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ETHNONYMS: Guarijio, Guarogíos, Huarijio, Varohío, Varohíos, Varojíos, Warijío, Warijíos


Identification. The Guarijío are a semidispersed group of Indians living in the mountains of the state of Sonora, Mexico. They are subsistence farmers with a native political organization based primarily on religious festivals. They are located between the Mayo to the west and the Tarahumara to east.

Location. The Guarijío live in the municipios of Quiriego and Alamos Sonora in the state of Sonora. They inhabit mountainous areas, ravines, and the Valley of the Alto Río Mayo. The Guarijío communities are Guajaray, San Bernardo, Sejaqui, Burapaco, Mochibampo, Mesa Colorada, and Bavícora. Their lands extend from 26°31 to 28°20 N and from 107°00 to 108°37 W.

According to Köppen's classification, the area's climate is of the BSHW type, that is, dry with moderate rainfall in the summer and a mean annual temperature greater than 18° C. The highest recorded temperature is 40.5° C, indicating high thermal instability and extreme variation.

Demography. In such eroded terrain, without natural or cultural resources to attract people, isolated from communication routes, and at great distances from important production and distribution centers, population growth is slow. The 1990 census recorded 1,190 Guarijío in Sonora.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Guarijío language belongs to the Taracahitan Branch of the Uto-Aztecan Language Family. Their language is most closely related to Tarahumaran.

History and Cultural Relations

During the colonization and evangelization of northwestern Mexico, Guarijío lands bordered the Mayo territory, to the west, and the Tarahumara territory, to the south and east. The evangelization process, begun in the 1620s, was laborious; it took some time before the Guarijío accepted the Jesuits, and a mission was established at Chínipas under the direction of Father Juan Castini. He was aware that although the Guarijío had accepted the mission, they had not given up their "pagan" rites.

In 1632, dissatisfied with the missionaries, the Guarijío belonging to the Chínipas group allied themselves with the Guazapares and rebelled against the Jesuits. Many missionaries were massacred, and mission property was burned or otherwise destroyed. As a result, repressive measures were put into effect by the viceroy, who sent military forces into the region to punish the rebels.

Thereupon, the Jesuits decided to incorporate the Chínipas Indians into the missions of the Pueblos Sinaloas, leaving the Guarijío in their own area. Later the Guarijío dispersed, taking different directions; some joined the Sinaloans, others joined unconverted groups, and the great majority went up into the nearby Sierra Tarahumara. It may be concluded that there was a west-east displacement of the "Guarijío tribe," that is to say, from the slopes of the Sierra de Alamos and Quiriego toward the Sierra Alta of the municipios of Sonora and parts of the state of Chihuahua.

It is because of that displacement that the Guarijío are divided into two groups, the Sonoran and the Chihuahua. The latter has merged with the Tarahumara and has adopted their customs. Despite the common cultural heritage, there are no relations between the two Guarijío groups today, and they have developed dialectal variations; the Guarijío of Sonora can now communicate better in their maternal language with the Mayo than with the Guarijío of Chihuahua. Those of Sonora now call themselves "the real Guarijío."

Another explanation of the current distribution of the Guarijío is that they split off from the Tarahumara, moved from east to west, and mingled with the Mayo. These the-ories can be confirmed or rejected only after further detailed archaeological investigations in the area.


Guarijío settlements are dispersed, with the exception of the capitals of the municipios and Bavícora, Mesa Colorada, and Mochibampo. In the municipio of Alamos, the majority of the tribe lives in small hamlets of two or three houses.

