Yaqui - Orientation

Identification. The Yaqui, an indigenous people of southeast Sonora, Mexico, belong to a larger ethnic group known as the "Cahita." The great majority of the Yaqui nowadays live in the same region, but other Yaqui groups have settled in Arizona owing to the great Yaqui migration at the beginning of the twentieth century. Ethnographic literature has referred to all these people as "Yaqui" since 1645, when Andrés Pérez de Rivas wrote that people said, "Can't you see I'm a Yaqui?" He goes on to explain that this is what they used to say because the term meant "he who speaks in a loud voice" (Pérez de Ribas 1944, 65).

All Yaqui call themselves "Yoreme" (person or human); they also apply this term to Mayo Indians. When European missionaries heard of the similarities between the Yaqui language and that of the Mayo, they decided upon the native Cahita term to refer to both the language and its speakers.


Location. The original Yaqui group resided in a long coastal valley strip opposite the Sea of Cortés. The Jesuits, however, concentrated the population within eight villages from south to north along the Río Yaqui (27° to 31° N and 10.7° to 11° W). Their original territory has diminished considerably, and as of 1937 it has been restricted by presidential decree to an extension of 485,235 hectares, over which irrigation district no. 18 spreads. This semiarid zone consists of sandy clay and humic ground, with temperatures that vary from 0° C to 47° C; it includes a mountainous area, a coastal area, and an irrigated valley.

Demography. In the 1530s a population of 30,000 Indians was registered, a figure that decreased to 12,000 by 1830. After less than sixty years—1830 to 1887, which corresponds to the period of the Yaqui wars—not more than 4,000 Yaqui remained in the valley. In 1905 there were 18,000 inhabitants. Because of the massive deportation and revolutionary wars, however, only 8,500 were left by 1930. According to the 1990 Mexican census, the number of Yaqui inhabitants of the state of Sonora has stabilized at about 10,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Yaqui belong to the Cahita Subgroup, which is a Taracahita Group from the Sonoran Branch of the Uto-Aztecan Family. The Cahita Language Group now consists of Mayo and Yaqui, which are mutually intelligible.


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