The Pharisee’s of Sonora

The Pharisee’s of Sonora

This article appeared in Volume 1 Edition 1 of  the San Carlos Wireless

By Ines Radice


As Easter approaches I nostalgically recall early and fear full childhood memories full of strange masked creatures dancing through the streets of Guaymas to pounding drums while asking for money. Their presence scared me. Now I no longer fear the Fariseos or, as they are called in the native Yaqui indian tongue Chapayecas (long noses). I appreciate the dance since I now understand the ritual it represents. There is a common misconception among locals in Guaymas and San Carlos that the dancers you see banging on their drums and dancing prior to easter are Yaqui. In truth Yaqui Fariseos never leave their own small towns. The dancers you see in San Carlos and Guaymas are actually Mayo’s not Yaqui’s.
The Fariseos, during Lent and Easter represent the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (tax collector). The Pharisee or one who is obsessed by his own virtue contrasted by the tax collector who humbly asks god for Mercy. This dance is just one of the many fascinating rituals that represent how local indigenous tribes have adopted Catholicism to fit into their own native culture. The money that is collected during these dances is used for the fiestas of Easter. If you are ever lucky enough to be invited to a Yaqui or Mayo ceremony, trust me, it is well worth your while to go.
The Mayo or Yaqui Fariseo is humble, he is the tax collector or Publican, and lives in poverty, but when he puts on his mask he disguises himself as the Pharisee, who considers himself more pious than the Publican and thus asks nothing from god and receives nothing in return. The Publican in turn, despised Jews and Roman collaborators commonly described as tax collectors, recognized their state of unworthiness before God and confessed his need for reconciliation. The Publican thus receives the mercy and reconciliation he asks for.
Yaqui Fariseo dances start 40 days before Lent and end on Holy Saturday. Before donning his mask a Yaqui dancer must lie on the ground in a fetal position which makes one invisible, he then places the mask over his head and can now rise into his disguise of the Pharisee. All dancers take a solemn oath. They must not speak while they are in disguise. To aid in this many dancers carry a rosary or coin under their tongue.
I sometimes feel the presence of the Pharisees in modern society. The masks that we often place over our faces, the disguises we construct to sometimes hide our true selves or feelings. The many different circumstances that we find ourselves in during everyday life, social, religious, familial, and the various masks we use for those occasions.
At the end of Lent, on Holy Saturday, Fariseos burn their mask along with the sins they have committed.

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