Yaqui Musicians at the Yaqui Dance of the Deer, II Festival of Indigenous Cultures, 2015
Total population
c. 38,652
Regions with significant populations
Mexico (Sonora, Sinaloa)16,240 (2019)[1][2]
United States (Arizona[1])22,412, self-identified (2003)[3]
Yaqui (Yoem Noki),[2] English, Spanish
Peyotism, Christianity (Roman Catholicism)
Related ethnic groups
Other Uto-Aztecan-speaking peoples, especially Mayos
PersonHiaki / Yoeme
PeopleYaqui / Yoemem
LanguageYoem Noki

The Yaqui, Hiaki, or Yoeme, are an Indigenous people of Mexico and Native American tribe, who speak the Yaqui language, a Uto-Aztecan language.[2]

Their primary homelands are in Río Yaqui valley[4] in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora.[1] Today, there are eight Yaqui Pueblos in Sonora.[4][1]

Some Yaqui fled state violence to settle in Arizona.[1] They formed the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona,[4][1] based in Tucson, Arizona, which is the only federally recognized Yaqui tribe in the United States.[5]

Many Yaqui in Mexico live on reserved land in the state of Sonora. Others live in Sinaloa[2] and other regions, forming neighborhoods in various cities. Individual Yaqui and people of Yaqui descent live elsewhere in Mexico and the United States.


A map showing the approximate locations of Yaqui people
Yaqui settlements

The Yaqui language, or Yoem Noki, belongs to the Uto-Aztecan language family.[2] Yaqui speak a Cahitan language, a group of about 10 mutually intelligible languages formerly spoken in much of the states of Sonora and Sinaloa. Most of the Cahitan languages are extinct; only the Yaqui and Mayo still speak their language.[6] About 16,000 people speak Yaqui, primarily in Sonora, Sinaloa, and Arizona.[2] Approximately 15,000 Yaqui speakers live in Mexico and 1,000 in the US, mostly in Arizona.[7]

Yaqui is a tonal language, with a tonal accent on either the first or the second syllable of the word. The syllables that follow the tone are all high. This is known as a pitch-accent language.


The Yaqui call themselves Hiaki or Yoeme, the Yaqui word for person (yoemem or yo'emem meaning "people").[8] The Yaqui call their homeland Hiakim, from which some say the name "Yaqui" is derived.

Spanish Jesuit missionary Andrés Pérez de Ribas (1576–1655) first wrote Yaqui and Hiaqui, later spelled Hiaki.[9] Another early 17th-century Jesuit first recorded the term Cahita, which refers to the Hiaki, Mayo, and Tehueco.[9] Mid-19th-century Mexican scholars used Yaqui and Hiaqui interchangeably and broadened the term Cahita to refer to more regional peoples.[9]


1530s–1820s: Conquistadors and missionaries

When the Spanish first came into contact with the Yaqui in 1533, the Yaqui occupied a territory along the lower course of the Yaqui River. They were estimated to number 30,000 people living in 80 villages in an area about 60 miles (100 km) long and 15 miles (25 km) wide. Some Yaqui lived near the mouth of the river and lived off of the resources of the sea. Most lived in agricultural communities, growing beans, maize, and squash on land inundated by the river every year. Others lived in the deserts and mountains and depended upon hunting and gathering.[10]

Captain Diego de Guzmán, leader of an expedition to explore lands north of the Spanish settlements, encountered the Yaqui in 1533. A large number of Yaqui warriors confronted the Spaniards on a level plain. Their leader, an old man, drew a line in the dirt and told the Spanish not to cross it. He denied the Spanish request for food. A battle ensued. The Spanish claimed victory, although they retreated. Thus began 40 years of struggle, often armed, by the Yaqui to protect their culture and lands.

In 1565, Francisco de Ibarra attempted, but failed, to establish a Spanish settlement in Yaqui territory. What probably saved the Yaqui from an early invasion by the Spaniards was the lack of silver and other precious metals in their territory. In 1608, the Yaqui and 2,000 indigenous allies, mostly Mayo, were victorious over the Spanish in two battles. A peace agreement in 1610 brought gifts from the Spanish and, in 1617, an invitation by the Yaquis for the Jesuit missionaries to stay and teach them.[11]

The Yaqui lived in a mutually advantageous relationship with the Jesuits for 120 years. Most of them converted to Christianity while retaining many traditional beliefs. The Jesuit rule over the Yaqui was stern but the Yaqui retained their land and their unity as a people. The Jesuits introduced the Yaqui to wheat, cattle, and horses.

