7. Indian Tribes of Sonora
In the New World it is understood that groups of rancherías and villages that speak the same language form a separate nation. Thus in Sonora there are only two main nations: the Opata and the Pima. The Eudebes use a dialect as similar to the Opata language as Portuguese is to Castilian or Provençal is to French. And the Jovas are so intermingled with the Opatas that most of them speak in that language except a few women and old people who cling to their own, a most difficult tongue and very different from those spoken in this province.
The Upper and Lower Pimas speak the Piman language as do the Papagos who inhabit the sandy, barren plains of the northwest, the other tribes in the fertile valleys of the Sobahipuris, and those around the Gila and the Colorado rivers. According to Fathers Kino and Sedelmayr the dialects of these tribes differ, but their language is so similar that knowing one, it is easy to understand the others.
The Guaymas speak the language of the Seris with only a slight difference. Because some have surrendered their land to the bloody fury of the Seris and others have intermingled with the Yaquis in Belem and other places, the Guaymas being so few in number do not merit being classified as a separate nation.
As for the Seris and Apaches, the cruelest enemies and ravagers of the land, holding as their own the mountainous regions of this province, I do not deem it reasonable to include them in this section and will deal with them separately.
Their Nature — In general the nature of the native is so variable that it is hard to explain. My opinion, based on thirteen years of dealing with them, is in accord with Father Gumilla as stated in his Orinoco ilustrado, Part I, Chapter V, Section 5.1 Their nature is based upon four traits, each more despicable than the one that follows: ignorance, ingratitude, inconstancy, and laziness. Their lives revolve around these peculiarities.
As for ingratitude, one must do good solely for the sake of the Almighty, expecting no signs of gratitude from the natives and clothing himself with the firm belief that he is going to lose principal as well as interest.
Their inconstancy keeps the missionaries as well as civil and military authorities on continual watch, especially over the recently converted. A single malcontent or puffed-up egotist with a sorcerer's reputation such as Luis de Sáric is enough to stir up an entire nation. To this day we bewail the sad consequences of the insurrection of 1751 when the Pimas joined with the unrestrained Seris. This alliance still keeps the royal forces on the move.
Their laziness and horror of all work is such that neither exhortations nor pleadings nor even threats of punishment make them till the land to obtain their sustenance. This peculiarity keeps the natives poor and dependent upon the missionaries for their food and clothing. These items must be provided the year around to prevent them from wandering to mining camps where they will rapidly learn vices and forget their Christian teachings which have been taught to them over long years of inconceivable effort. The worst is that those who taste the licentious life seldom return to their villages. If they do, they become the devil's own leaven, teaching the wickedness they have learned and inciting many to abandon their wives and children for a
The inquiring reader may ask how can one reconcile the aborigine's innate attachment to the place of his birth, apparently so great that he will prefer to die rather than submit to being moved to improve his lot, with his voluntary exile? And how can we reconcile his reluctance to work, neighboring on fear, with the servitude he imposes upon himself? And if his ignorance borders on stupidity, how is it that he is astute and cautious enough to avoid being caught?
I can throw some light on these questions by stating that at the first farm, mining camp, or Spanish settlement they go to they will find instructors who in a couple of hours teach them the way into error, and the irreparable ruin of body and soul follows. Thus, the attraction of the detestable licentious life keeps them away from home where they enjoyed ownership of land and personal liberty and where they were subjected to only the easy duties of Christian living. The wife and relatives of the fugitive, knowing of his escape, never notify either the missionary or the magistrate, and when questioned they refuse to tell even the direction the runaway went, regardless of any offer of worldly goods and promise of secrecy. Here again is an evident contradiction in their nature, protecting one another by fiercely retaining a secret in spite of their inconstancy and fickleness.
In view of the many contradictions, one must confess that these Indians with their customs and inclinations are the opposite of others for, notwithstanding their uncultured state, they have the power to reason. To this is added our continual teaching, so that little by little the prickly briers are being uprooted and a political commonwealth, even a Christian one, will arise.
