Arizona is the only place in the United States where the centuries-old Yaqui religious ceremonies of Easter can be seen.

Ceremonies that begin with the seven weeks of Lent, incorporate ancient Yaqui - or Yoeme - beliefs with religion they learned from Jesuit priests in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Elaborate costumes, ancient rituals and colorful flowers in abundance reflect the prominence of the Easter season in Yaqui society.

"The ceremonies at Easter, from Lent, constitute a world-renewal ceremony. It's a ceremony in which goodness in the world overcomes evil and purifies the world and prepares it for another year," said Nancy Parezo, a professor with the American Indian Study Center at the University of Arizona.

Members of Yaqui communities in Arizona and Sonora take active part in the rituals and ceremonies, working together to defeat evil.

"They're doing this for the whole world and not just for their community," Parezo said.

Deer dancer and flowers

The deer dance is most prominent during the Easter season, allowing the Yaqui people to communicate with the flower world. Originally, though, it was one of the rituals performed on the night before a hunt to ensure success. For Yaquis, songs are bridges between the natural world and the enchanted worlds, a common language that unites people and animals.

The deer dancer wears a shawl wrapped as a skirt with a belt traditionally made of deer hooves. He carries a gourd in each hand and ties rattles to his ankles. A real or imitation deer head is fastened to his head. Red ribbons wind around the horns to represent flowers.

Flowers have special importance in Yaqui ritual. Yaqui legend tells of a miracle during Christ's Crucifixion, when his blood dripped from the cross and was transformed into flowers. Considered spiritual blessings, flowers are considered weapons against evil.

Casinos closed

Casino Del Sol and Casino of the Sun, run by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, will be closed through Easter Sunday in observance of tribal ceremonies. The venues will reopen at 8 a.m. Monday.

If you go

Easter weekend ceremonies

• Good Friday, today: The Crucifixion of Christ followed by two processions and all-night vigil of the body of Christ, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

• Holy Saturday, tomorrow: "La Gloria" Ceremony, followed by an all-night vigil and traditional dances beginning at noon.

• Easter Sunday: Matachinim unbraid the Maypole at 7 a.m. followed by Mass and the final procession.

(Times are approximate.)


• New Pascua, off West Valencia Road and South Camino de Oeste.

• West 39th Street and South 10th Avenue in South Tucson, and West 44th Street and South 16th Avenue.

• Old Pascua, near West Grant Road and North Fairview Avenue.

Visitor Etiquette

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe welcomes all visitors who come in a spirit of reverence. All communities are protected by tribal, town or city ordinances. Please note and that audio recording devices, cameras, cell phones, sketching and drinking of alcoholic beverages are not allowed at any ceremonial site.

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at 573-4191 or Arizona State Museum and "A Yaqui Easter," by Muriel Thayer Painter