The Yaqui prospered and the missionaries were allowed to extend their activities further north. The Jesuit success was facilitated by the fact that the nearest Spanish settlement was 100 miles away and the Yaqui were able to avoid interaction with Spanish settlers, soldiers and miners. Important, too, was that epidemics of European diseases that destroyed many Indigenous populations appear not to have seriously impacted the Yaqui. The reputation of the Yaqui as warriors, plus the protection afforded by the Jesuits, perhaps shielded the Yaqui from Spanish slavers. The Jesuits persuaded the Yaqui to settle into eight towns: Bácum, Benem, Cócorit, Huirivis, Pótam, Rahum, Tórim, and Vícam.[12]

However, by the 1730s, Spanish settlers and miners were encroaching on Yaqui land and the Spanish colonial government began to alter the arms-length relationship. This created unrest among the Yaqui and led to a brief but bloody Yaqui and Mayo revolt in 1740. One thousand Spanish and 5,000 Native Americans were killed and the animosity lingered. The missions declined and the prosperity of the earlier years was never regained. The Jesuits were expelled from Mexico in 1767 and the Franciscan priests who replaced them never gained the confidence of the Yaqui.

An uneasy peace between the Spaniards and the Yaqui endured for many years after the revolt, with the Yaqui maintaining their tight-knit organization and most of their independence from Spanish and, after 1821, Mexican rule.[13]

1820s–1920s: Yaqui Wars and enslavement

Main article: Yaqui Wars

Gen. Obregón and Yaqui staff, c. 1910

During Mexico's struggle for independence from Spain in the early 19th century, the Yaqui showed that they still considered themselves independent and self-governing. After Mexico won its independence, the Yaqui refused to pay taxes to the new government. A Yaqui revolt in 1825 was led by Juan Banderas. Banderas wished to unite the Mayo, Opata, Pima, and Yaqui into a state that would be autonomous, or independent of Mexico. The combined indigenous forces drove the Mexicans out of their territories, but Banderas was eventually defeated and executed in 1833. This led to a succession of revolts as the Yaqui resisted the Mexican government's attempts to gain control of the Yaqui and their lands.

The Yaqui supported the French during the brief reign of Maximilian I of Mexico in the 1860s. Under the leadership of Jose Maria Leyva, known as Cajemé, the Yaqui continued the struggle to maintain their independence until 1887, when Cajeme was caught and executed. The war featured a succession of brutalities by the Mexican authorities, including a massacre in 1868, in which the Army burned 150 Yaqui to death inside a church.[citation needed]

The Yaqui were impoverished by a new series of wars as the Mexican government adopted a policy of confiscation and distribution of Yaqui lands.[14][15] Some displaced Yaquis joined the ranks of warrior bands, who remained in the mountains carrying on a guerrilla campaign against the Mexican Army.

During the 34-year rule of Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, the government repeatedly provoked the Yaqui remaining in Sonora to rebellion in order to seize their land for exploitation by investors for both mining and agricultural use.[14] Many Yaqui were sold at 60 pesos a head to the owners of sugar cane plantations in Oaxaca and the tobacco planters of the Valle Nacional, while thousands more were sold to the henequen plantation owners of the Yucatán.[14]

By 1908, at least 5,000 Yaqui had been sold into slavery.[14][15] At Valle Nacional, the enslaved Yaquis were worked until they died.[14] While there were occasional escapes, the escapees were far from home and, without support or assistance, most died of hunger while begging for food on the road out of the valley toward Córdoba.[14]

At Guaymas, thousands more Yaquis were put on boats and shipped to San Blas, where they were forced to walk more than 200 miles to San Marcos and its train station.[14] Many women and children could not withstand the three-week journey over the mountains, and their bodies were left by the side of the road.[14] The Mexican government established large concentration camps at San Marcos, where the remaining Yaqui families were broken up and segregated.[14] Individuals were then sold into slavery inside the station and packed into train cars which took them to Veracruz, where they were embarked yet again for the port town of Progreso in the Yucatán. There they were transported to their final destination, the nearby henequen plantations.[14]

