Arcangel
kom yepsakame Diosta hoa vetana
hunak vea em emo achaika emo u'useka emo
haivu te 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 espanyolim ume
yoim nume vea yeu tomtilam
uu guerra into pos hiva te a vicha
into gobierno into hiva itou
tekipanoa lautia hachin huni
uka bwiata itom uuravae
hunuen hia ooven ini testamiento
con el tiempo llegaran 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 yeu 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 yeu. 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


We believe that Don Alfonso Florez; Leyva's "Testamento" descends from a text that was produced in the early 1940s during an intense period of redefinition of the relations between the Yoemem, the Yaquis, and the Yoim, the Mexicans. That text is what Edward H. Spicer called the "Rahum Land Myths," a group of narratives written down early in 1942 as Spicer worked with Juan Valenzuela, a charismatic Yaqui elder from the pueblo of Rahum. It is probable that "the big book" from which copies of the "Testamento" were made in the early 1950s is a product of the sessions Juan Valenzuela held with Spicer *in 1942.

Spicer lived in Potam during the first four months of 1942 along with his wife Rosamond, their one-year-old son, Barry, and Ruth Warner ("Bets") Giddings, a graduate student and research associate.6 Juan Valenzuela emerges as a major figure in Spicer's monograph from that time, Potam. It is Juan Valenzuela who administers Spicer's rite of passage into the Yaqui community by forcing him to speak only Yaqui in front of the assembled Rahum elders. Once Spicer gets through this initiation experience, he writes that Valenzuela, "the most respected old man" in the pueblo, took it upon himself to become Spicer's teacher, guardian, and friend. Spicer describes Valenzuela as knowledgeable about practical pueblo affairs as well as about "the Mexican-Yaqui political situation." Valenzuela reads Spanish, owns books, and is a ready conversationalist willing "to talk about any tittle thing from weather to ways of cooking oysters." He presides over the Spicers' Potam household "like a pleasant old patriarch, mildly amused by and indulgent with the various children who were also there." Despite these very practical, human qualities, Juan Valenzuela impresses Spicer as "living in some other world," as "a mystic," whose "eyes were not bright and burning, but rather dim and burning." And even when Juan Valenzuela is not at the house the Spicers and Giddings have the feeling that "maybe Juan was sitting in the rafters up there looking at us and listening to what we said." They begin to call him the Brujo, the nickname "an indication of the feeling of unearthliness which he gave rise to in all of us" (Spicer 1954:6-7). What emerges in Spicer's Potam narrative, then, is a figure of a man with great authority and presence: knowledgeable, trusted, and respected in the Yaqui community; practical but mystic; innovative, but traditional enough to be centrally involved in the intellectual life and governance of his community.7

Of the creation of the written transcription of the "Rahum land myths," Spicer's research associate, Ruth Warner Giddings, writes that Juan Valenzuela knew "the material from memory and wrote out what is translated here in mixed Yaqui and Spanish" (Folk Literature 1945:44, n. 2). Spicer, who published only English paraphrases (1954:125-28; 1980:164-76), writes "the word-for-word versions from which these summaries have been made were told under the most solemn circumstance with village elders and with most of the young men of the struggling new village present" (Spicer 1954:214, n. 64). Giddings's "wrote out" contrasts with Spicer's "told." Spicer writes elsewhere that Juan Valenzuela had convened a school at Rahum prior to Spicer's arrival at the Río Yaqui at which "he recounted regularly to younger men the texts as he had written them in both Spanish and Yaqui" (emphasis added). These texts "included the Flood, the Singing of the Boundary, the Founding of the Towns, The Talking Tree, and some legends. . . ." Spicer also tells us that Juan Valenzuela and his associates "all read Spanish and wrote Yaqui in a more or less standardized script which had been in general use since at least the early 1800s" (Spicer 1980:175-76). Spicer's understanding, then, seems to have been that the texts were written in some form before he arrived on the scene. What was produced in the ethnographic encounter between Spicer/Giddings and Valenzuela, in that event, was a particular written version of text that already existed in writing, though possibly in other forms. We will explore possible antecedents below.

What we do know is that narratives were written down under the direction of Juan Valenzuela, a respected community elder, and that from the point of view of the Rahum community they were regarded as narratives worthy of very serious consideration. Spicer reports that "when it is told to a Yaqui audience in Rahum it is received in an atmosphere of profound respect and solemnity by both young and old men" (Spicer 1954:127). Indeed, community response to the story may be one reason that Spicer and Giddings did not preserve a Spanish or Yaqui/ Spanish language transcription of "The Flood and the Prophets." Both Giddings and Spicer report that the Rahum elders were concerned that the information contained in the stories that they were recording not reach or be available to the Mexicans, whom they believed would use the information in their continuing attempts to take Yaqui lands. It is very possible that Spicer and Giddings possessed transcriptions of Juan Valenzuela's "Rahum Land Myths" in the original language(s) of their telling but chose not to publish them or even to keep them in deference to the wishes of Valenzuela and his Rahum colleagues. Of the versions of the Rahum land myths" that he heard performed, Spicer reports: "At first strict prohibition against their publication was enjoined. Later the Rahum village council decided that they might be published in English, but not in Spanish. When it was pointed out that they could be easily translated if so published, the elders decided that advantages gained through their publication in English would probably outweigh the disadvantages" (Spicer 1954:214, n. 64).

In any case, the Spanish transcriptions from the Spicer/Valenzuela sessions do not appear to survive among Spicer's papers.8 We assume that Spicer left copies of the transcribed stories with Juan Valenzuela and the other Rahum elders and that these are the "very big book" (si bwe'u livrom) from which Don Alfonso's "Testamento" most immediately descends. A translation into Yaqui-Spanish from published work by Giddings or Spicer in English seems very unlikely.9

Given Juan Valenzuela's very wide knowledge of Yaqui traditions and his close relation with Spicer, it is interesting that Valenzuela chose to give Spicer only two narratives: one, a story of Mexican treachery and Yaqui heroism during a "peace conference" at Pitaya (Pitahaya), Río Yaqui, January 9, 1909; the other, the "Flood and the Prophets." By contrast, Spicer and Giddings recorded a very extensive collection of narratives from Ambrosio Castro, whom they describe as more marginally involved with the cultural and political life of the Río Yaqui.10 That Juan Valenzuela selected these particular stories out of the many that he must have known to give Spicer was probably influenced by the political and historical context. At about the same time Valenzuela worked with Spicer, he and a group of Yaquis were in the midst of reestablishing the Yaqui pueblo of Rahum and reiterating the boundaries of Yaqui lands. Both the revitalization of Rahum Pueplo and the concern with boundaries were no doubt actions closely related to the decrees of Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas in the late 1930s that designated some 485,000 hectares as the Yaqui Indigenous Community (Lutes 1987: 1113). The activities mark an end to the "Yaqui diaspora" and the beginning of a period of rebuilding, reintegration, and renewal. The context for the inscription of the "Rahum land myths" was in any case a time of significant changes in the political status of Yaquis.11 And Juan Valenzuela, "author" of the texts, was a man situated at the center of an active effort to revitalize one of the original Eight Pueblos and to revise Yaqui cultural history.