This, thanks to the Lord, we have accomplished chiefly with the Opatas and Eudebes who are more inclined to till the soil and breed cattle. Moreover, they are most attentive to their obligations at home. Consequently, they are the best instructed in the mysteries of our2 which they apply to anything not seen with their own eyes. Until the missionary succeeds in banishing this belief, the neophytes will never attain the faith required to accept the infallibility of God's authority and that of His Church.
None of these nations has an alphabet, nor do they have any inclination to acquire one. Only a few ever learn to read and write, and in this respect I must acknowledge that the Apache children are better disposed. The natives in their ignorance and distrust fear that such art might be harmful to them. Thus, without even the simplest forms of writing, without even strings of beads or tallies which after a fashion were equivalent to writing to the Mexicans, Peruvians, and other nations, the Sonoran tribes have no record of their past except the confused and inaccurate accounts which have been transmitted from father to son. One can learn little from these. The Indian will relate only what he has seen and would give away his soul rather than reveal any secrets. He seems to be applying the Biblical quotation of Isaiah IV:16: secretum meum mihi.3 Their own ridiculous explanations of the great religious mysteries are like the stories of children upon finding a bird's nest.
One might suspect from my last remark that I am implying that the natives are descendants of Jews. I am not. I do not agree with Scobar (ut Scobar hic)4 [as Escobar states here].5 The only homage noticed is to the devil, and this is based on fear and stupidity rather than inclination. This inference is based upon the presence of one or more sorcerers in every village.
These shamans, while respected, are feared for the harm it is believed they can bring about. They are not true male witches because the evil they are supposed to cause is insignificant compared with the insatiable hatred of the devil toward mankind. Secondly, the power attributed to the exorcist to bring about illness or torment may be ascribed to natural causes. And finally, if the Indians have or have had dealings with the devil, their language would have a noun for him. They do not have one. Instead, they use the Spanish diablo, pronounced by them diabro because of their inability to enunciate the/.
In spite of this, among these natives there are a few individuals who acquire the name and reputation of sorcerers by means of tricks and fanfaronades. They enjoy the title because it is profitable and inspires fear.
In the practice of his witchcraft, a sorcerer will provide himself with grama roots (zacate), pebbles, and charcoal which he carefully conceals. Upon arriving at the bedside of the patient, the sorcerer fans him with large feathers as if driving away flies. Then the sorcerer sucks the aching part, having first dexterously placed in his mouth some of the articles mentioned. After sucking the aching part, the sorcerer produces the objects that were in his mouth and declares, “This is what made you sick.” The grama roots look like worms, and he will dispose of all the evidence quickly by throwing it in the fire which is always present in a sickroom regardless of how hot the weather may be.6
These Indians, as do all simple peoples, at times show signs of superstitions and silly beliefs inherited from their forefathers. I am not convinced that such foolishness is deeply rooted because when enlightened by the missionaries they seem to give them up readily, outwardly at least. Still, who could put an end to their believing that a strong wind foretells the approach of the Apaches? Or that he who dies of a snakebite would have been killed by a thunderbolt had not the snake anticipated the occurrence? Or that the clothing or whatever the bitten one was wearing must be thrown away for if not, the snake will return to bite again? Or that the pouring of an olla full of water over their heads will prevent their being struck by a thunderbolt before the year's end?
These nations, including the Opatas, retained until lately a curious custom known as “plea to the clouds.” At nightfall during the rainy season, a number of young girls dressed in white chemises would come out to dance on a well-swept and decorated patch of ground while the older folks would remain in the huts and make mellow sounds with hollowed-out gourds, small sticks, and bones. It was believed that this ritual would make the sky drop its moisture and irrigate their fields. Despite the secrecy of the performance, with God's help this incantation became known to the missionaries. This custom has been discredited and stopped.
In the old days in order to find out the direction from which their enemies would attack, they would catch a certain locust called hupithui in their language, and holding it by its head they would ask, “Which way are the enemies coming?” Naturally the little creature so held moved its legs. The questioner took as an answer that the Apaches were approaching in the direction indicated by the first leg which moved. As I understand it, this method is much used by the Apaches themselves.
