MAYPOLE DANCE OF THE MATACHINIS IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH OF SAN IGNACIO DE LOYOLA IN THE PLAZA IN PASCUA VILLAGE, TUCSON
This dance may be seen at big fiestas in the early evening and at dawn. Flags of the United States and Pascua proclaim a fiesta. The crown and dove on top of the Maypole are in tribute to the Virgin Mary, patron of the Matachinis.
On the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, lies a cluster of dwellings of adobe brick and corrugated iron. They cling so closely to the harsh brown earth that they seem almost to be a part of it. This is Pascua, a village of about four hundred Yaqui Indians. Around each house is a yard, enclosed by a wire fence, with a few trees and treasured bits of greenery and flowers. There is almost always an open ramada or arbor, to be used for outdoor living in the summer, and as a center for fiestas.
At one end of the village plaza stands the small church with two bell towers, shining white against the changing light on the angular mountains to the west. Its open front allows processions to pass in and out. In front of the church is a wooden cross, the church cross. At the other end of the plaza the brown adobe fiesta ramada is also faced by a wooden cross. Alongside is the community kitchen where the women at fiesta time pat out tortillas and cook coffee and stews over open fires.
It is here in the plaza that many of the ceremonies take place, whether it be in the heat of the desert sun, or on cold nights when moonlight may make the pale earth almost as white as snow. The ceremonies are carried out with a devoted consecration that makes Pascua at these times seem remote and secluded, although the lights and sounds of a modern city are no more than a few blocks distant.
In their homeland in the fertile valley of the Yaqui River in Sonora, Mexico, the Yaquis were farmers. In 1617 came the Jesuit missionaries, bringing the Catholic faith and the remembrance of Miracle Plays, many of which dramatized events in the life of Jesus. Some of these they taught to the Indians, along with the Catholic liturgy, and in turn they allowed the Yaquis to add to their new religion features of their own beliefs and rituals.
At about the turn of the century, Yaquis in numbers crossed the border into Arizona, fleeing from troubled times in Mexico. Some of them settled near Tucson. Gradually, happily learning that they were free to do so, they revived their ceremonies, rich in the fusion of Catholic and Yaqui tradition. As political refugees they had no reservation; but they lived together in small settlements, and the men made a place for themselves in the cotton fields, on ranches and farms, and in the construction trades.