What Juan Valenzuela and the Rahum elders provided in the Rahum land myths," the central text of their effort, was an emergent version of Yaqui cultural history, at once prophetic, nativistic, and synthetic, that served immediate political functions of reintegration and renewal. Valenzuela's role in the production of the text was that of a cultural historian motivated by a very particular historical and political context (Cf. Bricker 1981:180-81). What seems clear is that Juan Valenzuela wanted to record narrative traditions that served the political cause of defining and perserving the Yaqui land base and of defining and preserving the authority of the Eight Pueblos. Protection of both the perimeter and the center was Valenzuela's concern. He functioned not only as a keeper of Yaqui sacred traditions but as a "former" of his people's political consciousness who used a "Christian vocabulary for the purpose of Yaqui patriotism" (Bahr:7, 11).

Don Chema Kupahe is a man that we visited in Vikam Suichi when we were traveling with Don Alfonso. Don Chema comes to Tucson sometimes to participate in ceremonies as a violinist. On one of his trips Don Chema was staying at a house across the street from my brother's house in New Pascua. He visited with my brother several times and asked for me. Finally I met with him during the Santa Cruz pahko at Barrio Libre on May 7, 1991 and we talked. He wanted my opinion on a letter that was drafted in Yaqui land by a certain fiction who were talking for the Yaqui land. He gave me and my brother the letter. I told Don Chema that I would read over the letter to better understand it. In my mind I kept thinking about getting involved in such serious and dangerous matters concerning the problems with the continuous attempt to overpower the Yaqui nation and take Yaqui land by making it free for all non-Yaqui Mexicans. The letter carries such a message. It begins: "We belong to a people of indomitable fighting spirit, our race never gave in during the dark days of the Spanish and we set an example as a people who never allowed ourselves to be conquered, nor for our lands to be taken away during the colonial period." It goes on to tell how "Lázaro Cárdenas del Río," the President of Mexico, recognized our title to our land and dedicated it for the exclusive use of the Yoeme people. Then it brings up the present situation and says many more things like this: 'With the strength which we get from our traditions which our people have been able to preserve, the richness of the land which has been recognized as ours and the great fighting and working spirit of our people, the Yaqui community began to be a prosperous and united people. However, our richness was coveted; the renters came, the profiteers, the great landholders, who, with the help of evil officials, grew rich at the expense of our people." Anyway Don Chema was happy that I met with him and he told me that be wanted Yaqui people in Arizona to read the letter and study it and he would sign that letter if all agree that the content of the letter contained the truth.

As we talked more and more about the sacred Yaqui land be mentioned the "Testamento." He said that be bad a copy of the Testamento and that the prophecies from the Testamento are occurring and that we should not allow the yoim to take over the land. He said that the sacred mountains that once saved the lives of our ancestors still dot the land. He said that many of them are just small bills and not the big mountains. "How could such a small bill like Avas Kaure or Tosal Kawi save the people from the rising water of the flood?" be questioned himself "The hills rose from their bases and floated in the water," he answered. "'Because of occurrences such as this in our land, we respect the land and want to live, work, and enjoy, ourselves here. "He promised to bring a copy of the "Testamento" for me and my brother but we have not received it yet. I told Don Chema that I agree with his concerns and that I am fully aware that this is not a small matter. I said that it was complicated and that I could only participate in such a group by giving advice.


The relationship between Don Alfonso's "Testamento" and Juan Valenzuela's Rahum Land Myths" is clarified somewhat by a third version of the text that became available to us as we worked on this project. This third version dates from the early 1950s, possibly from the Rahum meeting we discussed above.

Gilbert Bartell, writing on the formation of the Yaqui fishing cooperative at Guásimas and other "Directed Culture Change Among the Sonoran Yaquis," quotes a version of the "Testamento" that he "translated from the Spanish from a Yaqui text taken in Rahum by John Dedrick" (Bartell 1964:142-43). When we asked about this version, John Dedrick, linguist and longtime student of the Yaqui language, generously sent us a copy that he collected in the early 1960s. Dedrick lived and worked in the Río Yaqui area for extended periods from December 1940 into the middle of the 1980s. In a letter, he recalls that in the early 1960s some students from the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH) were doing research in the Río Yaqui area. Seeking help in translating the Yaqui, the INAH students brought Dedrick a text they had collected from a maestro in the pueblo of Belén With their permission, Dedrick hastily made a copy of their copy using his typewriter. He writes, "My copy probably has typos and holidays but ought to be over 95 percent correct."

Dedrick made his copy from a four-page original titled "Testamento Principal." His copy is very similar to the version of Don Alfonso's "Testamento" we print here. The major difference is its double closing part. After the concluding list of the founders of the Eight Pueblos, the Dedrick/Belén text continues:

Pues senoresim achalim. pueblo leym principlaim malestom ilen a tahane jume itom gojnaiqui pueblom itom herenciam pueblo san manuel custodio ragum pueblo 14 de marzo de 1951 primer copio.

Well, gentlemen, fathers, pueblo law principals, maehtom, like this know it, our eight pueblos, our inheritance, patron of Rahum Pueplo, San Manuel, 14 March 1951, first copy.

This passage is followed by a narrative description that attempts to locate the Holy Dividing Line more exactly in relation to particular named places. The writer of the passage signs off: "Pueblo de Belén Jiac Batgue, Febrero 25 de 1952"/Belén Pueblo, Yaqui River, 25 February 1952. This version, which Dedrick collected in the early 1960s, is then a copy made in 1952 of a "first copy" made in 1951. The source of this "first copy" is probably the meeting of representatives of the Eight Pueblos at Rahum that Don Alfonso described.


We assume that both Don Alfonso's "Testamento" and the Belén Maehto's "Testamento Principal" collected by Dedrick descend from Juan Valenzuela's Rahum Land Myths." Differences among the versions are suggestive of how the "Rahum land myths" have been transmitted and interpreted within the Yaqui community. For the purpose of our comparison, we identify four parts in Don Alfonso's "Testamento." We will discuss each of these parts and comment on the relation of each to the other versions of the text available to us at this time: Juan Valenzuela's "Rahum Land Myths," 1942; and the Dedrick/Belén Maehto's "Testamento Principal," 1952.

The first part, lines 1-128, includes two narratives: the story of the Flood and the story of the Holy Dividing Line. Dedrick's text for this part is essentially the same as Don Alfonso's, and the version of Juan Valenzuela's text published by Giddings as "The Flood and the Prophets." Although as we have noted Giddings is only available in English translation, differences among the three texts are minimal. The first part is written in Spanish, with occasional Latin words and Yaqui proper names and place names. The pervasive use of the second person familiar plural construction (vosotros and the like) reveals a strong connection with the language of priests, who, James S. Griffith pointed out to us, customarily use this form.