Traditional Guarijío living quarters are rectangular, with a single room made of adobe, an earthen floor, and a flat roof. Another style of dwelling has a roof made of palm fronds and walls made of saguaro trunks daubed with mud. An open kitchen is generally built to one side of the living quarters. Cooking is done on a raised surface. Most dwellings have a porch that is used as a place where people rest and breathe in the fresh air. Not infrequently, the porches are used as places to sleep.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Guarijío raise crops on unirrigated land, care for cattle, gather wild fruit, hunt, fish, and trade. Important crops are maize, beans, and sesame. As a whole, the soil is typical for mountainous areas, characterized by clayey, crumbly earth (migajones ) and sandy clay. The uneven topography and the soil's structure and composition make extensive irrigation impossible, and mechanization is of little use in agriculture. Moreover, the sloping terrain has led to soil erosion, caused mainly by water runoff from the slopes, creating numerous deep gullies and making the land more uneven.

A traditional form of slash-and-burn agriculture continues to be practiced. Most fields are located on the lower slopes of hills. To open a field, the Guarijío cut the vegetation, let it dry, and burn it; the ashes serve as fertilizer.

Fields appropriate for planting are called magüeches. On terrain where it is not possible to use oxen for opening a furrow, a metal rod is used for planting. With it a small hole is made in the earth, into which the seeds are dropped; the hole is then covered with a small amount of earth so as not to slow germination. Magüeches are used only for three years because, at the end of that time, the land is exhausted; another plot is chosen.

Industrial Arts. Manufacturing plays an important role in the Guarijío economy; it is considered a subsistence activity. The Guarijío produce sleeping mats, hats, rawhide shoulder bags, small boxes or cases, harps, and violins. The Guarijío also make a simple kind of pottery that lacks patterns or designs. The more common kind of wares are large water-storage pots, griddles for making tortillas, and dishes; all are handmade and fired in underground ovens. Generally produced solely for personal use, these items are rarely sold.

Trade. Owing to the geographical location of Guarijío territory, regional commerce is light. In the 1990s, under the auspices of government programs, the Guarijío have been able to market some of their products (honey, sesame seeds, and chiltepín peppers) and to raise cattle, the latter being their main source of income. Each family owns a number of animals, either cattle or mules.

Division of Labor. Activities are divided on the basis of sex. Among activities falling within men's domain are preparing plots for cultivation, herding, tending cattle, working outside the community as migrant laborers in the Yaqui and Mayo valleys, and mule driving. Men's work also includes gathering firewood, collecting food, planting, and harvesting. Women prepare food, fetch water, care for their children, weave mats, and sew. They also make tortillas and cook. Women procure palm fronds for weaving and build the huts. Many women help their husbands with agricultural work. Girls and boys carry water, do chores, and, when they are older, help in caring for their smaller siblings. They feed domestic animals and help with work in the milpa (maize field).

Land Tenure. Today the Guarijío possess 25,000 hectares of land granted to them on 3 February 1981 in the form of the ejidos of Guarijío, Los Conejos, and Burapaco.


The Guarijío have a system of compadrazgo, which is considered to be as close a relationship as actual kinship. There are various kinds of compadrazgo: "water compadrazgo" (sponsoring a child's baptism), "political compadrazgo" (sponsoring the first cutting of a child's hair), (3) "blanket compadrazgo" (helping to cure a child's illness).

To create "water" compadres, the parents of a child seek godparents for its baptism. The godparents become the compadres of the parents and take upon themselves both moral and material obligations toward the godchild. They try to fulfill these obligations as well as their means permit. The godparents of the firstborn are usually their grandparents.

Others chosen to become compadres are highly esteemed relatives and friends or people who are financially well off. Godparents may be White, mestizo, or indigenous. Compadres treat each other with a great deal of courtesy and respect, and children think of their godparents as relatives who deserve their esteem.

When this type of relationship of trust is established, the polite form of Spanish address, usted, is used. Compadres visit frequently and call each other by kinship terms.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Men usually marry between the ages of 16 and 20, women, between ages 14 and 16that is to say, earlier among the Guarijío than among mestizos. When a daughter marries or goes to live with a man, her parents, depending on their financial situation, will give her a dowry, which generally consists of cattle or beasts of burden. This is done so she will not be poor. The custom of "bride theft"especially when there is not enough money for a proper marriageis widespread. The couple agree to a particular night on which the young woman will leave her paternal home and go off with her future husband.