On the plantations, the Yaquis were forced to work in the tropical climate of the area from dawn to dusk.[14] Yaqui women were allowed to marry only non-native Chinese workers.[14] Given little food, the workers were beaten if they failed to cut and trim at least 2,000 henequen leaves per day, after which they were then locked up every night.[14] Most of the Yaqui men, women, and children sent for slave labor on the plantations died there, with two-thirds of the arrivals dying within a year.[14]

Yaqui man in Arizona, ca. 1910

During this time, Yaqui resistance continued. By the early 1900s, after "extermination, military occupation, and colonization" had failed to halt Yaqui resistance to Mexican rule, many Yaquis assumed the identities of other Tribes and merged with the Mexican population of Sonora in cities and on haciendas.[15] Others left Mexico for the United States, establishing enclaves in southern Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.[14]

Many Yaqui living in southern Arizona regularly returned to Sonora after working and earning money in the U.S., often for the purpose of smuggling firearms and ammunition to those Yaqui still fighting the Mexican government.[14] Skirmishes continued until 1927, when the last major battle between the Mexican Army and the Yaqui was fought at Cerro del Gallo Mountain. By employing heavy artillery, machine guns, and planes of the Mexican Air Force to shell, bomb, and strafe Yaqui villages, Mexican authorities eventually prevailed.[16]

The objective of the Yaqui and their frequent allies, the Mayo people, remained the same during almost 400 years of interaction with the Jesuits and the Spanish and Mexican governments: independent local government and management of their own lands.

1920s–1930s: Cárdenas and Yaqui independence

In 1917, General Lázaro Cárdenas of the Constitutionalist army defeated the Yaqui. But in 1937, as president of the republic, he reserved 500,000 hectares of ancestral lands on the north bank of the Yaqui River, ordered the construction of a dam to provide irrigation water to the Yaqui,[17] and provided advanced agricultural equipment and water pumps.[18] Thus, the Yaqui continued to maintain a degree of independence from Mexican rule.[19]

In 1939, the Yaqui produced 3,500 tons of wheat, 500 tons of maize, and 750 tons of beans; whereas, in 1935, they had produced only 250 tons of wheat and no maize or beans.[20]

According to the official government report on the sexenio (six-year term) of Cárdenas, the section of the Department of Indigenous Affairs (which Cárdenas established as a cabinet-level post in 1936) stated the Yaqui population was 10,000; 3,000 were children younger than 5.

Today, the Mexican municipality of Cajeme is named after the fallen Yaqui leader.[13]


Yaqui traditional dance mask

In the past, the Yaqui subsisted on agriculture, growing beans, corn and squash (like many of the Indigenous peoples of the region). The Yaqui who lived in the Río Yaqui region and in coastal areas of Sonora and Sinaloa fished as well as farmed. The Yaqui also made cotton products. The Yaqui have always been skillful warriors. The Yaqui Indians have been historically described as quite tall in stature.[21]

Traditionally, a Yaqui house consisted of three rectangular sections: the bedroom, the kitchen, and a living room, called the "portal". Floors would be made of wooden supports, walls of woven reeds, and the roof of reeds coated with thick layers of mud for insulation. Branches might be used in living room construction for air circulation; a large part of the day was spent here, especially during the hot months. A home would also have a patio. Since the time of the adoption of Christianity, many Yaquis have a wooden cross placed in front of the house, and special attention is made to its placement and condition during Waresma (Lent).[22]

Yaqui cosmology and religion

The Yaqui conception of the world is considerably different from that of their European-Mexican and European-American neighbors. For example, many Yoeme believe that the universe is composed of overlapping yet distinct worlds or places, called aniam. Nine or more different aniam are recognized:

  1. sea ania: flower world,
  2. yo ania: enchanted world,
  3. tenku ania: a dream world,
  4. tuka ania: night world,
  5. huya ania: wilderness world,
  6. nao ania: corncob world,
  7. kawi ania: mountain world,
  8. vawe ania: world under the water,
  9. teeka ania: world from the sky up through the universe.