The second part, lines 129-213, is marked by a dramatic shift away from the diction and rhetoric of the first part. Don Alfonso notes this as a shift from Spanish to Yaqui in his commentary on the text, although of course the second part contains a great deal of Spanish as well as Yaqui. This section is not present in the Juan Valenzuela text published by Giddings. It is present and almost identical in the Dedrick version. The second part is written in a Yaqui-Spanish combination and in a rhetorical pattern that is common in contemporary Yaqui speeches and sermons (Painter, Savala, and Alvarez 1955). It opens with a conventional litany invoking a great chain of Yaqui authority that culminates with the Bow Leaders' Society, the group responsible for the protection of the Yaqui homeland and the Kohtumbre the group that oversees all the Yaqui Lenten ceremonies. This is followed by a reiteration of the origins of the Holy Dividing Line in 1414-17 (lines 149-208).

A conventional admonition bridges *into Part Three, the founding of the Eight Pueblos. The third part, lines 214-64, continues in the same Yaqui/Spanish diction and style as the second part. It documents the "founding fathers" of each of the Eight Pueblos, the ones who received "the earth inheritance'' Although this part is lacking from the version that Giddings published, Spicer's paraphrase of the "Rahum land myths" includes this as a concluding section (Spicer 1954:125-26). This section is present and nearly identical in the Dedrick version.

The fourth part, lines 265-77, includes Don Alfonso's colophon, final statement, and signature. These are absent, of course, in all other versions, but we note that the Dedrick version has two such signoffs with commentary. As additional versions of the text become known, this is the place where we would expect the Yaqui copyists to identify themselves and to provide additional commentary and interpretation.


The differences among the three versions highlight the different perspectives and expectations that may lead Yaquis to call this cluster of narratives a "Testamento" while non-Yaquis have persistently labeled parts of it a "flood myth" or a "land myth."

A major difference between the Juan Valenzuela text and the two later versions, as we have seen, is the lengthy commentary that has been added to the text as Part Two. It seems very possible that this section, a Yaqui commentary on the first part written in the Yaqui language, was added at the big meeting at Rahum in the early 1950s remembered by Don Alfonso. This commentary, taken together with the commentary Don Alfonso offered as he read the "Testamento" for us in April 1989, suggests the way in which the 'Testamento" is performed and interpreted in Yaqui communities. Though the "Testamento" was likely "fixed" in manuscript by Juan Valenzuela, it is clearly permissible, even necessary, for other Yaquis to "unfix" it as it is read and discussed orally.12 What it means to the Yaqui audiences may to a large extent be determined by what gets said about it when it is read.

Note, for example, that the commentator(s) who added the second part (lines 129-93) chose not to say anything about the Flood. This is one element of the "Testamento" that has consistently attracted the interest of non-Yaqui commentators on the text. In fact they have often called it a "flood myth." A part of the "Testamento" is certainly a version of "the flood myth" from some perspectives, but the versions and contexts that we bring forward from Yaqui community settings focus much more attention on the definition of the Holy Dividing Line and emphasize the continuing importance of defending it.13 Note that the commentator also (lines 185-93) takes some care to amplify the characterization of those who would deceive the Yaquis. They are not just "false prophets" but "wicked men from Gethsemane, that is New Spain." They are associated with "Lucifer" and are "invaders and enemies of our life." Don Alfonso's oral commentary continues strongly in this vein, as we have noted above.

It is also notable that although Juan Valenzuela seems to have played a key role in shaping the narrative as well as in writing the text in its present form, his name is no longer associated with the text. When we mentioned Juan Valenzuela's name, Don Alfonso recognized him as "an elder from Rahum" but did not associate him with the "Testamento." Valenzuela is not named in the Dedrick/Belén version. Thus it appears that recognition of Juan Valenzuela's pivotal role in the creation of the text has submerged or even disappeared in Yaqui communities.14 It appears then that the "Rahum land myths" of Juan Valenzuela, which emerged at a volatile time in Yaqui cultural history, have been depersonalized over the last fifty years as they have been brought into conventional Yaqui rhetorical patterns through readings and commentary in Yaqui community settings.

When we asked Don Alfonso why his document was called "testamento," he replied:

a testamento tian porque ini ori
u vatnataka u yo'ora inim na
inena tekipanoasuk
inena huhusuk
emo hikkahan heewi
senu nokpo emo hikkaisuk

The Testamento
they call it a testamento because
the elders in the beginning
the ones who walked about
like this worked on it
like this have taken care of it
they listened to themselves, yes,
they listened to themselves with one word

We translate this, but we are unsure about what it means. What does it mean to listen with "one word" (senu nokpo)? It seems to us that this is a reference to a process of community or group decision making by consensus. Don Alfonso followed with a long discussion that connects this "testamento" with the practice of traditional Yaqui law.15 Our provisional understanding of this discussion is that for Don Alfonso a "testamento" is a sacred word that is continually affirmed by the community as it goes about the day-to-day business of its governance, a sacred word that provides authority in what non-Yaquis might factor out as legal, moral, and theological realms. Recent discussions of Yaqui systems of governance (such as Spicer, The Yaquis; Kelley, "Law-Talk"; and Perez Garcia, "Authoridades Tradicionales") have not mentioned a "testamento" in this connection. Just what other Yaquis understand a "testamento" to be and just what relationships a "testamento" has to Yaqui law are questions worth investigating in the future.

In November of 1988 Larry Even, David Burckhalter, my brother Steve, and I went down to Yoeme lands to gather more information about the Holy Dividing Line and to photograph the sacred mountains mentioned in the 'Testamento." The trip turned out to be very successful. We visited with my cousins Alfonso Florez Leyva and Ignacio Amarillas and their families. We were well received and felt comfortable to be traveling together as a team.

We photographed most of the sacred mountains that I knew, and then Don Alfonso helped us a great deal by going out with us on short excursions near Las Guásimas. Don Alfonso was so happy to point out the sacred mountains and other places of interest. I think walking around with Yoeme people from Arizona and two American gringos made him feel more hopeful about the future of the Yoeme nation. I sensed that be believed that we would somehow help him in his efforts to save the Yoeme lands from Mexican people. The first morning as we got in the truck to go out to the mountains be said, "I dreamed that you would come and that we would be doing this."

We talked about going dawn to the southern end of Yaqui lands in order to photograph those places. Don Alfonso mentioned an elder named Don Chema Kupahe who lived in Vikam Suichi. He said the elder knew a lot about the Yoeme land and history. He also mentioned that we could invite the elder to ride with us to the different sites along the southern boundary. So plans were made. When we arrived at Don Chema's house be came out and greeted us. Don Alfonso introduced our group and our intentions. Don Chema was happy to bear of such intentions and agreed to travel with us but under one condition. He wanted to inform another elder before going on any excursion. Don Alfonso agreed and so we went aver to that elder's house just a few blocks down the street. That elder said he wanted the approval of the whole group of elders before he gave his approval. So word was set out by him to get the group together immediately. Two men served as runners or messengers. Finally, the group of elders got together except for two elders who were out of town for the day.