If a bolt of lightning strikes an Indian, whether he is dead or alive he is never taken home. Instead he is left where he was struck. If he is alive, the relatives supply him with food and drink. If he is dead, the body is left undisturbed for three days while the relatives wait for the frightened soul, supposedly hovering about, to reenter the body. If life does not return, the cadaver is dressed; a hole is dug and the body is buried in a sitting position well supplied with pinole, quelites, etc. The ceremony as described was witnessed by a fellow missionary and shows the drollery and the silliness of the natives.
When it hails, they place an otate cane [solid type of bamboo, Bamboo arundinacea], baquido in Opata, standing on end at the door of each hut. They firmly believe that the hailing will cease if this is done.
Frequently one finds piles of stones, sticks, bones, etc. beside main roads. It is the custom for those on horseback to throw on these mounds the whips they carry to urge their mounts onward. Those on foot pick up a twig or something from the road and add it to these mounds. Some say that by doing this, the person and his mount as well will be relieved of weariness. Others claim that the piles are burial places of people who have frozen to death, and the piles are burned when it is very cold to warm the souls of the departed. Be that as it may, it is a superstition that ought to be stopped. And since the missionaries cannot stop it, the native magistrates should attempt to do so by imposing penalties for those who add to these piles.
Drunkenness is not so prevalent among these nations as it is in others. Among the Opatas and Eudebes, the vice has been uprooted by the diligence and vigilance of the missionaries. The Pimas, particularly the upper ones, still indulge. Not having been punished for the uprising of 1751, they have reverted to their heathen ways. The missionaries, to
In their gatherings and assemblies they follow their whims unrestrained. An older individual, a warchief, or some presumptuous braggart of a sorcerer, recounts his real or imaginary exploits, often taking all night or until the satanic eulogist becomes hoarse or breathless. I know, because three or four times I have been unable to get out of attending these gatherings, and I have never spent sadder nights. In order that variety may beguile boredom, after the recital there are dances and songs as mournful and doleful as the preceding tale.
After the uprising of 1751 pagan marriages were restored in which the stronger took by force the wives of the weaker whose unions had been sanctified by the Church. These forced unions are called diabro buhuturus, meaning “work of the devil.”
Most of their own heathenish betrothals are unfit to be described. However, I will recount the most recent rite as performed in the Pivipa and Jamaica villages of the Tacupeto Valley and at Mortero before its abandonment in 1760.
Old and young gathered together with the prospective grooms assembled in one row and the and the girls of marriageable age in another, both dressed only in their primitive innocence. At a given signal the young women would start to run and scatter. At a second signal the young men would take up the chase, and upon overtaking the girl of his choice, the young man would seize her left breast. This constituted the nuptial ceremony. Dancing followed, and after a while each couple was placed between two mats made of palm leaves. The singing and dancing continued until daybreak or until the participants reached the point of exhaustion, although in these celebrations the Indians seem tireless.
Another ritual not at all painful to the little ones is that of acquiring foster parents who are called peri. The real parents invite a friend or relative to become the peri, a man for a boy, a woman for a girl. The foster parent then talks to the infant as if the infant were an adult, inciting him or her to be a devoted, vigorous warrior. All the while, the peri runs his hands over the entire body of the child, flexing and stretching the little one's arms and legs. Finally the peri confers his own surname upon the infant by word of mouth. This act is supposed to make them blood relatives. Later on, this relationship must be investigated thoroughly by the missionary before uniting couples in matrimony because this kinship does not make them blood relatives. Occasionally parties distanced by a quarrel use the peri ceremony to get back together.
With the exception of the Apaches, all these nations, both heathen and recently converted, show their devotion to their dead by burying all the deceased's belongings plus some pinole and a jug of water with him. The missionary, attempting to prevent the Pimas, especially the Pimas Altos, from practicing this custom, must remain at the burial site until it is completely closed.
The Apaches are not so painstaking. Regardless of who dies or where death occurs, the body is left to serve as food for wild animals. However, they do attempt to carry away and conceal those who die fighting Christians even if the remains have to be quartered. When a nursing infant dies, for a few successive days a cupful7 of the mother's milk is thrown in the grave.
