There is evidence that between 40,000 and 13,000 years ago the Bering Land Bridge connected Alaska and Siberia as a route that people eventually traveled to the Southwest. This was a bridge of land that appeared and disappeared based on the rise and ebb of the ocean due to glaciers melting and freezing over and over again. This happened over thousands of years and many scientists feel that ancient people went back and forth between the two continents. Scientists have based much of their research on the size of the points on spears found called Clovis points– they started out very large and diminished to smaller blades and points as ancient people changed their type of hunting from big game to smaller animals. Until recently the Clovis people were identified by their spears. The Clovis people appear in all parts of the United States; they were big game hunters who were always on the move following the large animals. There is evidence of these paleohunters in the Colorado River basin of the Southwest. Because they moved from site to site, they left little behind and it is though that most of their goods and personal possession were made of items that didn’t last. It is thought they hunted in small groups, killing animals to the point of extinction and continued to move south in search of animals eventually settling in the Grand Canyon area. Archeologists can surmise that the Paleo hunters conceptualization of time followed the pattern of the celestial and natural world. “ In hunter-gatherer societies, humans lived by the recurring rhythms of nature” (Esposito et all 2011). The decrease of large game led them to explore new sources of food and they became small game hunters and gatherers of nuts, seeds and other plants. By 9,000 more people had immigrated to the Grand Canyon area and the Archaic period began (Sheridan 1996). There are very little records of these early people; evidence of Clovis points and how they evolved, but little else and the Clovis people all but disappeared.
Religion is defined a total commitment to a power that one believes controls your destiny and is evidenced through ritual, ceremony and myth. One might infer because they were hunters that religion, ritual and myths all centered around the rhythms of earth and the animals that they hunted . The most widespread characteristic of indigenous religions is there are many highly active spiritual beings “…there is nothing that can be seen or touched, living or inanimate, that does not have a spirit” (Time Life 9). Everything is done to maintain a balanced life. Everything that exists possesses a soul and has special, magical powers; everything is mutually dependent and it is important to maintain harmony between humans, the elements and the spirits. As the large game began to disappear, the Paleo people probably thought they had violate the sacred way of nature and they were responsible for the orderly balance of nature being out of whack. The sacred way is a common theme among all Southwest tribes.
Silver ore was discovered in the Southwest in 1583 but wasn’t until fifty years later that actually mining began by the Spanish. Beginning in the late 1500s through the 20th century Native people were enslaved, persecuted by zealous religious groups and thought to be inferior; there was little to no .understanding of Indian tradition, customs or culture. Father Eusebio Kino was the first Jesuit missionary to establish a mission in the Southwest and he oversaw the missions between 1687 to 1711; many of the Spanish friars thought their mission was to civilize the native people through Catholicism.
Some people lived in areas that were not as easily as accessible, while others quickly adapted the Spanish ways and moved onto mission land and helped farm and care for the mission. Over the course of time, Catholicism and Christianity have been woven into Southwest rituals, ceremonies and myths. Even tribes that were not as involved with the missions, still have pieces in their rituals that have traces of Catholicism. One example is the Yoeman (Yaqui) people who have fused Aztecan and Catholic ritual and beliefs into their own unique religion:
The Yoemen spiritual world is actually comprised of as many of nine, distinct worlds called aniam; the sea ania, flower world is one of these worlds. 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…”(Pascua Yaqui Tribe: 2009). God spoke through a humming mesquite tree and predicted the future: floods, famine, drought, new inventions, drugs and some of the Surem didn’t like what the tree was saying so they called a meeting and a dance of enchantment. At the dance a deer appeared and danced for the Surem in the flower world or the sea ania. Some of the Surem went into the sea, others went to live under the mountains and other grew taller and became farmers and called them the Yoemen. “The most nurturing parts of nature are found in the sea ania: lakes, streams, clouds and rain” (Taylor 2005:1781) and the deer lives here; when he is killed, the Surem laid him on a bed of flowers.
The deer represents Christ and flowers were created by the blood of Christ when He was crucified; the flowers represent God’s grace meaning they are “metaphors for all that is good and beautiful in Yaqui life” (Sheridan and Pareza 1996:39). The deer dance ritual combines components of ancient Catholic belief with the origin stories of the Yaqui. The Yaqui took what they learned and wanted from the Jesuit missionaries and made it their own traditions and beliefs; they believe that Jesus healed and performed miracles in their homeland. A pahko is a fiesta, a celebration of a religious holiday. During a pahko the deer dancer and the pahkolam or the old men of the fiesta perform and they represent some of the oldest parts of the Yaqui religion. “…The pahko was originally held the night before Yaquis went out to hunt the deer and it was a way of begging the deer’s forgiveness for killing him and of thanking him for giving himself up so that the Yoemem might live” (parentseyesof AZ.com).
The waehma is observed over Lent and is an occasion of spiritual renewal for the entire Yaqui community. There is a build- up of spiritual emotion from January to May were the entire village is dominated by the Yaqui religious societies and everything comes together on Easter Sunday. On Holy Saturday, the Fariseos (who represent the forces of evil rush into the church and try to capture the image of Jesus, but are met by the anhelitom who are the Angel Guards and Jesus’ protectors who beat back the Fariseos. On the last attack a large black curtain is thrown back and all see the Jesus is risen and the Society of Mary dance with flowers and flower wands. The deer dancer and singers and the pahkolam “repel the invaders by throwing flowers and the singers sing Gloria songs while the pahkaloam serve as the clowns (Sheridan and Parezo 1996; 47) . The deer dance is the Yoemen’s oldest and most visible expression of their religion and all who attend with a good heart are blessed.
The deer dance is also used on the first anniversary of a relative’s death and marks a year of mourning by the relatives of the deceased. It is thought “ to release the spirit of the dead person from its last year of confinement on ‘this weeping earth” (Sheridan and Parezo 1996:49). This ceremony includes the deer dancer, deer singers and the hosts of the ceremony, the pahkolam. The deer dancer dances, the singers sing and eventually, the deer is killed and is laid down on flowers where the deer is symbolically skinned and butchered; phenomenally the deer is resurrected and becomes a flower.
The Yaqui separate Christ and the deer dancers and the dances and songs represent not so much Christ but “… represent core aspects of Yaqui identity” (Taylor 2005: 1782). The Yaqui are asking for blessings not only for themselves but for their onlookers who may not be from the tribe. They utilize Christian symbols, but have only added the symbols to their own story of origin. To hunt a deer, a deer hunter must have the power of flowers; flowers decorate the dancer’s necklace, antlers and skirt’ “…everything the deer dancer uses in his dance has held life” (Sheridan and Parezo 1996: 53). Everything the dancer uses represents life that has been given to sustain the Yaqui both in the past and in the present.
Pascua Yaqui Tribe
2002 Words and Place: Native literature from the Southwest. Seyewailo: The Flower World – Yaqui
Deer Songs. Electronic document.
http://parentseyes.arizona.edu/wordsandplace/seyewailo_background.html . Web. 11 Apr 2013.
Pascua Yaqui Tribe
2009 Yaqui History. Electronic document. Accessed April 12, 2013.
Sheridan, Thomas E and Nancy J. Parezo
1996 Paths of Life: American Indians of the Southwest and Northern Mexico. Tucson: The
University of Arizona.
Taylor, Bron Ed.
2005 Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature Electronic book. London: Continum
1997 The Way of the Spirit: Nature, Myth and Magic in Native American Life.. Del Mar : Tehabi