Native Americans are the true experts about Indian travels and ways of life. The Yaqui people have used oral traditions to pass their rich history from one generation to the next. This is the history of the Yaqui as told by Ernesto Quiroga Sandoval, Historian, Pascua Yaqui Tribe.
The Creator made ocean animals and allowed some to emerge onto land. Some evolved into a short human form: the Surem. These are the early ancestors of the Yaquis. The Surem lived in a time out of mind and were a peace-loving, gentle people who had no need for government. Life in the Sonoran desert was a harmonious perfection for the Surem until God spoke through a little tree and prophesied about new horticultural techniques, Christianity, savage invaders, and disunity. The Surem became frightened about parts of this message and transformed into taller, defensive farming people called Yaquis (Hiakim) or Yo'emem (The People).
The Yaquis were well accustomed to the many parts of North America. By 552 AD, Yaquis were living in family groups along the Yaqui River (Yoem Vatwe) north to the Gila River, where they gathered wild desert foods, hunted game and cultivated corn, beans, and squash. Yaquis traded native foods, furs, shells, salt, and other goods with many indigenous groups of central North America. Among these groups are the Shoshone, the Comanche, the Pueblos, the Pimas, the Aztecs, and the Toltec. Yaquis roamed extensively in pre-Columbian times and sometimes settled among other native groups like the Zunis.
It is said, "We had been told in a revelation from Heaven, that God had given to the Yaquis a homeland around the Yaqui River." The Yaquis trained themselves to fight, withstand pain, and die if necessary to protect God-given land and family life. By 1414, the Yaquis were organized into autonomous, yet unified, cultural and military groups.
In 1533, the Yaquis saw the first white men: a Spanish military expedition searching for slaves. The Spanish who initiated warfare were soundly defeated, but took thousands of Yaqui lives. Between 1608 and 1610 the Spanish repeatedly attacked the Yaqui people. The Yaquis proved they could raise a fighting force of 7,000 within a few hours to successfully defend Yaqui land and cultural integrity.
Rio Yaqui, photographed by Amalia Reyes