It is customary among the Opatas and presumably among the other nations of Sonora as well that if one is to become a warrior he is required to participate in a few raids against the enemy and accompany some convoys across dangerous territory. After the candidate for warrior has successfully completed these requisites, the warchief assembles the fighting men, armed with bows, arrows, shields, and lances, in the village where the candidate was born. One comes forth out of this gathering to sponsor the aspirant. The sponsor stands behind him while the captain-at-war instructs the intended warrior in the obligations he is about to assume. The aspirant is told he must endure heat, cold, the inclemency of the weather, thirst, and hunger with a stout heart. He is told he must be fearless before the enemy whom he is to look upon with scorn as if they were ants to be trod upon and killed with impudence and courage whenever possible. The lecture over, the captain draws a dried-out eagle's talon from his quiver. With it be begins clawing a zig-zag course down the youth's arm from shoulder to wrist, cutting deeply enough to draw blood. Then this same procedure is followed on the other arm, the chest and legs. The aspirant must endure this without a whimper. However, a tear rolling down his cheek will not prevent his being accepted as a warrior. Upon completion of the cutting of his body, he receives a bow, quiver, and arrows, symbols of his newly attained rank. Immediately following this, the sponsor and each of the fighting men contribute two additional arrows.
When actually in the field, the newly accepted member is put through additional tests of fortitude which are selected for him. He is given the least desirable and most onerous tasks, such as guarding the horses at night, and regardless of the weather he must remain without shelter and away from the warming fire. Should this newest warrior resent his treatment, his fellow warriors abuse him more by dousing him from head to foot with cold water. All his troubles are ended when a new candidate joins the company. The new warrior needs rugged training, for when he is in pursuit of the Apaches be must be heedless of storms and rain and freezing weather. Fires must not be lit in this situation.
The warriors always attack at dawn, approaching silently and catching the enemy by surprise. The enemy will flee, leaving behind weapons and any plunder they may have. The attackers instead of pursuing the enemy waste time scalping the dead and celebrating their triumph.
When called to campaign against the enemy, the Opatas and the Eudebes take eight days to prepare, although they could be ready much sooner. On the eve of their departure they will ask the missionary for a mount, or a blanket, or something that they suddenly feel they might need. Once these final wishes have been fulfilled, instead of going home to rest, they go to the community center where the warchief chatters at them until dawn, the starting time. The expedition is usually composed of a few Spanish soldiers and Indians from several villages. As they travel, they stop at various pueblos and repeat these nightly performances. The warriors claim, and convincingly so, that they prepare themselves to be alert if a nocturnal attack should occur. However, recurrent sleepless nights do not make them more alert.
Upon their return the victorious Indians celebrate day and night with the enemy scalps they have brought back. And they force their captives, women and children, to witness their antics. It is pitiful to see them waste their energy and undermine their health with such madness. And it is even worse to see the abuse they heap upon their captives who are compelled to endure fatigue and sleeplessness during the endless performance. While in Sáric before the 1751 revolt I saw a beautiful Apache child die of exhaustion. She was captured in a Gila River foray, and just before the end I had the consolation of baptizing her.
In some Opata pueblos this tribe, which is believed to be the most submissive, practices a brutal custom: old women carrying burning sticks scorch parts of the captives' bodies, chiefly the thighs. I have seen the scars of this inhumane cruelty upon a boy of tender age. Doubtless these ruthless acts were known to the Spanish officers.8
Upon returning to their village, the warriors are received in accordance with the success they have attained. If nothing has been achieved, they return at night quietly. But if all has gone well and they have a few scalps and other spoils, an advance messenger goes to the pueblo with the news, and a reception is planned for the daylight hours. The warriors are met by the women folk headed by the mate of the chieftain or some other elderly one. After an exchange of greetings and congratulations for having punished the enemy upon his very soil, a scalp is snatched by the female leader who displays it as a trophy and begins chanting. The other women join in this chant which is a ballad composed for such an event. The ballad exaggerates insultingly the enemy's defeat and decries their improvidence and laziness that made them resort to raiding and killing. Meanwhile the scalp is being passed from one individual to another and is subjected to indecorous actions: ashes and hot water are thrown upon it; it is stamped upon, while the warriors merely witness the macabre rites, remaining inactive spectators.