Each of these worlds has its own distinct qualities, as well as forces, and Yoeme relate deer dancing with three of them, since the deer emerges from yo ania, an enchanted home, into the wilderness world, huya ania, and dances in the flower world, sea ania, which can be accessed through the deer dance.[23] Much Yaqui ritual is centered upon perfecting these worlds and eliminating the harm that has been done to them, especially by people. Many Yaqui have combined such ideas with their practice of Catholicism, and believe that the existence of the world depends on their annual performance of the Lenten and Easter rituals.[21]

The Yaqui religion, which is a syncretic religion of old Yaqui beliefs and practices, and the Christian teachings of Jesuit missionaries, relies upon song, music, prayer, and dancing, all performed by designated members of the community. They have woven numerous Roman Catholic traditions into the old ways and vice versa.[21] For instance, the Yaqui deer song (maso bwikam) accompanies the deer dance, which is performed by a pascola (Easter, from the Spanish pascua) dancer, also known as a "deer dancer." Pascolas perform at religio-social functions many times of the year, but especially during Lent and Easter.[21] The Yaqui deer song ritual is in many ways similar to the deer song rituals of neighboring Uto-Aztecan people, such as the Mayo. The Yaqui deer song is more central to the cultus of its people and is strongly tied to Roman Catholic beliefs and practices. There are various societies among the Yaqui people who play a significant role in the performance of Yaqui ceremonies, including:

Flowers are very important in the Yaqui culture. According to Yaqui teachings, flowers sprang up from the drops of blood that were shed at the crucifixion. Flowers are viewed as the manifestation of souls. Occasionally Yaqui men may greet a close male friend with the phrase Haisa sewa? ("How is the flower?").[21]

Pascua Yaqui Tribe

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A Yaqui mother holding a baby, Arizona, c. 1910

As a result of the wars between Mexico and the Yaqui, many fled to the United States. Most settled in urban barrios, including Barrio Libre and Pascua in Tucson, and Guadalupe and Scottsdale in the Phoenix area. Yaquis built homes of scrap lumber, railroad ties, and other materials, eking out an existence while taking great pains to continue the Easter Lenten ceremonies so important to community life. They found work as migrant farm laborers and in other rural occupations.

In Guadalupe, Arizona, established in 1904 and incorporated in 1975, more than 44 percent of the population is Native American, and many are trilingual in Yaqui, English, and Spanish. A Yaqui neighborhood, Penjamo, is located in South Scottsdale, Arizona.

In the early 1960s, Yaqui spiritual leader Anselmo Valencia Tori approached University of Arizona anthropologist Edward Holland Spicer, an authority on the Yaqui, and asked for assistance in helping the Yaqui people. Spicer, Muriel Thayer Painter, and others created the Pascua Yaqui Association. U.S. Representative Morris Udall agreed to aid the Yaquis in securing a land base. In 1964, the U.S. government granted the Yaqui 817,000 m2 of land southwest of Tucson, Arizona. It was held in trust for the people. Under Valencia and Raymond Ybarra, the Pascua Yaqui Association developed homes and other infrastructure at the site.

In the late 1960s, several Yaqui in Arizona, among them Anselmo Valencia Tori and Fernando Escalante, started developing of a tract of land about 8 km to the west of the Yaqui community of Hu'upa, calling it New Pascua (in Spanish, Pascua Nuevo). This community has a population (estimated in 2006) of about 4,000; most of the middle-aged population of New Pascua speaks English, Spanish, and a moderate amount of Yaqui. Many older people speak the Yaqui language fluently, and a growing number of youth are learning the Yaqui language in addition to English and Spanish.[citation needed]

Realizing the difficulties of developing the community New Pascua without the benefit of federal Tribal status, Ybarra and Valencia met with U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) in the early months of 1977 to urge him to introduce legislation to provide complete federal recognition of the Yaqui people living on the land conveyed to the Pascua Yaqui Association by the United States through the Act of October 8, 1964 (78 Stat. 1197).

Flag of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona

Senator DeConcini introduced a federal recognition bill, S.1633 on June 7, 1977. After extensive hearings and consideration, it was passed by the Senate on April 5, 1978, and became public law, PL 95-375, on September 18, 1978. The law established a government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and gave reservation status to Pascua Yaqui lands. The Pascua Yaqui Tribe was the last Tribe recognized prior to the BIA Federal Acknowledgement Process established in 1978.

