- Between Yoris and Guarijíos: Chronicles of AnthropologyIntroducing Between Yoris and Guarijíos
I have been connected with the Guarijíos since the summer of 1978, when I was commissioned by the Instituto Nacional Indigenista (the National Indigenist Institute, or INI) to introduce federal government programs into the region.1 At that time the Guarijíos had nothing, and delivering the services that they were requesting was not an easy task because they did not even have access to land where we could set up our installations. It might seem an exaggeration to say that they lacked everything, but there are times when reality outstrips imagination. They had no land or homes of their own. They did not have access to potable water or medical care, and there were no roads or electricity. Nothing. Just their poverty. Some still wore loincloths and shawls and lived in caves. They were peones acasillados2 for the large ranchos owned by Yoris.3 And although for the average anthropologist such circumstances would in no way be surprising—and even less a reason for making snap judgments—for me they definitely were, from the very first general assembly of Guarijíos that I attended, where I was to learn about the different problems facing them. My reasons for surprise came in the form of the fetid odor of hunger that emanated from that collection of empty stomachs and which, that same year, led to the starvation and death of two adults. And so it is no exaggeration to say that in the summer of 1978 the Guarijíos had nothing. Referring to that time, Cipriano Buitimea said, “We had problems that were so great we could not see the edge.” [End Page 371]
I started my work as an indigenista with one idea in mind: to help the Guarijíos get their land. But at the first opportunity, I spread the word about the state they were in because I believed that one of the causes of their situation was the isolation in which they lived, both the Guarijíos and the Yoris. Getting into the agrarian reform process pushed me to write a short historical synthesis in order to establish their rights to the land on which they were working as peones acasillados. The document formed part of the petition we filed for the case. Needless to say, the Ministry of Agrarian Reform (SRA) did not use it in its decision even though it was required. Ultimately, the land was returned to the Guarijíos as part of a politically driven decision (absurd as it seems, according to the SRA Indians, Mexico’s aboriginal population had to demonstrate that their rights were based on use of said land for a legally mandated amount of time). Nevertheless, the historical research did help me in developing a brief ethnographic essay, which the INI had requested. When I thought that we were coming close to getting the lands, José Zazueta and I designed a plan based on three types of land use: production, basic services, and homes. Yet, as land conflicts are at one and the same time juridical, economic, and political matters, they often turn into violent disputes that only the strongest win. The latter was not the case for me, and because of it I had to quit my post at the INI two years following the granting of ejidal4 lands to the Guarijíos, but not without denouncing once again their desperate and critical circumstances.
In 1981, I returned to the region as a visitor and I could see that our land-use plan had become a tangible reality. And it is perhaps for this reason that I drifted away from my Guarijío friends in the following years, conducting research within different institutions. Before doing that, however, I made sure that the work we did in Sonora could be written in a way that made sense. In this case it was as my undergraduate thesis.
A short time later I returned to work for the INI, though without having set foot in Guarijío country for some time...