THE EASTER CEREMONY of the Yaqui Indians has been part of Arizona life since the early 1900s. In 1909 near the present site of Pascua Village, a few families of Yaquis revived the old ceremonies. These families were refugees who had escaped into the United States from Mexico. In 1886, after a long-drawn-out struggle for independence and possession of their native land, an important battle turned out disastrously for the Yaquis. Some of the survivors fled to the United States and settled near Tucson and Phoenix. During those early years in this country, they were hesitant to draw attention to themselves as Yaquis and discontinued their traditional ceremonies. In time they realized that they need not fear deportation and that freedom of religion prevailed here. They began again to observe the older Yaqui customs.
The Easter Ceremony that they revived on Arizona soil was in part that which their ancestors had learned from Jesuit missionaries almost three centuries earlier. In 1618 Pérez de Ribas and a fellow Jesuit entered the Yaqui country in what is now southern Sonora. During the next hundred years, the missionaries worked peacefully in the Yaqui country, teaching Christianity. Part of their teaching consisted of the dramatizing of the Passion of Our Lord. They did not force abandonment of the native dances and rituals, but rather allowed the Yaquis to combine them into their own expression of Christian belief. It is this combination of seventeenth-century Spanish with ancient tradition which the refugee families brought to Arizona.
From the time of the first revival to the present, the interest of Arizona Yaquis in the Ceremony has grown. It is a vital part of the life not only of Pascua Village but also of the other communities of Yaquis in the vicinity of Tucson, and at Guadalupe near Phoenix in the Salt River Valley. As Yaqui interest has continued, understanding and appreciation of the Ceremony among surrounding peoples have deepened. The account that follows is an indication of this. It is based on many years of careful and sympathetic observation by a woman whose knowledge and appreciation of the Ceremony is well known to the people of Pascua. With their help and encouragement through the years, she has prepared a comprehensive study. The present brief interpretation and description is one fruit of the larger study. Its purpose is to add to the understanding which various persons and organizations, particularly the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, have fostered during the many years that Yaquis have been making a place for themselves in Arizona life.
EDWARD H. SPICER