Religious Syncretism – Paper

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Yaqui Religious syncretism Submitted by Jeffrey D Brown Submitted to Robin E. Rickli MA. Instructor People of the Southwest (ANT 306) Northern Arizona University In the first five days after the Jesuit Missionaries came to the Yaqui country, they had converted five thousand Yaqui natives. The Yaqui’s have taken this convergence and now have what is considered to be a complex syncretism of their native and Catholic beliefs. One does not have a superiority over the other, there is no confusing one over the other and yet they are the same.

Itom Aye (Our mother) is the Virgin Mary, Itom Achai (Our Father) is Jesus Christ. In Yaqui myths Jesus appears as a culture hero. In this myth the Pascola (Old man of the ceremony), deer and coyote dances are for him, and Matachines (soldiers of the virgin Mary) dance is for the Virgin Mary. In each town the church authorizes are trustees of the liturgy and ritual knowledge that underlies their patron saints for each. The rites of transition are presided over by them also.

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Member of the religious brotherhood or fraternity, also known as the Cofradia, hold the higher ranks and take an oath, in which they are the yo’owe or liturgical master. The yo’owe masters and the te mastian (liturgist) of every single town once assisted the missionary in his teaching, and they remained in charge of performing religious rites after the deportation of the Jesuits. In todays services the Catholic priest go from town to town to say the Mass on Sundays.

The singer come next, then women in charge of the altars and temples, then the girls with banners during rituals and then the boys in the Holy week ritual and the Matachines. There are eight men and eight women in each village that are responsible the fulfilling the celebration of the patron saints, they are known as the fiesteros. There are normally two groups: the Moors (red customs) and the Christians (blue customs), and they have ritual contest between the two groups. The principal festivity is lent, and Christ is considered the central figure.

During lent a very important role is played by the Pharisees’ group, known as La Costumbre. They represent the characters that intervene in Christ’s passion. Pharisees or Chapayecas, Pilato, Roman soldiers, the very Jesus Christ ( only upon the Holy Week ), the ones to which are added a tambulero (Christ’s nails in the cross, are remembered by his sound), a flautist ( his sound is the Mother of God’s lament ) and a surveillance body with military degrees to protect and to watch the order. Next to them, the three Maries ( Maria Magdalena, Jesus’s mother and Cleofas’s wife ) have a very secondary role. ” Progreso y Libertad. Los yaquis en la vispera de la repatriacion ” by Raquel Padilla Ramos, Edition of the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan) The La Costumbre’s all promise to participate for three years (although some have lifetime committements). A mask made of leather is wore during the festival as a sacrifice, along with no talking, no meat or drinking of alcohol, no sexual affairs, and in the case of the military Guard members they must sleep in a improvise hut during the 40 days of lent. The festival is shut down on the Saturday of Glory, (not Sunday), with the lords resurrection.

With the rise of the sun the next morning a straw doll is strap upon a donkey and walked around, this is considered the Judas and is the subject of mockery and guilt of passions. After the precession ends with the gathering of evil though out the town, the Judas is surrounded by the Pharisees and it is set into a bonfire that will consume all the evil. this burning is considered the new epoch of life, with flowers, joy, and abundance, which last though the rest of the year. Religious syncretism often takes place when foreign beliefs are introduced to an indigenous belief system and the teachings are blended.

The new religion then takes a shape of its own. This can be seen in the above example. Former temples were razed, with Catholic shrines and chapels built on the same spot. Natives were allowed to substitute praying to saints instead of gods of water, earth and air, and replaced their former idols with new images of the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, the animistic religion the natives had formerly practiced was never fully replaced—it was adapted into Catholic teachings, and this new belief system was allowed to flourish. (http://www. gotquestions. org/syncretism-religious. html)

By allowing this we see the formation of two religions, which allow the Yaqui to still practice their now Catholic faith and yet keep the traditional heritage and culture alive. This is best said in the following: Religious syncretism at its best is not old truths in new guise or just old or new truths confused; rather, through a creative dialectic, new religious insights have been born. Herbert Richardson phrases the need for such creative interpenetration very nicely: “Christianity has been a Western religion too long. While there is strength in the West, there is also a great lack.

Christianity… must be strengthened and renewed by prophets from the East. (Herbert Richardson’s 1976 lecture at Unification Theological Seminary found in Time for Consideration, eds. M. Darrol Byrant and Herbert W. Richardson (New York: Edwin Mellon Press, 1978) The challenges of this is trying to maintain your cultural, historical background, and stile maintain your faith in the religion of your upbringing. In following the festival on Lent is was very surprising to see the unique but similarities in in how they have incorporated the two religions.

The use of Itom Aye (Our mother) as the Virgin Mary, Itom Achai (Our Father) as Jesus Christ. The way they use the straw man as Judas and yet it is the symbol of evil and to rid the town of that evil they burn it, and so on. One way to think of this religious syncretism is in the quote from Harold Turner: If what is drawn from local sources retains its original religious meaning, and is merely amalgamated with other Christian elements, we have a religious syncretism.

This is a hybrid or mixture in which Christ through the Scriptures does not control all elements, and at best it is only partly Christian. “Syncretism” in Stephen Neill, Gerald H Anderson and John Goodwin, eds. , Concise Dictionary of Christian World Mission, London, Lutterworth, 1971, p. 580. Source Page: Bibliography: ” Progreso y Libertad. Los yaquis en la vispera de la repatriacion ” by Raquel Padilla Ramos, Edition of the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan ” El noroeste de Mexico: sus culturas etnicas “, Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, 1991 “Tres procesos de lucha por a sobrevivencia de la tribu yaqui” Testimonies. Coleccion Etnias. PACMYC 1994. Direccion de Culturas Populares de Sonora. “Sonora, de la prehistoria a el siglo XX” by Jose Romulo Gastelum. Hermosillo, Sonora 1999 www. lutisuc. org/yaqui%20ingles. htm www. everyculture. com/Middle-America-Carbbean/Yaqui-Religion-and-expressive-culture. html#ixzzoYUhdAVUh “Syncretism” in Stephen Neill, Gerald H Anderson and John Goodwin, eds. , Concise Dictionary of Christian World Mission, London, Lutterworth, 1971, p. 580.


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