The Elders' Truth: A Yaqui Sermon


Impressed by his wide knowledge and vigor, we invited Miki Maaso to take part in a deer singers' conference which we sponsored, with the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona, at Yoem Pueblo, the Yaqui community in Marana, Arizona. The conference was Felipe Molina's idea, a way, he hoped, to deepen understandings of practicing Yaqui singers on both sides of the international border as well as to stimulate interest in deer singing among younger Yaquis in Arizona. Miki Maaso came up for the conference from his home in the Rio Yaqui area of Sonora, accompanied by his three sons and his brother, Luis, a renowned deer dancer. On December 22, 1987, they conducted a session at Felipe's home for a group of about a dozen young deer singers. We also invited some non-Yaquis to this session. With the permission of Miki and Luis Maaso, David Burckhalter took photographs. On this occasion, Miki Maaso gave an extended talk on deer singing, then followed by singing deer songs as Luis Maaso danced. In between songs, Miki Maaso offered additional commentary on the art of deer singing. The following is a transcription and translation of his performance. Bold face in the text indicates end note. For those who would like to listen to Miki Maaso's talk and his singing, we have prepared an audiotape of this performance. It may be obtained by writing to the Southwest Center, 1052 N. Highland, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721.

MURIEL THAYER PAINTER WRITES THAT SERMONS are "thought of as general instruction for the people in ancient Yaqui spiritual and religious beliefs and moral codes, as well as explanations of the meanings of the ceremonies" (With Good Heart, 112). She worked with Refugio Savala in publishing the sermon Ignacio Alvarez gave at the conclusion of the Easter ceremonies at Old Pascua in 1941. Yaqui sermons are delivered on many other occasions. Deer singers frequently give a sermon early in the morning near the conclusion of the pahkom, the ceremonies in which they perform. While the talk Miki Maaso gave on the occasion of our deer singers' conference was not a part of any ceremony, he seems to have shaped it as a hinavaka, a Yaqui sermon. Much of what he has to say has to do with the responsibilities connected with the elders' truth. Lutu'uria, truth, refers collectively to the whole of Yaqui traditional knowledge. Sometimes in Yaqui sermons, it is called yoem lutu'uria, the Yoeme truth, or yo lutu'uria, the enchanted truth, or, as here, yo'ora lutu'uria the elders' truth. The elders' truth is knowledge about living in the Yaqui world that is considered central by virtue of being held in the memories of respected community elders. The role of the community and of acting in the community looms large in the definition of this knowledge. Edward H. Spicer writes that those who actively recognize the obligations of Yaqui religion and who submit themselves throughout their lives to fulfilling them are "said to have lutu'uria to have demonstrated this highest of all human qualities" (The Yaquis, 8 5). Acting in the world of Yaqui ceremonialism is a key element: "Whatever goodness of spirit one may have must be expressed in ceremonial labor if it is to be recognized and spoken of as lutu'uria." Lutu'uria cannot be realized merely by having thoughts or dreams or visions of certain kinds. It requires action within the context of Yaqui ceremonialism. For Miki Maaso, this ceremonial labor is his deer singing. The knowledge he has gained as a deer singer is the truth he offers to the young Yaquis in his audience on this occasion.

We have written an extended discussion of this sermon and of the deer singers' conference in our essay, "'Like This It Stays in Your Hands': Collaboration and Ethnopoetics," which will appear in a special issue of the journal Oral Tradition, edited by Barre Toelken and Larry Evers.

-----F.S.M. and L.E.


Evers, Larry, and Felipe S. Molina. Yaqui Deer Songs: Maso Bwikam. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1987.

Painter, Muriel Thayer. With Good Heart. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1986.

-------, Refugio Savala, and Ignacio Alvarez, eds. A Yaqui Easter Sermon. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1955.

Spicer, Edward H. The Yaquis. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1980.


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Journal of the Southwest
Vol. 35, Number 3, Autumn 1993
Copyright 1993 by the Arizona Board of Regents. All rights reserved.