The University of Arizona

Paths of Life
Yoeme, by Felipe Molina

The Yoeme (Yaqui) religion of today is a mixture of ancient Yoeme beliefs and Spanish Christianity. Even though many aspects of Christianity are a focal point for many Yoeme, in the ancient past the Yoeme people celebrated all life on earth. Plants were considered as brothers and sisters, and without plants the Yoeme would be nothing. During ceremonials, healings, and household projects many plants are used and special words, songs, and prayers were offered to the plant world for permission to use them. The same was true for the animal world. Song and stories from the ancestors tell about the special spirits these animals possess, and prayers and words were offered to the animals to honor them before and after taking their life for ceremonial use or to sustain human life.

Achai Taa'a (Father Sun) was the father who watched over the people of earth. Morning, noon and evening prayers were offered to him to ask for well being and protection. During a solar eclipse the Father was dying so the Yoeme sang and beat drums to revive him and to prevent many terrible and ugly things. Maala Meecha (Mother Moon) was also important to the people. Planting, harvesting, and weather prediction could be done by watching the moon. Also, a person's destiny could be told by the period of the moon at the time of birth.

The elders say that once the human soul is released from this earth the soul becomes a new chokiu (star). The stars are greatly respected because many of them are ancestors. The Napowisa'im (Milky Way) is the road that one must travel to go to the next world to become a new star. Five spiritual worlds are known to the Yoeme people, and each provides special powers to the seeking individual. Those who enter gain greater spiritual powers and better themselves and the community. Happiness, good health, talent and more spiritual power is the goal for the individual who deals with these worlds. These worlds are:

  • Sea Ania - Flower World
  • Huya Ania - Wilderness World
  • Yo Ania - Enchanted World
  • Tuka Ania - Night World
  • Tenku Ania - Dream World

When Jesuit priests brought Christianity to the Yoeme in the early 1600s the Yoeme accepted certain aspects of the new religion which were meaningful because of the stories of the powerful person, Jesus. The stories of how Jesus could cure and revive critically ill people fascinated the Yoeme, and they sometimes refer to him as a tui hitevi (good healer). Nowadays, ancient beliefs are still important, and Yoeme elders try to instill the great respect one must have for all life on this earth. This belief was expressed by Jean Leon Naehto of Potam village in 1989. "Even though we are a poor nation, we still talk for the whole earth through our songs, prayers and dances. Each and every little living creature on this earth and into the universe is talked for in our dawn ritual. This is what god has given us to work with. Whether it be a believer or a non-believer we still talk for them. We constantly ask for world wide peace. Yes, this is what we do here in our poor villages."

Felipe Molina, a Yaqui deer singer, scholar and teacher, has published several books and articles on traditional Yaqui culture.