Pima Bajo - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs and Ceremonies. As the Jesuits established themselves in Mexico in the mid-seventeenth century, the Pima Bajo became nominal Catholics. Little is now known about early Pima religious beliefs except for references to fertility rites practiced at planting time to assure that seeds would grow. According to some accounts, this ceremony was performed among the lowland Pima in the 1920s. Women danced on a plank-covered olla (jar) buried in the ground, containing maize, squash, and beans. The dancers disrobed as they ran to the Río Yaqui between lines formed by men. Sunday meetings were held in the central pueblos by members of surrounding rancherías. Local disputes were settled, matters of mutual interest were discussed, and news exchanged. This was accompanied by eating and drinking maize beer, húun váki, the tesguino of the Tarahumara. Similar Sunday meetings are still held by the Tarahumara today.

Although nothing has been written about the religious ceremonies of the lowlands, the highland group celebrates two main fiestas attended by many in Maycoba, the feast days of San Francisco (4 October) and Easter. Minor celebrations are held to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe (12 December) and the Day of the Cross (3 May). The feast day of San Juan, 24 June, celebrates the coming of the summer rains at each rancho. Ritual bathing, visiting, and the drinking of húun váki accompanies this celebration. Every year on the feast day of San Francisco, parents bring their unbaptized children to Maycoba to be christened by a priest and formally registered as members of the ejido. Special masses are held, and the saint is paraded in procession around the town square. This baptismal ceremony becomes legal proof of an individual's community of origin.

Easter week, with its more elaborate rituals, revolves around an organization of fariseos (Pharisees) consisting of young men installed by the Pima governor to run the community during Holy Week. The young men either volunteer or join through capture by other fariseos. They paint their faces white and bind bandannas around their heads. Their duties are to protect the holy relics (a crucifix and a picture of the Virgin Mary), which are placed on litters for daily processions. They enforce a prohibition on bathing and unnecessary work through patrols during the week, organize the Good Friday processional along with members of the Blanco church, and carry out the ritual creation and destruction of a Judas effigy. At times they act like clowns or tricksters, especially when they go from house to house during the week asking for food and when they try to douse all the hearth fires in town with water on Holy Saturday. After the hearth fires have been doused, the fariseos perform rituals involving dancing, parading, and wrestling with each other and with Blanco boys. Another group called the judíos, organized by mestizo young men, holds similar fiestas in Maycoba. Both organizations exist in Yepachi under the control of Pima. Here they also still have the Pascola dancer and the more traditional and sacred rituals called yumaris, which are similar to the practices of the neighboring Guarijío and Tarahumara.

Although many of the activities of Easter week involve cooperation and coordination with the Blancos on the use of the church and religious artifacts, the fiesta also contains symbolic and real undertones of the rivalry that exists between the Mountain Pima and the Blancos. The Pima church, which originally held the town santos, deteriorated, and the Blancos built a new church in which they placed the santos from the old church. The conflict between Pima fariseos and mestizo judíos is a significant symbolization of the hostility between Blancos and the Pima. In other places where both group roles are played by members of the same ethnicity, hostility and conflict between the two groups is still symbolized. Blanco youths costumed as judíos wear grotesque costumes with devilfaced paper-bag masks. They, too, cause mischief and even clown with the Pima fariseos and challenge them to wrestling matches. After the Holy Saturday parade of the santos, the fariseos dance to music supplied by Pima and Blanco guitars, then return to the church and hurl broken pottery shards into the air so that they fall on everyone. Another snakelike line dance moves before the statue of San Francisco. When the Pima governor signals the end of the dance, the fariseos fall to the ground and are beaten by some of the Pima women. Subsequently, the fariseos engage in friendly physical combat with each other and with some of the Blanco males. The fariseos dance with the Judas effigy, which is ritually shot and burned later that Saturday afternoon.

Arts. Pima Bajo women provide additional family income by weaving baskets, mats, and hats, although in some places only a few women do so. Ceramic production is still an important industry among many Pima as well. Woodworking—in the form of stools, bowls, wooden plows, bottle Stoppers, and husking pegs—can be found among both the Maycoba and the Onavas Pima. Most of the pottery is plainware, but a subtle blending of clays and mineral pigments and an eye for form have produced fine examples of indigenous crafts. They use the coil and scrape technique. Making baskets was once one of the major occupations of Pima women, who utilized palm and bear-grass fibers in their construction. Although both Pima basketry and ceramic pottery are made for utilitarian purposes, they also merit artistic praise. Some pottery and baskets are so well crafted that they are displayed at folk-art exhibits and, with mats and hats, are traded or sold in Mexican markets. Elaborate body painting and scarification, adopted in Spanish colonial times, were applied on chest, arms, lips, or chin at baptism by a medicine man.

Medicine. Earlier reports exist of curanderos, or curers using massage, herbs, and songs to treat a patient, but little is known about what curanderos do today. Seventeenth-century references suggest that they took typical shamanic roles such as chupadore (sucker) and sopladore (blower), who would try to cure a patient by removal of foreign objects or evil elements from the body. Today older women serve as midwives, and certain persons are known for their ability to cure specific maladies. There is scant knowledge about Pima etiology of disease, but in general they make extensive use of medicinal plants for medical problems. For example, a poultice of Agave bovicornuta or a lotion from Hymenocallis sonorensis is used for wounds, whereas stomach and kidney disorders are treated with the boiled roots of Aristolochia brevipes. The bark of the palo piojo is mashed and soaked in water for use as a flea dip, and whooping cough is treated with an iguana grease (the iguana is also eaten). Malaria, however, remains a constant problem. The Mexican government has at times issued malaria pills, but few doctors are available in this rural, isolated region.

Death and Afterlife. Little is known about early Pima beliefs regarding death and afterlife, but the practice of providing food and drink after the burial has been maintained. Cattle were formerly slaughtered on such occasions, presumably as a sacrifice, but few Pima now raise cattle. Likewise, few can afford a casket. There is a tendency to avoid a church funeral, perhaps for economic reasons as well.


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