The meeting started off by a formal greeting by us to the elder group and then them to us. After the acceptance by the elders' group of the formal greeting, the intentions of our visit were explained. While I sat there I realized that this meeting was like a general meeting of the Eight Pueblos. They were granting access to Visit sites on the Yoeme land. But as they talked I also soon realized that we were dealing with a faction of the Yoeme tribe. This faction was made of mostly elders who wanted to preserve Yoeme history culture, language, and the sacred land. To me it was a good cause, but I suggested to Larry that we not become too involved with their planning. Larry audiorecorded part of the meeting, and David took pictures. We played some of the tape back for the elders. Everybody felt good about the meeting. Anyway, after this long meeting it was agreed that we would go and visit the sites along the southern boundary and take pictures. We would travel down to Kokoraaki Wash.

We stopped here and there to take photographs until we got to the outskirts of Cuidad Obregón. As we stood looking at distant mountains the idea came to somebody that we should look for the great crosses that separate Yoeme land from the Mayo land. One of the elders bad mentioned this in his talk back in Vikam Suichi. So it was decided that we visit a Mayo person with the nickname Chacho Wuero. The rumor was that he was also fighting to save some Mayo land from the Mexicans. We turned into Guaymitas which is just north of Navajoa. We asked several people where Chacho lived. We were told that be lived just north of a panteón, cemetery. Sure enough the people were Fight, be lived across the road from the cemetery. The area is a beautiful low hill just north of the Mayo River.

As we drove into Chacho's yard we saw a man running away. None of us thought that this man could have been Chacho. He was dressed so poorly and his hat was falling apart. He looked like somebody from the Ozarks, some hillbilly. That is the way I first viewed him. He was quite a character. We asked the children about Chacho and they were hesitant to answer. All that ti me we were questioning the children Chacho was behind a small shed looking our way. I don't know why be was trying to bide from us. We were driving a big white truck from the university, so maybe be thought we were bill collectors or government officials. I guess after be saw that we were not government officials or that we didn't even look like Mexican people, be decided to come out of his biding place and greet us. Still be probably didn't trust us. Anyway be came over to us and shook our bands and invited us into his ramada. Chairs were brought out for us.

Chema Kupahe explained our visit and informed him of our project. Chacho seemed to be more comfortable after the explanation. Chema briefly related the history of the Yoeme people and their land and mentioned the brotherhood that existed between the Yoeme and the Yoreme. During this conversation the big crosses were mentioned, but it seemed that Chacho didn't really know much about them. The elder back in Vikam Suichi mentioned that some people bad reported that the crosses were bulldozed down by Kokoraaki Wash.

As we sat around talking, coffee was brought out to us. Every tension started to ease especially that of Chacho. Chacho got into the problems that his family group was having with the Mexican government. It seems that they were in the process of trying to take over the land Chacho and other family and friends were residing on. Chacho went inside his house and brought out a big map and document. The document was dated in the 1700s. It gave Chacho's ancestors a big parcel on the north bank of the Mayo River. Much of this land bad been taken away, but Chacho his family and friends were fighting in court to retain those remaining parcels. The map showed the parcels that were deeded to Chaco's family.

During the interesting meeting a man drove up in a white pickup. He was big and tall. He greeted us in Spanish and the Yoeme elders greeted him in Yoeme. He was surprised so he greeted us in Yoreme. He was friendly to all of us and suddenly he pulled Chacho wide and asked him who we were, what did we want and why did be invite us into his home. He told him not to give out too much information because people couldn't be trusted. At that time I saw Chacho as a small child being scolded by an older brother. I know the older man meant no harm to Chacho but be wanted to be sure that Chacho was more careful the next time on who he invites into his home. In a way, I thought, Chacho's brother was absolutely right. We were strangers who were made up of Yoeme peoples from the Yaqui River, Yoeme people from Arizona, and two Anglos from Arizona. We were a very unusual collection of people and this was truly very surprising to Chacho and his brother. But towards the end of the visit everybody was happy and comfortable. Chacho's brother talked to the elders in Yoreme which sounded very beautiful. They didn't know very much about the places mentioned in the ''Testamento" but they talked about the problems with the land. I think that the Mexican government considers Chacho place as prime land maybe for developing a subdivision for the growing city of Navojoa I hope Chacho and his family can win the case and remain on the land that they love.


Don Alfonso believed that the "Testamento" was created by "the ones who were left" when the great flood subsided. To us at least he did not say that "the ones who were left" wrote it down. He said, "they talked like this/they made this." When was the Testamento first written down? Was it written in Yaqui or Spanish or some combination? Did the "Testamento" or any parts of it exist in written form before Juan Valenzuela set down his version? These are questions that we pursued in two ways. First we searched published sources and those archival sources available to us in the hope of turning up some prior version. Second and more generally we considered the question of the extent and function of Yaqui vernacular literacy as a way of creating a context for understanding this one piece of Yaqui writing. With regard to our first concern, as might be predicted, we did not find much. One tantalizing reference we report below. What follows is a discussion of what we have learned about the history and functions of Yaqui vernacular literacy that illuminates the Testamento.

Don Alfonso recalled that "in ancient times" Yaquis used the white bark of the nawi'o [Acacia willardiana] as hiosia, paper. However, there is no suggestion among the Yaquis of a native writing system that predates the Conquest, such as the Mayan, nor of a "native" writing system that developed later independent of the European alphabet, such as the one devised by the Apache visionary, Silas John Edwards, early in the twentieth century (Vazquez 1978; Basso and Anderson 1977). The earliest context for Yaqui literacy seems to have been the church. In this regard, the Yaqui situation Seems consistent with the well-documented global pattern of missionary efforts spearheading the spread of literacy, especially through the agency of such "literacy specialists" as catechists and lay readers (Goody 1968; Reder and Green 1983).

Church-based Yaqui literacy began in the seventeenth century. Jesuit missionaries lived on Yaqui lands from 1617 until they were removed from the New World *in 1767. Some Yaquis became literate during that time in connection with their work as catechists for the Jesuits. And it is possible that those Yaquis began to write in their own language at that time as well.

