The Ópatas: In Search of a Sonoran People


The Ópatas: In Search of a Sonoran People
David A. Yetman
2010, University of Arizona Press
432 pages, 41 plates

IT IS ONE OF the distorting ironies of history that it is written through the eyes of survivors, and as a result so often misses or is even unaware of key narratives about those who have failed to survive that may challenge established perceptions. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, an advanced indigenous group called the Ópatas dominated the north-west as the most technologically advanced ethnic group in the region. Yet, today, they are gone – although their descendants presumably live on in Sonora, no one claims Ópata descent and they have been largely neglected in academic literature. David Yetman, a researcher at the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona who has travelled extensively in Sonora, asks why they seem to have “disappeared” as an ethnic group, their languages forgotten except for the names of the towns, plants, and geography of the region where they lived. A key question he asks alongside why they disappeared, is why they disappeared from the historical record. Yetman – a veteran of such mysteries and the author of several books including The Guarijíos of the Sierra Madre: Hidden People of Northwestern Mexico – has undertaken significant research in archival sources to examine Opatan resistance and assimilation. His account takes us through the group’s initial encounters with the conquistadores, their resettlement in Jesuit missions, clashes with Apaches, their recruitment as miners, and several failed rebellions, ultimately arriving at an explanation for their “disappearance”. – GO’T

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