Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Raphael Brewster Folsom's "The Yaquis and the Empire"

Raphael Brewster Folsom is assistant professor of history at the University of Oklahoma.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Yaquis and the Empire: Violence, Spanish Imperial Power, and Native Resilience in Colonial Mexico, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The devil was everywhere in Jesuit writings about this period, a testament to the deep antagonism between the Jesuits and most of the Yaquis, and also to the vigorous persistence of non-Christian practices on the Yaqui mission. In one revealing passage, Pérez de Ribas described a Yaqui woman telling a Jesuit, “Father, look at the other side of the river; do you see how many hills, mountains, cliffs and peaks there are? In all of them, we had our superstitions; we revered all of them, and celebrated there.” The Yaquis invested the landscape with supernatural meanings, and the Jesuits were too few and too vulnerable to do much about it. The earliest accounts of the Yaqui mission told of sorcerers practicing black magic among the Yaqui people and conspiring to kill Jesuit missionaries. Satan appeared regularly among the Yaquis, sometimes in the form of an old man, sometimes as a young one. One Yaqui confessed that Satan had come to him in the form of a crow and had told him to kill all the Spaniards. Pérez de Ribas was so concerned about the devil’s grip on the Yaquis that he ordered a six-volume treatise on demonic magic by the Jesuit Martín del Río. After perusing it, he concluded that all the evil enchantments described in del Río’s book could be observed on the Yaqui mission. Indeed, Satan was so well established, and his cult had reached such heights of sophistication among the Yaquis, that it seemed that the devil had established an “endowed professorship” (cátedra) of the dark arts on the shores of the Yaqui River.
I couldn’t be happier with the results of this test. Page 99 begins with the heading, “The Devil and Yaqui Resistance.” Since the book is all about the relationships that came into existence between the Yaqui people of northern Mexico and the European representatives of the Spanish empire, this section is a good representative of the book as a whole. Jesuit missionaries first arrived among the Yaquis in 1617 under peculiar circumstances. The Yaquis had recently thrashed Spanish-led forces on the battlefield, not once or twice, but three times. Then, to the bafflement of the Spanish, the Yaquis sued for peace, offering fourteen Yaqui children to the Spanish as hostages, which was a common practice in northwest Mexico among native people who wanted to strike an alliance. The Spanish, in turn, offered Jesuits. There were still many Yaquis who did not want the Spanish as allies, and wanted Jesuits among them even less. So when the Jesuits arrived, they were horrified at the abundance of what they thought were Satanic practices. Andrés Pérez de Ribas, the lead missionary, claimed that Satan was so well established among the Yaquis that he had created an “endowed professorship” (cátedra) of the dark arts on the Yaqui River. The Jesuits were too few and too scared to destroy Yaqui religious practices. Over time, the Jesuits had a profound influence on spiritual life among the Yaquis. But “the Devil”—the Jesuit term for Yaqui adherence to ancient ritual practices—was never far off. Page 99 of The Yaquis & The Empire is a small but representative slice of a larger story about people of unimaginably disparate cultures learning to live together under circumstances of extreme violence and political turbulence. Fans of Brian Moore’s novel, Black Robe, and the wonderful movie of the same name, will find much of interest here. (In my humble opinion).
Learn more about The Yaquis and the Empire at the Yale University Press website.

Cover story: The Yaquis and the Empire.

--Marshal Zeringue