In 2008, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe counted 11,324 voting members.[24]

Unrecognized organizations in the United States

Many Yaqui descendants live throughout the Southwestern United States. There are also multiple unrecognized organizations that identify as Yaqui tribes. These include the Yaqui Nation of Southern California in Thousand Palms, California,[25] and the Yaquis of Southern California in Borrego Springs, California,[26] and the Texas Band of Yaqui Indians, based in Lubbock, Texas.[27] They are neither federally or state-recognized tribes.[5] In 2015, the State of Texas passed SR 989, a congratulatory resolution honoring the Texas Band of Yaqui Indians.[28]

Notable Yaqui

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Yaquis". Sistema de Información Cultural. Gobierno de México. Retrieved February 12, 2024.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Yaqui (Yoem Noki)". Omniglot. April 23, 2021. Retrieved February 12, 2024.
  3. ^ "U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2003" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on November 25, 2023. Retrieved June 1, 2022.
  4. ^ a b c "Yaqui Human Rights Project". James E. Rogers College of Law. University of Arizona. Retrieved February 12, 2024.
  5. ^ a b "Federal and State Recognized Tribes". National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved May 16, 2022.
  6. ^ Hu-Dehart, Evelyn Missionaries Miners and Indians: Spanish Contact with the Yaqui Nation of Northwestern New Spain. Tucson: U of AZ Press, 1981, p. 10
  7. ^ Guerrero, Lilian. "Grammatical Borrowing in Yaqui" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on November 27, 2023. Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  8. ^ "Yaqui". HighBeam Researc h. U*X*L Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. 2008. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
  9. ^ a b c Edward H. Spicer (1983). Sturtevant, William C. (ed.). Handbook of North American Indians: Southwest, Vol. 10. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. p. 262. ISBN 978-1127536511.
  10. ^ Hu-Dehart, pp. 10–11
  11. ^ Hu-Dehart, pp. 15, 19–20, 27–30
  12. ^ Spicer. Edward H. Cycles of Conquest. Tucson: U of AZ Press, 1986, pp. 49–50
  13. ^ a b Edward H. Spicer (1967), Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533–1960 University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona. p. 55
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Turner, John Kenneth, Barbarous Mexico, Chicago: C.H. Kerr & Co., 1910, pp. 41–77
  15. ^ a b c Spicer, pp. 80–82
  16. ^ Spicer, pp. 59–83
  17. ^ Seis Años de Gobierno al Servicio de México, 1934–1940. Mexico: Nacional Impresora S.A., 1940, 372.
  18. ^ Seis Años, p. 376.
  19. ^ Spicer, pp. 81–85
  20. ^ ’’Seis Años’’, p. 375.
  21. ^ a b c d e Spicer, E. H. 1980. The Yaquis: A Cultural History, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.
  22. ^ McGuire, Thomas R. (1986). Politics and Ethnicity on the Rio Yaqui: Potam Revisited. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press. pp. 52–53. ISBN 0816508933.
  23. ^ Shorter, David Delgado (December 1, 2007). "Hunting for History in Potam Pueblo: A Yoeme (Yaqui) Indian Deer Dancing Epistemology" (PDF). Folklore. 118 (3): 282–306. doi:10.1080/00155870701621780. S2CID 216643963. Retrieved September 29, 2018.
  24. ^ Enric Volante Arizona Daily Star (June 4, 2008). "1 incumbent out, 2 added to Pascua Yaqui council". Arizona Daily Star. Archived from the original on January 29, 2024. Retrieved January 29, 2024.
  25. ^ "Yaqui Nation of Southern California". OpenCorporates. Retrieved March 6, 2024.
  26. ^ "Yaquis Of Southern California". Tax Exempt World. September 19, 2023. Retrieved February 13, 2024.
  27. ^ "Texas Band of Yaqui Indians". CauseIQ. Retrieved May 16, 2022.
  28. ^ "SR 989, 84th R.S." Legislative Reference Library of Texas. Retrieved May 16, 2022.
  29. ^ "Mario Martinez: Contemporary Native Painting". Archived from the original on May 19, 2022. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  30. ^ Star, Nick O'Gara Arizona Daily (May 13, 2016). "Prestigious Udall award goes to Yaqui student from Tucson". Archived from the original on October 13, 2022.
  31. ^ Innes, Stephanie (May 5, 1998). "Yaquis mourn death of a spiritual leader". Tucson Citizen. Tucson, Arizona. Archived from the original on November 25, 2023.