The Ceremony

THERE ARE TWO ASPECTS of the Easter Ceremony. One is the Yaqui interpretation of the Catholic liturgy for the Easter season, performed with reverence and devotion by the members of the church organization. Concurrent with this is a dramatization of the Passion of Our Lord. The parts of Jesus and His followers and of Mary and her companions are taken by members of the church group who carry and accompany the appropriate holy figures. Opposed to them are the members of the Fariseo and Caballero societies, who impersonate the evil men who persecuted Christ. Their pursuit of Jesus, His capture and symbolic crucifixion, and their, ultimate defeat when the church group and their allies ritually "kill" them at "The Gloria" on Holy Saturday are the main events of the drama, which unfolds simultaneously with the Catholic ritual.

Identification with the events in the life of Jesus is personal and real, and it is the theme of the Lenten sermons. Real, too, is the reward for those who carry out their parts faithfully, for theirs will be the "heavenly glory." The weariness of countless steps, the long nights of vigil, the discomfort of the parching sun and the cold desert night are bearable because they are endured in memory of Jesus. The Ceremony is offered up to Jesus and Mary who sustain them and promise them spiritual rewards.

The Easter season in Pascua is a time of consecrated community enterprise-of continuity with the past in remembrance of the elders who "in the very beginning" fulfilled the same obligations, at the command of Jesus, in the historic eight pueblos on the Yaqui River in Sonora. It is a time of restatement to young and old of the Yaqui way of life, of moral and religious codes-a re-affirmation of Christian doctrine, when Jesus and Mary seem closer than ever to the people. It is a time when, through the prayers of the Maestros, the Yaquis feel themselves united with Christian people everywhere.


Fundamental to an understanding of the Ceremony is the Yaqui concept of flowers (sewam). From legends and old songs of the deer singers, we learn that flowers were treasured symbols in ancient times. Today Yaquis also associate flowers with the Blessed Virgin. In both the old culture and the new, flowers have special importance in Yaqui ritual. This importance rests even more clearly on a legend of the people that the blood of Jesus as it fell from the cross was by a miracle transformed into flowers which filled heaven and earth. Flowers have become symbols of heavenly glory (loria) and divine grace. Heaven is conceived of as full of flowers. Flowers (spiritual blessings) are the reward for the loss of sleep, fatigue, self-sacrifice, and harsh penance endured during the Ceremony. For this reason ceremonial work itself is often called sewa or flower, as are the masks and crowns of almost all of the participants. Flowers freely used in decorating regalia are thought of as "guards for good the year around against evil." In the Easter Ceremony, flowers are regarded as "the weapons of the church against evil." The actual flowers and leaves, and the confetti, those bright symbols of flowers, all of which are thrown at the evil ones when they attack the church on Holy Saturday, and also the flowers in the regalia, ritually "kill" the evil Fariseos. It is the blood of Jesus transformed into flowers that enables the church to triumph over the transgressors.


All ceremonial events in Pascua are in the hands of societies, in which membership is the result of manda or vow. This vow is usually made during serious illness, when the aid of Jesus or Mary is sought for help in curing, in return for which a promise is generally made on behalf of a child by the parents. But it may be made by an adult for himself. The term of service is generally for life, but may be for a shorter time. When a child becomes old enough to serve in the society to which he has been promised, he is confirmed in a formal ceremony and given the regalia suitable to his position. The regalia is blessed at this time and is often referred to as santo insinio or holy insignia, or as sewa or flower. When he is confirmed, the child is sponsored by godparents whom he retains for life. It is thought that if an individual does not carry out his ceremonial obligations he will be punished by illness, by accident, or even by death. Almost all the participants in the Easter Ceremony are under such religious manda to carry out their parts.

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