Marriages are ideally endogamous, but nowadays there are exogamous marriages as well. Women marry basically out of moral and social considerations. Men marry to find a partnera wife whose help will leave them free to pursue the economic activities required to maintain an independent family unit. Second marriages and adultery are common and more easily accepted than in modern, Westernized Mexican society.

Domestic Unit. Residence patterns and family structure are nuclear and patriarchal. Within the family, the father is an authority figure, and on him rests all the responsibility for making family decisions. The average number of children per family is around seven.

Inheritance. The family does not act as an economic collectivity, but, because of its patriarchal structure, control over certain means of production does rest with the head of the family. Upon his death, this control and concomitant authority pass to the son he has chosen to succeed him.

Socialization. Guarijío women breast-feed their children as long as they demand it or until another child is born. As infants grow older they are given more solid food in conjunction with breast-feeding. When a child begins to sit up, he or she is left on the ground to learn to sit, stand, and crawl alone. Mothers, fathers, or siblings guide children; women are in charge of educating them. Children of school age are needed to perform agricultural chores.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Guarijío social structure is still guided by rules reflecting a spirit of communality. There is little status or social stratification, and Guarijío isolation and disposition have given them the self-assurance to safeguard their cultural identity and values.

Political Organization. A governor is the main political authority. He supports the ejido commissioner and the consejo de vigilancia, a group in charge of organizing cooperative work groups. These political authorities have their origin in Mexican agrarian law, not in traditional culture.

The religious organization of the community is in the hands of the alaguisin, the chief ceremonial leader; the maynate, the singer; and the prayer maker. Even though religious cargos are formally defined, individuals must become involved as actors in the roles, which have either a propitiating, initiatory, or ancestral character. For example, to stay up all night and into the day, as part of a system of vows or promises, is a rite of passage initiating the participant into a new identity. The symbolism of the rituals equates the musical harp with women and fertility, the Cross and the patron saints with good, and the Pascola dancers with filth and vulgarity. The rituals have the power to link the vulgar and profane to the sacred universe and to create a new vision of human existence.

Social Control and Conflict. There is no external social control, since Guarijío social organization and community spirit preclude conflict among Guarijío. The main conflicts are with White ranchers over the land that they bought from the original Guarijío owners.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Guarijío beliefs reflect the influence of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries. Life is regarded as vital breath. Death is seen as natural or as unnatural (caused by witchcraft, accident, or illness).

Religious Practitioners. When an illness fits into a native category, the Guarijío do not seek a doctor but turn to a shaman, who can divine the source of the illness by looking into smoke. Shamans perform cleansing rituals and cure with natural remedies.

Ceremonies. Among the most important Guarijío ceremonies are Cabapizca, Tugurada, and Cabos de Año. The feast of Cabapizca is performed after the harvest as a sign of gratitude. The Tugurada can be performed at any time of year to ask for rain or to fulfill a promise. Cabos de Años, also called Velaciones (Vigils), is held to honor a deceased member of the community. For a man, it commemorates the anniversary of his death each year for the three following years. Four anniversaries are celebrated for a woman.

Arts. The Tugurada is a dance performed by two lines of women who take several steps forward and, at certain intervals, turn around. Music is performed on the harp and violin, instruments the Guarijío make and use in ceremonies and festivals. Fiestas always include harp and violin music or gourd-rattle rhythm percussion. The native rhythms have a sonority that translates easily into movement.

Dance is the central event of a fiesta. Through dance, musical sounds are given bodily expression, as the dancer tries to represent physically or reinterpret the meaning of the musical forms.

The dance performances establish an imitative harmony between bodily and verbal forms of expression. It is a symbolic form portraying dramatic events that hold the attention of the audience. The mood of the dances is lighthearted. There is a constant attempt at comedy. Characters appear in one or another dance session until a full inventory has been attained: the faithful horse, the wheel, the turkey, the crow, the owl, the cow, the mapurapi, the wolf, the bull, the wasp, the priest, the donkey, the watchman, the dawn, and the saints.

