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Who are the Yaqui Indians?

By Patti Kate
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Yaqui tribe lives in areas of northern Mexico and parts of Arizona. The Sonora region is home to the greatest concentration of Yaqui Indians. There are several thousand individuals who belong to this group. These people speak a language that is known as Cahita. Translated to mean "he who speaks in a loud voice," the name Yaqui has been in use for approximately 400 years.

The Yaqui Indians practice a modern religion that has been heavily influenced by the Jesuits. These people are typically members of the Roman Catholic Church. As part of their religious faith and practices, the Yaquis believe strongly in tradition. A religious practice known as deer dancing is one ritual that is typically included in the Yaqui religious ceremonial practices.

In Yaqui deer dancing, a designated member of the tribe, always a male figure, leads the ritual. He wears an elaborate headpiece that represents a deer's head. This figure is said to represent freedom and strength, as depicted by the large antlers atop of the headdress.

Other ceremonies and religious rituals exist among the Yaqui Indians as well. In the Mexican city of Del Vado del Rio, there is a traditional burning of the masks that takes place at certain times of year. In this ritual, masks are thrown into a large bonfire and destroyed. This is a symbolic gesture meant to eradicate bad life choices that have been made in prior years.

Yaqui history is colorful and rich in culture, as the people endured and persevered through many hardships for several generations. Hundreds of years ago, as the Spanish tried to claim the Yaqui land, the tribal members fought to save what was theirs. The Yaqui domain had shrunk due to the conflict and strife. After the conflicts had been resolved, the Yaqui Indians settled on the Arizona reservations where they live today and maintain their heritage.

The Yaqui Indians essentially are farmers and fishermen. Primarily earning their living from agriculture, the Yaquis are also adept at creating works of art as well as craft items, which are sold for a profit. They also sell useful items such as bamboo and pottery. Typically, the Yaqui Indians prefer to live off the land, not relying on modern conveniences.

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Discussion Comments
By anon308090 — On Dec 09, 2012

The "Teachings of Don Juan," and all of the other books written by Carlos Castaneda are an elaborate fiction. It has been established beyond a doubt that Carlos Castaneda made up essentially all that he wrote. None of what he wrote is related to Yaqui beliefs or practices, and his writing is considered a great dishonor in how it has been wrongly associated with the Yaqui people.

By anon271521 — On May 27, 2012

Is it correct that the yaqui were once the "esoterics" of the apache and were later absorbed by the cherokee?

By ladyjane — On Nov 05, 2011

@Sierra02 - There is another Don Juan, although I don't believe he has any relation to the Yaqui Indians. He too is a fictional character but a legendary one.

The legend began back in the sixteen hundreds by the Spaniards who called him Don Juan and the Italians who considered him to be Don Giovanni.

By either name he was a legendary womanizer and murderer. Even though he was a villain, he was also the hero because Don Juan was the protagonist of his own story.

By Markus — On Nov 04, 2011

@Sierra02 - I read The Teachings of Don Juan, a Yaqui way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda awhile back and from what I got out of it was that Don Juan is a fictional character.

A series of books were written by him back in the sixties when hippies and psychedelic drugs were at their prime. Castaneda describes a sort of new age philosophy from the knowledge he gained from a very old and intelligent Yaqui tribesman.

This way of thinking was similar to the new age philosophy of today except that Castaneda described more sorcery and transforming oneself into an animal or a bird or some other being at will.

By Sierra02 — On Nov 04, 2011

Who is Don Juan? Is he a real person? If so, then what are the teachings of Don Juan?

By anon174256 — On May 09, 2011

Take a close look at the Aztec Indian -- a history of violence. No, we Yaquis are not related to these gang-driven people.

By anon123525 — On Nov 02, 2010

yaquis were never Aztec indians at all, so people should stop calling us aztecs be cause we're not Aztec, at all.

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