Don Alfonso suggested this to us in a startling way April 15, 1989, when, during a visit to Yoem Pueblo, he gave us a handwritten document titled "Primer Matros Yaquis del Año 1619." The document names the first eight maehtom, Yaqui lay priests, and identifies them as catechists for Andrés Pérez de Rabas, the first Jesuit to enter Yaqui lands in 1617. Neither of us asked about or requested such a document. We had not the slightest notion that one existed. Don Alfonso brought it forward, we assume, in response to the continuing interest we had shown in the "Testamento" and to general questions we raised regarding traditions of Yaqui vernacular literacy. Don Alfonso could not (would not?) say where he got the list. The following is a transcription of the document:

Primer Matros Yaquis del Año 1619
Coihocoi: Maesto Juan Jose Taspahalia
Bascom: Maesto Jose Lauti Kaita
Torim: Maesto Jose Sule Paulea
Vicam: Maesto Jose Sipriano Tajillamea
Potam: Maesto Jose Francisco Gohita Amauteki
Raum: Maesto Jose Juaquin Lilibela Masak
Huiribis: Maesto Juan Antonio Machihi Huikit
Belén: Maesto Jose Ma[ria] Tailla Masakame
Catequisado por Andrez Perez de Viva
Primer del Yaqui de Jesuista del Año 1619

Again, it seems likely that traditions of Yaqui vernacular literacy are rooted in the practice of the Yaqui catechists, the lay priests, the maehtom.

A copy of this document, "Primer Matros Yaquis del Año 1619," listing the names of the first Yaqui maehtom, lay priests, was given to Evers and Molina by Don Alfonso Florez Leyva.


How widespread such a priestly literacy was among the Yaquis during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is an open question, a question that can only be answered following intensive research in the scattered documents from that era. At present we know of no documentation that indicates that Yaquis practiced the kind of vernacular literacy in their daily affairs that speakers of the Massachusett Indian languages practiced about the same time period in the praying towns of late seventeenth and eighteenth century colonial North America (Goddard and Bragdon 1988). Goddard and Bragdon's intensive research indicates that Massachusett writers left a variety of records they kept in the Massachusett language. Some of this relates to the work of preachers but there are also documents written by magistrates, justices of the peace, constables, school teachers, and so on.

On the basis of the reports of the early Jesuit missionaries available to him, Spicer writes that "the prayers and the Mass for the Dead had been written in Yaqui since the 1620s" (Spicer 1980:326). Schools run by the Jesuits were sites for the development of this literacy, which centered on the religious practice of the maehtom the Yaqui lay priests. The Yaqui maehtom became increasingly active and central to the religious life of the Yaqui pueblos after the Jesuit removal in 1767, although Spicer notes that a Franciscan priest, Francisco Joaquin Valdez, revived a Jesuit mission school at "Rahum in the last third of the eighteenth century (Spicer 1980:126).

Yaqui priestly literacy, as we know it in the twentieth century, involves writing in Spanish, Latin, and Yaqui. It is practiced in the preparation and transmission of liturgical prayers and the like by Yaqui priests, and is motivated by a desire to continue Yaqui religion. The practice of keeping animam, a "Book of the Dead" is an example. An individual family purchases a notebook, then has a maehtom come over to the house and write in the names of the deceased from that family. The family might prepare written notes prior to the maehtom's visit, but the maehtom must inscribe the names in the book. In addition, he adds special drawings that have meaning in Yaqui religion. This priestly practice is one longstanding tradition of Yaqui literacy to which the "Testamento" may be related.

Although a church-based literacy seems prior historically and prominent in contemporary settings, contexts for Yaqui literacy have been multiple. Certainly, the uses of literacy for Yaquis have long extended into active political resistance. The earliest known document written in Yaqui is a letter by a Yaqui from Torim in 1747 protesting the behavior of a Jesuit priest (Lemmon 1980). Spicer suggests of Yaqui writing that there was "a more or less standardized script which had been in general use since at least the early 1800s" (Spicer 1980:176). Ten letters written in Yaqui between 1830 and 1832 by Juan Ignacio Jusacamea, the famous Yaqui political leader known as Juan Bandera, provide examples of this script (Dedrick 1985). Jusacamea wanted to unite Yaquis and other native peoples in an effort to drive out Mexican colonists and to return control of their homelands to the native peoples of Sonora. The context for his writing in Yaqui was his political resistance. Other early examples of Yaqui literacy include lists of Yaqui battles organized chronologically by years (Johnson 1962). All of this suggests the practice of Yaqui political leaders as another (non-church-based) context for Yaqui vernancular literacy.

An extremely suggestive example of this context in terms of our discussion of the "Testamento" is the case with which William Curry Holden opens and closes his collection Studies of the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico (1936). Holden reports that his own interest in Yaqui studies was sparked in the early 1930s by the stories of a U.S. Border Patrol agent named Ivan Williams. Holden met Williams in Texas, where Williams had moved after working with the Immigration Service in Tucson, Arizona. While Border Patrolman Williams was working in Tucson in 1926, he befriended a group of Yaqui refugees who were driven out of Mexico by an aggressive campaign on the part of the Mexican government to take the Yaqui homelands along the Río Yaqui. This was no doubt a part of the same campaign we noted earlier that forced Miki Romero and his family into the Vakatetteve Mountains to live off agave.

Williams was sympathetic to the Yaquis' political struggle against the Mexican government, and he was apparently trusted by the Yaquis to the extent that they made him an honorary member of the Coyote Society. Williams and the leader of the refugees, a "General" Angel Flores, sent word down to "the chiefs of the Yaqui villages on the Río Yaqui in Sonora requesting them to have some of their history written down and sent to Tucson." That General Flores was in contact with leaders in the Río Yaqui is attested independently by respected anthropologist Ralph Beals, who, looking back at the beginnings of his own research among the Yaquis, writes that it was the same General Angel Flores, "a Yaqui war chief living in Pascua Village," who provided Beals "a letter of safe conduct, written in Yaqui." Beals used this instance of Yaqui vernacular literacy to introduce himself among the Sonoran Yaquis as he began his fieldwork there in the 1930s (Crumrine 1987: 1). The irony of an anthropologist beginning fieldwork for what is still widely regarded as the definitive work on "the aboriginal culture of the Yaquis" with a letter written in Yaqui by Yaquis to Yaquis should not be missed.

In any case, as W C. Holden tells it, the Sonoran leaders decided to comply with the General Flores/Ivan Williams request and "directed one of their tribe who could operate a typewriter to write the tribal traditions as dictated by the old men." Yaquis then were writing their own culture on a typewriter years before the anthropologists most known for writing Yaqui culture arrived on the scene. The results of this early Yaqui community history project were initially sent north through the mails. Unfortunately, "the Mexicans intercepted" the letters and they did not reach Tucson. Another plan was devised: "They typed a chapter on cloth, sewed it in the lining of a shirt, put the shirt on a runner who carried it over the secret trails to Tucson." Williams reported that "every few weeks a runner would arrive at Tucson with a 'shirt full of history"' (Holden 1936:7). These installments were written in Yaqui and, once translated into Spanish by Flores and into English by Williams, added up eventually to "about 8,000 words."

We do not know if any of the cloth documents or the translations made from them now exist. W. C. Holden wrote to us August 21, 1989, that "Ivan Williams promised to show but we never saw him in Tucson or the shirts." Holden closes Studies of the Yaqui Indians with a piece titled "The Life and Doings of the Yaqui Indian of the San Ygnacio Yaqui River, as furnished to Ivan Williams, of the U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration Service, Tucson, Arizona, by General Guadalupe Flores, of Pascua Village, Tucson, Arizona, written by Juan Amarillas, Yaqui historian" (Holden 1936:126-31).

