A Survey of Indian Assimilation in Eastern Sonora

By Thomas B. Hinton | Go to book overview
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THE ABORIGINAL peoples of the Mexican state of Sonora, of which there were seven major groups when the Spaniards arrived in the mid- sixteenth century, have to a large extent been lost sight of. These seven groups were the Yaquis, Mayos, Pimas, Papagos, Opatas, Jovas, and Seris. Acculturation has proceeded in such a fashion that, with the possible exception of the Seris, there is no group which can be said to observe aboriginal patterns to any great degree. None of the major tribes of Sonora, however, has disappeared completely. The descendants of these Indians, who can be found in most areas of the state, manifest, group by group, differing stages of physical and cultural absorption into surrounding Mexican populations.

The tribes of Sonora, in fact, present a rough continuum of varying responses to contact ranging from the least Mexicanized Seris, on the one hand, through the more Hispanicized Sonora Papagos, Lower Pimas, Yaquis, and Mayos, and terminating in the almost absorbed Jovas and Opatas ( Spicer 1954: 663-678). Two other groups, the Cocopas and the Varohios, with extensions into Sonora are not included. Among these peoples the processes of acculturation must be examined in terms of two major periods of change. The first of these is the colonial period at which time the natives were brought under mission influence and the cultures of all underwent extensive alteration. Again excepting the Seris, who will no longer be included in this paper, the result was a mixed Spanish colonial- native Indian type culture which in many ways parallels that outlined by La Farge for Middle America ( La Farge 1940: 281-291). Today one of the major points of difference between members of these groups and their non-Indian neighbors is the greater retention of Spanish colonial forms introduced by the early missionaries. These traits, particularly religious practices, have come, through long association, to be regarded locally as characterizing the Sonoran Indian.

The second period of change is seen in the gradual merging of Spanish-Indian colonial culture with that of modern non-Indian Sonora. For most of these groups, then, the contemporary situation can be described most accurately as that of participants, in varying degrees, in the peasant- like subculture of rural Sonora rather than that of tribal Indians (peasant subculture as defined by Wagley and Harris 1955: 431-433).

This paper is concerned with the three most assimilated indigenous groups in present day Sonora; namely, the Lower Pimas, the Jovas, and the Opatas. These are Indian groups among which there has been little ethnological work and which have been considered by most writers to be extinct or nearly so. The Upper Pimas are omitted because of their uncertain contemporary position. Although apparently extinct over their old territory in Sonora, the possibility remains that certain segments of this former Sonoran group may still exist, having been incorporated into the modern Papago of Arizona.

A second purpose of the paper is to delimit and locate the native Indians still existing in contemporary eastern Sonora and briefly to define the varying degrees of survival as ethnic entities which these people display, group by group and area by area. By this examination it is hoped that the place of these people in relation to the larger Sonoran society and their present orientation can be better understood.


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