When the warriors return to their homes, they will hang their weapons by the door before entering. As for the booty, be it clothing, household belongings, or food, it is divided among the women and the older men who were unable to join in the fighting. The warriors do not share in the spoils. They believe that if they make use of any part of it, they will soon be killed by the Apaches. However, they are beginning to set this qualm aside, and at present they will even make use of the weapons they have captured.
Among some of the wilder Opatas and Eudebes it was customary to chop off a hand of a dead enemy, bring it to the village and treat it much like the scalp. Furthermore, it was used to stir the pinole drink which was partaken by those present, including Spaniards if invited. This custom, a vengeful demonstration against their Apache enemy, is rapidly disappearing at the behest of the missionaries who continually represent it and the rite of scalping as an atheistic, filthy, and loathsome practice inherited from their barbaric ancestors.
As a supplement to what has been said about the Indians' treatment of illnesses, let us deal with the treatment of arrow wounds. The lesion is first sucked, then powdered peyote [Lophophora williamsii], pejori in Opata, is applied deep into the wound. Every two days the wound is cleansed with a cotton-tipped stick, and more peyote powder is applied. Later lechuguilla powder, cu in Opata, is used. Nothing more is done, and the wound heals.
For wounds not of the thorax or belly, healing is accomplished by the daily application of a salve obtained either from the century plant [mezcal or maguey], lechuguilia9 [an agave], date palm, or the echo [pipe stem cactus]. This salve is prepared in the same manner as the romerillo10 and is introduced into the wound as deeply as possible by means of wicks.
And as thirst torments the wounded no less than the pain of the injury, this province offers splendid refreshments: one may strip off the sharp thorns and rough cortical layer of the echo, or tesejo as it is sometimes called, and chew the pulp of the tenderest shoots. These shoots yield sufficient juice to appease thirst as well as hunger that may assail the individual who is isolated. The taste may not be to his liking, but as the adage says, “To the famished, the quality of food is unimportant.”11 Another efficacious remedy to allay thirst which is provided by the creator of all Nature is the root of pochote12 [Ceiba pentandra], sabó in Opata. When chewed, this stimulates the flow of saliva, and the chewer soon finds his mouth watering. And still another cactus that offers relief from thirst when chewed is cholla, tepo in Opata [Opuntia thurberi].
1. Father Gumilla states: “Generally speaking, the Indian is definitely a man so uncivilized that I dare say he is a never-seen monster with a wild brain, an ungrateful heart, an inconstant soul, a lazy backbone, leaden feet, and a thirsty belly. And he is inclined to imbibe until drunk. All these things transform him, in a moral sense, into an irrational being.” [Free translation.]
2. “Perhaps thou speakest the truth.”
3. “The secret will remain with me.”
4. Perhaps Nentvig refers to the famed Spanish theologian Antonio Escobar y Mendoza, 1589–1669. In Yucatán at the time of the conquest he observed a ceremony in which the prepuces of children were pierced. He mistakenly thought this was the Hebraic ritual of circumcision.
5. Apparently Nentvig had not heard of, or gave no credence to, the “doll affair” of Agustín Ausculbul in which Father Felipe Ségesser and Capt. Juan Bautista Anza took part during May and June of 1737. Cf. Memorias de la Academia Mexicana de la historia. XXVIII, 2:150.
6. Nentvig seems to overlook the writings of his fellow missionary Carlos Roxas, S.J. In his “Bosquejo histórico … de Arizpe, 28 Julio, 1744.” He attributes the death of Marcos de Loyola, S.J., to the supernatural powers of a sorcerer. Loyola died in 1701 casting hairy worms from his nasal passages.
7. The word Nentvig uses here is jícara, meaning a dried shell of a gourd, preferably with an elongated neck. Cut in half lengthwise and its contents scooped out, it is used as a ladle. Etymologically it is from the Axtec xicalli.
8. Nentvig implies that the Spanish officers tolerated this brutality.
9. There are many plants of the agave family with this name.
10. This is described in chapter iv, section two.
11. “Para buena hambre nada es mala comida.”
12. This is not the pochote described by Pfefferkorn. It is probably xiloxochitl, Bombax ellipticum, described by Hernández in Historia de las plantas … II, p. 453.