This may be a version of the translation of the "shirt full of history." It is a tangled and difficult narrative account that orbits around conflicts, suffering, and deceit involving such Yaqui leaders as Juan Banderas, José María Cajeme, and Juan Tetabiate. At one point the Yaqui historian tells, intriguingly for our present purpose, how the Mexican forces captured Cajeme who had "all the honors of the Yaquis ... flags and Testano and everything else," Notes preserved in the Spicer Collection Archives at the Arizona State Museum contain an entry dated September 1, 1942 and attributed to Lucas Chavez that amplify this intriguing connection. We quote the entire entry:

Lucas has heard not only from his relatives (when a boy in R.[ío] Y.[aqui]), but from Yaqui ranch and railroad hands all up through the country thru which he has passed, discussions and comments on the fact that the Mexicans can never really conquer the Río Yaqui because, try as they may, they will never learn where to find the documents of the Yaquis history, the conquest, how they got their flag, exactly where the Yaqui "line" is. They will never find the documents because nobody but Cajeme knew where they were hidden (buried); and they will never know the contents because no Yaqui will ever tell them. (Nobody knows all of what is written in these documents, but there are those who know parts of it. Those who knew it well are now dead.)

When the war started, Cajeme made up from these documents a series of papers which serve as title to the Río Yaqui. So with this I tell you that the Yaqui property is hidden. Diaz wanted to get these papers; for if he could have them in his possession he could say of the Río Yaqui, defining the Yaqui territory exactly, "This is mine." But he was never able to get the papers. I know they are somewhere; and because of this I'm always searching. Many Yaquis claim to know nothing. (As indeed they did; for Cajeme alone knew.) The Mexicans, in their hunt for a Yaqui who could be made to tell them this secret, were like Herod, who killed all the children at that time, in order that one, Jesuscristo, might not live. Pues, no tiene Mexico ninguna cosa a probar que el Río Yaqui es de Mexico. They have even made Yaquis into padres in the hope that these may sign the Yaqui nation over to them. Se los llevaron a hacerles sacerdotes para que pudieron firmar que es de Mexico. No lo han hecho, no pueden firmar eso. Alla esta la razon.

Could Cajeme's "Testano," Juan Valenzuela's "Rahum Land Myths," and the "Testamento" under discussion descend one from another? Possibly, but of course, we do not know. The link remains a tantalizing possibility. We should note that these Yaqui oral traditions dramatically counterpoint the "official" documentary history about Cajeme. Ramon Corral, a contemporary of Cajeme, published a "Biografia de José María Leyva Cajeme" in a collection, Obras Historicas. Corral's "Biografia" is "official" in this sense: when Cajeme, was finally captured in April 1887 he was interviewed at great length by Corral, whom Evelyn Hu-DeHart calls a "Sonoran statesman," "leading Porfirista spokesman for progress," and self-appointed official biographer of Cajeme, Hu-DeHart reports that Cajeme was very open and responsive to all of Corral's queries regarding his personal life. She continues that "with total recollection of dates and details, he also proudly recounted how he had built the separate state in the Yaqui River and how he led his people to defend their independence (Hu-DeHart 1984:114-15). Finally, however, the Corral portrait of Cajeme, is of a man who accepted his defeat and who in defeat even claims to be a "patriotic Mexican," one who had joined other Mexicans in resisting North American domination. Such a story could hardly accommodate the actions Lucas Chavez attributes to Cajeme, It is not surprising that a testamento or other Yaqui-written documents, whether in Yaqui or Spanish, are not mentioned by Corral.

What is known to us about writing by Yaquis prior to the 1930s thus leaves key questions unanswered: Did the "Testamento" exist in written form before Juan Valenzuela committed it to writing? Was the "Testamento," especially the first part, lines 1-128, ever written entirely in Yaqui'? What we think our review does strongly suggest is that Juan Valenzuela and his colleagues at Rahum wrote, that they participated in a very longstanding tradition of Yaqui vernacular literacy practiced in both Yaqui and Spanish, and that such a tradition had already been used for centuries in the service of political resistance.

Since we have been writing and talking about the "Testamento" many people have asked me about the use of Spanish in Yoeme communities. Are there Yoeme words for "line, " "boundary, " book " etc. ? I want to try to answer some of these questions.

When we talk about a line on a piece of paper, on the wall, on a board, and etc., we usually use the Yoeme word linia, which is from the Spanish word linea. Many Yoeme people are comfortable in using this word in everyday conversation. This word has been completely adopted into the Yoeme language and made into a different sound by dropping the Spanish "e" and putting in the Yoeme sound.

In certain instances when we are talking about a line we use the word witta. This word means to make a line with a pencil stick, or other instrument. When the line is made, it is called witti. Witti can also mean "straight." Here are two examples: witti siika/went straight and witti nooka/talking straight.

So in remembering the first encounter of the Yoeme with the Spanish we remember the elder Yoeme telling the Spanish soldiers not to cross the line be bad drawn on the ground When we picture that past moment mentally and pretend that we were there to witness the action, and then talk to the family about it, we might say: u yoem yo'owe kutai bwiata wittah/ The elder man made a line with a stick on the earth. And then looking at the line drawn on the ground we would say: bwiapo witti/ line made on the earth.

"Im tahti atteari/ up to here is owned" would be the way we would say "boundary" or "dividing line' in Yoeme We use this expression a lot in regard to land, to parcels of farmland or grazing land. If you were standing at the limit, the edge of such land, you might say: ini si'ime hiak bwia/ this is all Yoeme land. The Yoeme in Sonora use the word lindero/ boundary a lot too.

With regard to written lines on paper, books, we use the word livrom, from the Spanish libro. Again the Yoeme of Sonora and Arizona have completely adopted this word into our language. The Yoeme words hiohte/ writing and hiosia/paper makes some of us wonder if some sort of writing system existed in the ancient past, but nothing is really known about this. Hiosa noka/ talking paper is what we call reading. I think that more research could be done on this subject.

Now with regard to the first part of the 'Testamento, " many people ask if that was ever written in Yoeme I have thought about this a lot, and I don't think so. I think that we have told the stories of the Testamento in Yoeme since the beginning. But it doesn't seem that these stories have ever been written in Yoeme I think for some reason they just wrote that down in Spanish. People also ask if the first part of the Testamento could be written in Yoeme. The answer to that is yes, of course The "Testamento" could easily be translated into Yoeme from Spanish. I could do that, and others could too. It might be nice to see it written in Yoeme, but not that many people would be able to read it with pleasure. Fluent Yoeme speakers would read it roughly, stop and go. Telling the story orally in Yoeme is much better understood by the speakers and the listeners.

