Cahita Tribe

Cahita Indians. A group of tribes of the Piman family, consisting chiefly of the Yaqui and the Mayo, dwelling in south west Sonora and north west Sinaloa, Mexico, principally in the middle and lower portions of the valleys of the Rio Yaqui, Rio Mayo, and Rio Fuerte, and extending from the Gulf of California to the Sierra Madre. Physically the men are usually large and well formed; their complexion is of medium brown, and their features, though somewhat coarse, are not unpleasant. The dress of both sexes is coarse and simple, that of the men consisting of a short cotton shirt, trousers, straw hat, and leather sandals, the women wearing the typical cotton cainisa and gown. The native blanket and sash are now rarely seen. The Yaqui formerly tattooed the chin and arms. Owing to the semitropical climate their typical dwellings were of canes and boughs, covered with palm leaves, but these have been largely superseded by huts of brush and adobe. Although belonging to the same division of the Piman stock and showing no marked difference in culture, the Mayo and Yaqui tribes have not been friendly; indeed the former waged war against the Yaqui until they themselves were finally conquered, when the Yaqui compelled them to pay tribute and to furnish warriors to aid the Yaqui in their almost incessant hostility first toward Spain, afterward against Mexico. They now hold aloof from each other, and while the Yaqui are habitually on the warpath, the Mayo are entirely pacific. In the fertile valleys along the streams respectively occupied by the tribes of this group, they engage in raising corn, cotton, calabashes, beans, and tobacco, and also in cultivating the mezcal-producing agave. They hunted in the neighboring Sierra Madre and fished in the streams that supplied the water to irrigate their fields, as well as on the coast, where the Yaqui still obtain salt for sale, principally in Guaymas. It has been said that neither the Mayo nor the Yaqui had a tribal chief, each tribe being settled in a number of autonomous villages which combined only in case of warfare; but there appears to have been a village ruler or kind of cacique. In the first half of the 17th century the Mayo and Yaqui together probably numbered between 50,000 and 60,000. There are now about 40,000, equally divided between the tribes, but like most of the southern tribes of the Piman family, these have largely become Hispanized, except in language. The Yaqui particularly are naturally industrious and are employed as cattlemen, teamsters, farmers, and sailors; they are also good miners, are expert in pearl diving, and are employed for all manual labor in preference to any others. They exhibit an unusual talent for music and adhere more or less to the performance of their primitive dances (now somewhat varied by civilization), engaged in principally on feast days, particularly during the harvest festival of San Juan and at the celebration of the Passover. The chief vices of the Yaqui, it is said, are an immoderate indulgence in intoxicants, gambling, and stealing, while conjugal fidelity is scarcely known to them. There is some uncertainty in regard to the tribal divisions of the Cahita group. Pimentel 1 and Buelna 2 divide it into three dialects, the Yaqui, Mayo, and Tehueco, but the latter, in his Peregrinacion de los Aztecas 3, mentions the Sinaloa, Tehueco, and Zuaque as distinct groups. Orozco y Berra 4 gives Yaqui, Mayo, Tehueco, and Vacoregue. It appears that there was in fact a Sinaloa tribe which later lost its identity through absorption by the Tehueco, while the Zuaque were apparently identical with the latter.

For Further Study

The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Cahita as both an ethnological study, and as a people.

  • For the present (1905) condition of the Yaqui and the Mayo see Hrdlicka in Am. Anthrop., n. s., VI, 51, 1904.


  1. Pimentel, Lenguas, I, 453[]
  2. Buelna, Arte Lengua Cahita, x[]
  3. Buelna, Peregrinacion de los Aztecas, 21, 1892[]
  4. Orozco y Berra, Geog., 58[]


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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