A Survey of Indian Assimilation in Eastern Sonora

By Thomas B. Hinton | Go to book overview

2
THE OPATAS AND JOVAS

THE OPATAS, when first contacted by Europeans in 1538, lived in agricultural rancherías and villages along the river valleys of eastern Sonora. Their territory stretched from the western slopes of the Sierra Madre to the borders of the desert plains of western Sonora. They lived on the Yaqui River and all its tributaries from the northern headwaters near the present United States boundary as far south as the town of Tónichi and along the Sonora River from north of its headwaters south almost to Ures. The San Miguel Valley was occupied from Cucurpe south to the vicinity of modern Rayon. The Opatas, including those speaking the Eudeve dialect, were a numerous group. Sauer ( 1935: 29) places their aboriginal population at 60,000 while other sources give somewhat smaller estimates. A mission census of the native Christian population of the Opata and Lower Pima area of Sonora in 1678, less than sixty years after the establishment of the first mission, in which time no great epidemics are reported, gives a total population of around 20,000 ( Bannon 1955: 145-146). This would seem to bear out a lesser estimate for the pre-Spanish Opata. This tribe, occupying the heart of Sonora, spoke a language of the Cahita- Opata-Tarahumar division of the Uto-Aztecan family ( Kroeber 1934). Bordering them on the west, north and south were Piman speaking groups with which there probably was frequent mixture.

The pre-conquest Opatas possessed a culture which was similar in many respects to that of other Sonoran tribes, the Piman and Cahita peoples ( Beals 1932: 144-147; Johnson 1950: 8).

As the history of the Opatas is fairly adequately covered in both documentary and secondary sources, it will be no more than touched upon here ( Ocaranza 1933, 1937; Johnson 1950; Villa 1951; Bannon 1955). The Opatas were concentrated in missions by the Jesuits of the seventeenth century and were rapidly converted to Christianity ( Bannon 1955). They apparently accepted Spanish culture eagerly, and the Jesuit, Pfefferkorn, writing in the mid-eighteenth century, speaks of frequent intermarriage with Spanish soldiers and miners. There were probably several reasons for the Opatas' ready amalgamation with the Spaniards, their exposed position in regard to the Apache being a major consideration in later times. Another reason undoubtedly was the fact that the fertile Opata valleys attracted Spanish settlers to a greater extent than some of the more desert regions of Sonora. The assimilation of the Opatas was consequently far advanced by the end of the nineteenth century. Bandelier visited the Sonora River, the upper Bavispe River, and the Bacadehuachi-Nácori Chico area in 1884 and found some remains of Opata culture still in existence and a few people who still spoke the language ( Bandelier 1890). Lumholtz passed briefly through the same area in 1894 and noticed little of Indian culture ( Lumholtz 1902, Vol. 1: 10). Hrdlicka paid a visit to the San Miguel valley in 1902 and discovered Opata speaking people of the adult generation still living at Tuape and Pueblo Viejo and a few native ceremonies still in existence ( Hrdlicka 1904: 71-84). Johnson studied Opata descendants at Tónichi in 1940. He reported that the Opatas "have completely disappeared today as a cultural and ethnic entity" ( Johnson 1950: 7).

Whatever the factors may have been which led to the voluntary amalgamation of this group, the Opatas of today present a picture of a people on the verge of complete mergence with their neighbors--a process, however, which is still incomplete in some areas.

The Jovas, whom the early Jesuits reported as speaking a language different from that of the Opatas, lived in the barrancas (gorges) of the Sierra Madre along the Papigochic River (Rio

-12-

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A Survey of Indian Assimilation in Eastern Sonora
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Preface 5
  • Introduction 6
  • Contents 7
  • 1: Contemporary Socio-Racial Classifications 9
  • 2 - THE OPATAS AND JOVAS 12
  • 3 - MODERN DISTRIBUTION OF OPATAS AND JOVAS 19
  • 4 - THE LOWER PIMAS 26
  • CONCLUSIONS 30
  • References 31
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