Then people ask if we ever will unite this part in Yoeme I don't know about that. Maybe, but it seems that for uncertain reasons the majority of the people who have worked with the Testamento so far have preferred Spanish over Yaqui. I have tried to consider what they bad in mind when they did that. I think that they probably could have written it in Yaqui but they didn't. They wrote it in Spanish. Maybe the writers of the Testamento saw that many people in the future would be literate in Spanish so the decision was probably made to go ahead and unite it in Spanish. It would be more easily read by a wider audience in the Yoeme community. Maybe in back of the writers' minds it was intended for the invading and encroaching Mexicans. I think this is very possible even though the writers kept telling visiting anthropologists not to share this with the Mexicans. Maybe they really did want the Mexicans to read the information and start undemanding Yaqui people.

The "Testamento" in Yoeme is a possibility in the future It would surely be kept as an example of Yaqui writing style of the twentieth century for future Yaqui people to study, read, and enjoy.


Audience is an issue that rises as we compare what we know of Don Alfonso's "Testamento" with what Edward H. Spicer reports from Juan Valenzuela and the other Rahum intellectuals. According to Spicer, Juan Valenzuela and his associates regarded the "Testamento" as a text written by Yaquis for Yaquis, a text that should not circulate beyond their villages for fear that it would fall into the hands of "the Mexicans." This attitude is underlined in the archival material from Lucas Chavez we have just quoted above. Our discussions with Don Alfonso and other Yaquis in the 1980s indicate that audiences for the Testamento in recent years have certainly continued to exist within Yaqui communities on several levels: within individual families, among representatives of a single village, and among representatives of the Eight Pueblos.

At the same time, those like Don Alfonso who have continued and circulated the "Testamento" since Juan Valenzuela's time have clearly envisioned an audience beyond Yaqui communities as well. As we have seen, one factor that has motivated Yaqui vernacular writing historically has been the desire to gain the sympathy of possible supporters who might aid in the struggle against those who would appropriate Yaqui lands. Another statement written by Sonoran Yaquis and presented to Holden by "a delegation of Yaqui chiefs" in 1934 provides a useful example:

The Yaquis have possessed in common these lands, which amount to thirty thousand acres, from time immemorial. We raise on them abundant crops which permit us to live in absolute *independence and with no need to do harm to anyone. These lands have tempted; the covetousness of several speculators. . . . We Indians say: The idea of our neighbors, the Mexicans, is merely to ruin our lands ... their idea is not to respect our rights. (Holden 1936:132-33)

The audience for this kind of vernacular writing appears to be external rather than internal, aimed at audiences far outside the Río Yaqui area who might assist the Yoeme in their ongoing struggles to protect their land base. Don Alfonso's comments about the audience for the copies of the "Testamento" are notable in this regard for they connect the "Testamento" with just such an external audience. As we noted above, Don Alfonso reported to us that each of the Eight Pueblos was given a copy at a meeting in Rahum during the early 1950s. He suggested that these copies have been used in recent debates over implementing a "municipality" a proposed alternative to the traditional Eight Pueblo governance system that is rumored to be supported by the Banco de Credito Rural del Noroeste and other Mexican interests. What the substance of these allegations is we do not know, but it is important for our present purpose that this is the perception of those who are continuing to circulate the "Testamento." In addition Don Alfonso told us that sometime in the late 1950s a copy of the "Testamento" was sent to Washington, D.C. (Wachintowi), as part of a plea for the U.S. government to intervene in support of the Yaquis' claims to their aboriginal land. At about the same time a group of elders also took a copy to Phoenix to present to the governor of Arizona in the hope that he would side with them against the threats of Mexican colonists. We do not know whether the "Testamento" got to Wachintowi. We do know that a group of Yaqui leaders got as far as the office of the Governor of Arizona, then occupied by Ernest W. McFarland, to discuss their land problems, and, according to Don Alfonso, a proposal that the Río Yaqui area be made a part of the United States.16

Since at least the 1950s then the "Testamento" has been offered to audiences far outside the Río Yaqui. This external audience for the "Testamento" relates to a longtime and often reported Yaqui political tactic of taking their complaints about encroachments on their aboriginal lands over the heads of local and regional Mexican officialdom to the doors of the most highly ranked officials they can reach, preferably the president (Lutes 1987:13-14; McGuire 1986).17 The "Testamento," as it has continued since the 1950s, appears to be addressed to audiences both within and without the Río Yaqui area. It provides authority to protect the perimeter from challenges without (encroachment by Mexicans and other outsiders) as well as to protect the center, the Eight Village governance system, from challenges within (those wanting to initiate other methods of governance).

On our way back from a trip to the southern part of the Yoeme lands we pulled off the international highway to photograph the mountains Totoitakuse'epo and Samawaaka. It was late afternoon and the light was beautiful. All of the Vakatetteve Mountains were glowing in the east againt a clear blue sky. David, Larry, and I walked over the railroad tracks, crossed a barbed wire fence, and went into the desert toward the mountains. Don Alfonso and Steve decided to stay with the truck.

It was nice to walk in the desert and look at the various desert plants. I felt good just walking and looking at various plants. We all walked in different directions. I bad a camera so I took a few pictures of different plants that I wanted to think about some more. Birds were flying here and there and chirping away. Once in a while I would just stop and look out into the distance and study the mountains. As I continued to walk I felt good inside. I wondered if Larry and David were feeling the same way. I knew my brother, Steve, felt good just being in the Yoeme land. I wished be was with us walking in the desert at this time. Later be told me that be didn't come out to the desert with us because be was worried about Don Alfonso who bad been sick.

Every time I go into the desert either in Arizona or Sonora I always feel happy. This is why some Yoeme elders have complained about the clearing of desert land for more farming. They wanted the land to remain as before so that the coming generations may see and enjoy the beauty of the desert. The Yoeme people in Sonora still have a chance to save the desert, but up here in Arizona it seems that we are just part of the system that destroys the beauty of the desert. All we can do is feel pity for the land.

Among the traditional Yoeme people in Arizona we say, "ata hiokole o'oven waka huya aniata tavesa haisate anne - we feel sorry for the wilderness world but what can we do?" Other Yoeme people are careless because they don't understand the meaning of caring for the land. Many times it is not their fault because they just don't know.

I was thinking about these things walking in the desert up toward the Vakatetteve Mountains when I saw Larry at a distance. I walked over to him because it was probably about time to go back to the truck. As I got closer I saw that be bad something in his bands. He looked happy and be told me that be had just found an arrow bead. I said, "You did! I can't believe it. " All the time I have traveled in Yoeme land and I have never found one. I felt happy for Larry. I believe that when somebody finds something like that it is like a gift. We say "a miikwa, you are given it." Then as we stood there talking about the obsidian point we realized that the whole area around us was an area where the people stayed. There were mounds of shells and pottery sherds scattered all aver. I wondered if this could have been one place that the Yoeme people camped while they were fighting the Mexican soldiers. I thought of the stories told by Miki Romero, the man Don Alfonso got the Testamento from. Miki Romero talked a lot about bow the people bad to quickly move camps during those fighting times to escape the Mexicans. They went back and forth from the mountains to their village, maybe along these ridges where we were standing. "Itom achai o'olata itom nunuk kaita intoko, " Miki Romero said, "when our old father (God) asks for us there is nothing else." He said that those were dangerous times and that there were many hardships. The bullets were flying here and there past them. Some young men caught bullets and died. Some did not get bit because it wasn't their time. There has been much suffering in the desert that is so beautiful and peaceful to me.