Tuburi and Pascola are two styles of dance that are danced together in the Cabapizca fiesta. A singer (maynate), accompanied by a gourd rattle, directs the Tuburi. A group of women dance before the singer. When there are moments of silence, the women turn toward a wooden cross. The maynate narrates stories about people, animals, and things (which are alive in the Indian worldview).

The dance called the Song of the Iguana, or the Canary, opens all fiestas. Suddenly five Pascola dancers (pascolas ) appear straddling a pole, performing all kinds of clownish pranks, especially of a lewd nature. They genuflect and cavort behind the head fiestero, antics that do not fail to make the public laugh. The musician's harp becomes a lewd object equated with woman, fertility, the iguana, and so forth.

One of the pascolas puts his hand into the hollow of the instrument and then licks his fingers and says:

"Oh, darn, this's good."
"What is it, brother, what does it taste like?"
"Tastes like biscuits...."
"Hohoho, mus' be good."
"Yes, like biscuits and chocolate!" (laughter)

Insistently the pascola repeats this remark, and then the iguana bites himthat is to say, a musician burns his hand with a cigarette. The play continues in this fashion until the dancers have made a complete round.

In the Turkey and the Crow, before an improvised altar occupied by the images of the village saints, the pascolas arrange a pile of earth in which they plant a "milpa." The pascolas again surprise the public, this time carrying between their legs a handful of blue woolen cloth with which they simulate a turkey's tail. The imitation is well done and is accompanied by the typical sound made by this bird. The wild turkey goes through a transformation as his song changes into a kind of caw. Later in the play, a watchman is contracted by a landlord to watch over the "crops," but (how unusual!) he likes beer. Some of the crow's accomplices take advantage of this circumstance: they distract and deceive him and get him drunk; then they steal the maize. The watchman has to be dismissed.

Medicine. Three specific types of medicine are practiced: popular medicine, which makes use of patent remedies; traditional medicine, which includes traditional treatments and herbal remedies; and scientific medicine. Sorcery continues to be seen as causing illness and death. The traditional concepts of health and illness have a magico-religious component that is not addressed by the newly introduced Western medicine. People go first to a native curer, then to a doctor if that does not work. Western ideas of organic illness have been introduced through the health programs of the Instituto Nacional Indigenista and the Seguro Social.

Death and Afterlife. When a Guarijío dies, a vigil is held before the burial, and, eight days later, a fiesta is organized by his or her relatives. It is usually a Tugurada. After a year, within a complex ceremonial and religious framework, a Pascola is organized in order for the deceased to ascend into the skies. Some believe that the soul will enter the body of a bird or will roam places it used to visit, which can bring illness and misfortune. The Guarijío do not dress in mourning garb because wearing black clothing will keep the deceased from going up into the sky.


Centro Coordinador Indigenista, Guarijío, San Bernardo, Álamos, Sonora (1987). "Diagnosticó regional de la tribu guarijía." Mimeograph. Hermosillo, Sonora: Instituto Nacional Indigenista.

Haro Encinas, Jesús Armando (1981). "Estudio de comunidad." Unidad Médica Regional no. 3 IMSS-COPLA-MAR, Burapaco, Álamos, Sonora. Mimeograph. Biblioteca Centro Regional de Noroeste, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

Moctezuma, José Luis (1990). Las lenguas indígenas del noroeste de México: Pasado y presente. Memorias del Seminario sobre el Noroeste de México, Sus Culturas Étnicas.

Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

Muñoz Orozco, Maximiliano (1991). Cultura festivioreligiosa guarijío, suplemento unísono. Hermosillo: Universidad de Sonora.

JOSÉ ABRAHAM FRANCO OZUNA (Translated by James W. Dow)