AS THE EASTER SEASON APPROACHES, a typical Yaqui village is filled beyond capacity, as families who have been working away from home return to celebrate the Easter Ceremony. The plaza is the center for preparations. At one end stands a church with a bell tower, the entrance wide open to accommodate the processions that surge in and out during ceremonies. In front of the church is embedded a wooden cross-the church cross. At the other end of the plaza is the fiesta ramada and the fiesta cross and, nearby, the community kitchen.
Men and boys refurbish the church and rake the sandy soil of the plaza and of the Way of the Cross that surrounds it. They clear out the open fiesta ramada and ready the equipment in the community kitchen. Men in busy seclusion shape hide masks and paint wooden swords and daggers. The altar women freshen altar cloths, make paper flowers, and design new costumes for the figures of the Blessed Virgin. As the first week of Lent draws near, men erect the crosses that mark the Fourteen Stations of the Cross. Almost every household shares in getting ready for the most important event of the year, the Easter Ceremony.
The ever-changing light on neighboring mountains, the blazing desert sun, the cool light of stars and moon, the occasional bursts of violent storms, and the whirls of dust stirred by fitful spring winds-these and the harsh, neutral earth and sparse desert growth form the background for the color and movement and the intense spiritual devotion of the ceremonies that take place in Yaqui communities throughout the year.
The Easter Ceremony is essentially the same in all Yaqui villages, and is handed down orally from generation to generation with no written script. Some variations occur even in the Sonora homeland villages. The information given here is based on observations in Pascua, and the interpretations and quotations are those of the people. This publication was requested and approved by them, and it is their hope that it will lead to an understanding of the events.
The Yaquis welcome all visitors who come in the spirit of reverence appropriate to any religious occasion. They request that no pictures be taken, and that no one enter the church without permission, which will be freely given when it does not interfere with the services. They request that the pathway of the Way of the Cross be kept clear. Ample free parking is available.
No definite time schedule is possible, since starting times depend on the arrival of individuals who may be detained at work, and on the complicated details of preparation. This ceremony is in no sense a spectacle undertaken with reference to visitors, but an ancient and sacred obligation inherited from those who have gone before.
MURIEL THAYER PAINTER