We return by way of concluding to our epigraph from Edward Said: "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" (Said 1983:8). Interpretive accounts of Native American cultures are of course legion, and quite a few of them offer extended analyses of the relationship to place as homeland. During a discussion at the First Convocation of American Indian Scholars in 1970, Alfonso Ortiz quoted a statement issued by the people of Taos Pueblo during their long fight to regain parts of their own homeland:

We have lived upon this land from days beyond history's records, far past any living memory, deep into the time of legend. The story of my people and the story of this place are one single story. No man can think of us without thinking of this place. We are always joined together. (Henry 1970:35)

Maricopa elder Ralph Cameron adds the complexity of his people's more recent history to this idea:

When I was young, I saw my land as I grew up.
The rivers were many and without price.
The mountains there had not been touched.
They were beautiful, tall and big and they
stood out.
The land I was born on was clean,
The rain washed it and purified it.
You saw it and it was very good.
Now it is not like that.
I see this.
This is my tradition.
A tree half fallen down with its roots showing
I feel
I am like that,
I say we will stand again. (Cameron 1984)

Working from statements of this sort, leading interpreters of Native America as expansive as Vine Deloria, Jr. (God Is Red) and as exact as Keith Basso (Western Apache Language and Culture) have argued that a pivotal equation characterizes Native American cultures: a storied homeland establishes authority. Stories invested in the land return to invest authority. Alfonso Ortiz has translated a Tewa Pueblo prayer that expresses this reciprocity directly:

Within and around the earth,
within and around the hills,
within and around the mountains,
your authority returns to you. (Ortiz 1969:13)

Don Alfonso's "Testamento" is very much in the tradition of these stories about native homeland. His narrative realizes a reciprocity that is very like the one articulated in this Tewa prayer and a function that is very like the homeland traditions of so many other Native American communities. It generates an authority that the Yaqui have attempted to exercise in support of their land claims. Authority comes back out of the landscape through the stories "far past any living memory" and through the stories that tell of a common history of oppression and colonization. Appeals to such an authority have been the basis for countless tribal land claims cases.

What is challenging about Don Alfonso's "Testamento" by contrast with other native traditions of homeland is "the range of meanings and ideas" Yaquis associate with the phrase "being at home in a place," a range which seems considerably wider than that in many other Native American communities. So far as we can see this extended range of meanings and ideas does not create any problems for Yaqui people themselves. However, if our experience in talking about the "Testamento" with others is any indication, the presence of a Genesis-like flood and figures like Jesus Christ and angels sent by God greatly complicates the desire of non-Yaquis who want to think of all Native Americans, Yaquis included, as "pure," the guardians of an "unchanging aboriginal essence." "How can this be Yaqui?" they ask.

Don Bahr has written a study that compares the Yaqui "Testamento" to much longer texts recorded from the Pima-Papago and Riverine Yumans. Bahr argues that all three narratives share three elements: "a flood at the beginning, the murder of a man-god in the middle, and a long march at the end." His study demonstrates "a regional Indianness" in the "Testamento," despite its "relative brevity and the Christian references." Bahr suggests that Jesus is the Yaqui mythological equivalent to the other peoples' "murdered man-gods." Yet he observes that Jesus is only referred to by allusion in the Yaqui "Testamento," and that unlike the Pima-Papago and Yuman narratives, the "Testamento" is not about the murder of a man-god. Rather, it is much more about the "long march" which established the Holy Dividing Line (Bahr, "Easter, Keruk, and Wi:gita").

We believe then that Don Alfonso's "Testamento" demonstrates forcefully that Yaqui culture has been maintained over the last four hundred and fifty years, not through all-or-nothing conversions or resistances but through appropriation and interaction, a productive interpenetration of Christian and Yaqui sources and experiences that is transmitted both orally and in writing (Clifford 1988:342). Over the centuries a vital continuity has remained. Both the old man's line scratched on the earth in 1533 and Don Alfonso's "Testamento" copied in a spiral notebook in 1988 are acts of inscription that share a common goal: the preservation and maintenance of Hiakim, the Yaqui homeland.


This is where the matter stood when at the end of July 1991 we dropped the manuscript of this essay off at the offices of the Journal of the Southwest. At the same time we sent copies to a few colleagues for their comment. One went to Donald Bahr, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, whose careful reading of the manuscript has greatly strengthened it. Another went to Rosamond Spicer. On August 2, Roz Spicer called: "Larry, I found some files that slipped down behind the drawers. I think you and Felipe should come out and look at them."

We arranged to spend a morning at the Spicer house a few days later. An exciting morning it was for us. Roz dug out photographs she had taken in Potam, and she and Felipe were able to find photographs of a number of the Yaquis we knew only by name from our conversations with Don Alfonso. Meanwhile Larry read the lost file Roz discovered. It did indeed contain a typescript of Juan Valenzuela's version of the "Testamento" dated March 12, 1942. That version is published below. Access to the 1942 typescript of Juan Valenzuela's version quickly answered some of the questions we labor over above. It existed, and in essentially the form and with the parts contained in Don Alfonso's version. That is, we were wrong about our speculation that the second part was added in the early 1950s. But other questions remained. Especially, what were the circumstances under which the typescript was made? Was Spicer's typescript the first written version of this narrative? Roz generously showed us the drawers of files and invited us to have a look for anything that might help. In a few minutes we located a file titled "Potam Draft and Fieldnotes" and in that file two wonderful sketches: one a portrait titled "Juan M. Valenzuela," the other an account of the recording of Valenzuela's stories at Rahum titled "Mythology." In "Mythology," Spicer writes of the stories:

they are not tight little literary creations which could be the product of one man, by any means. They could have been, I suspect, written out in a dozen different versions. Juan himself might have written them otherwise than he did in his blue line-ruled notebook. He did not seem deeply concerned that we should get the words down on our typed copies precisely as he had them. He was much more interested in explaining what was meant.

So Juan Valenzuela had a version of the "Testamento" written down in a line-ruled notebook before he met with Spicer. Indeed, in his fieldnotes for March 2, 1942, Spicer indicates that Juan Valenzuela. himself reported that the Yaquis at Rahum had enjoyed an active engagement with books and writing until it was disrupted: "In Rahum they used to have many things such as typewriters and books, but these were lost when everybody took to the hills. Everyone left Rahum in 1927 and went into the hills. They are trying to raise enough money to buy another typewriter but so far everyone there is too poor."