Pima (Native Americans of the Southwest)

Pima, frompinyi-match, "I don’t know" (a reply to early questioners). The Pima were originally called Akimel O’odham, or River People, and they are also known as One Villagers because of their relatively settled lives. The O’odham Indians include the Pima, Tohono O’odham (Papago, or Desert People, also known as Two Villagers because of their traditional migration patterns), Sand Papago and the Ak-chin O’odham.

Location Traditionally, the Pima lived in rancherias in present-day southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico (the Sonoran Desert). The Spanish categorized them as the Pima Alto (Upper Pima, who lived near the Gila and Salt Rivers) and the Pima Bajo (or Nevones, Lower Pima, who lived along the Yaqui and Sonora Rivers). Today’s (upper) Pima reservations are located in southern Arizona.

Population There were roughly 50,000 Pimas in 1500 and perhaps 3,000 in 1700. The 1990 Pima-Maricopa Reservation population was roughly 12,600. There were also at least several hundred Pimas living on the Ak-chin Reservation and off-reservation.

Language Piman is a language of the Uto-Aztecan family.

Historical Information

History The Pima are probably descended from ancient Hohokam Indians. They lived and farmed in permanent settlements (rancherias) near rivers on the northern edge of the Spanish frontier, which at the time was at present-day Tucson. The first non-Indian to visit the Pimas was Marcos de Niza (1589). In 1684, Father Eusebio Kino organized several missions and introduced livestock, wheat, and metal tools into the region.

An accommodation between the Pima and Spanish masked resentments over religious, political, and cultural imperialism, not to mention forced labor. In 1695 the Lower Pima, under Luis Oacpicagigua and others, revolted against the Spanish, and in 1751 the Upper Pima rebelled. The latter had little support from other tribes or even a majority of Pimas, however, and peace was soon established.

Around 1800 the Pee-Posh (Maricopa) Indians came to live near the Upper Pima. At the same time the area came under more frequent attack by Apache raiders. The twin factors of winter wheat production plus increased conflict with the Apache led to a thorough transformation of Pima society. Pima bands engaged in closer cooperation and began to produce agricultural surpluses. This led in turn to an increased integration of their society. By the mid-nineteenth century the position of governor had become hereditary, and the Pima had become a true tribe. They were also the only effective force in the area against the Apache as well as an important economic power.

Despite Pima food assistance to so-called forty-niners and the U.S. Army, Anglo settlers along the Gila River took the best farmland and diverted water for their own use. After the Gadsden Purchase (1853) split O’odham country in two, Anglos began using the term "Pima" for residents on the Gila River and "Papago" for Piman speakers south of the Gila. The United States established a Pima-Maricopa reservation on the Gila River in 1859. However, as a result of failing water supplies, many Indians moved north, where another reservation was established in 1879 on the Salt River. From the 1850s on, three generations of the Azul family led the Pima-Maricopa confederation.

By 1870, Pima wheat production had reached 3 million pounds. Non-natives reacted to this achievement with fear, envy, and retaliation. Major Anglo water diversions soon left the Pima with little water for their crops. Combined with a drought and population increases, this led to Pima impoverishment in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Many Pimas were forced into the wage economy at the lowest levels. The U.S. government ignored the key problem of Pima water rights.

The loss of the river and the growing influence of Presbyterians brought about a severe decline in Pima culture and traditional religion. The Presbyterians replaced the Pima religious structure with one of their own creation. The Presbyterian Church and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) opened day and boarding schools respectively. Allotment hit the reservation in 1914, breaking up tribal land patterns and further disrupting community life.

In 1926, the BIA created a Pima Advisory Council to meet the bureau’s need for a body that spoke for the tribe. Eight years later the Pimas adopted a constitution and tribal council, which remained quite powerless, as the Pima "tribe" had virtually disappeared. The Pima and Maricopa community revised the constitution and by-laws in 1936. In the 1930s the San Carlos Project began returning irrigation water to the Pimas, but several factors worked to cancel its benefits, including the dependency of Indians on wage work (at that point they were reluctant to return to subsistence farming), a complex water-management bureaucracy that mandated required crops, chronic ongoing water shortages, and the fact that allotments (heirship) had destroyed their effective land base. The postwar period has been a time for Pimas once again to assume a degree of control over their own resources and lives.

Religion Pimas worshiped several deities, the most important of which were Earthmaker and Elder Brother (I’itoi). The harvest and victory after battle provided the best occasions for ceremonies. Many O’odhams became Catholics in the eighteenth century, but theirs was a Catholicism with important native variations.

Government A civil leader and one or more shamans presided over economically and politically independent villages. Village ceremonial leaders were known as "keepers of the smoke." Village chiefs elected a tribal chief, who ran council meetings. His other responsibilities included overseeing farm projects and defending against Apache raiders. In the mid-nineteenth century, the chieftainship went from a position of power and no wealth to one of wealth and no power. In 1936 the adoption of a new constitution under the Indian Reorganization Act marked the beginning of the Pima battle for legal rights.

Customs Each village was divided into two groups, Red Ant and White Ant, who opposed each other in games and other ceremonial functions. The groups were further divided into patrilineal clans. In general, men farmed, fished, hunted, built the houses, and wove cotton; women gathered food and made baskets, pottery, and clothing. They also carried firewood and food on their backs in burden baskets. The Pima used a lunar calendar. Their year began with the rainy season and the appearance of flowers on certain plants, such as the saguaro cactus. Viikita was a celebration held every fourth harvest to celebrate and ensure the favor of the gods. The Pima buried their dead in rock crevices or in stone huts, with weapons, tools, and food. The deceased’s house was burned. For traveling long distances, the Pima preferred running to walking; a ball was kept in motion to maintain the pace.

Dwellings Pimas lived in small, round, flat-topped, pole-framed structures, covered with grass and mud. In warmer weather they moved into simple open-sided brush arbors. They also built cylindrical bins in which they stored mesquite beans. Ramadas, used for clubhouses, also dotted each village.

Diet Farm products such as corn, squash (cut into strips and dried), and tepary beans accounted for up to 60 percent of the Pima diet. The people also grew tobacco and cotton and, after the Spanish arrived, wheat (winter wheat ensured against starvation and made farms very productive) and alfalfa. Wild foods included cactus fruit, mesquite beans, greens, chilies, and seeds, which, with corn, were ground into meal on a cottonwood mortar and used in gruel and cakes. Pimas also ate fish and hunted deer, rabbit, mountain sheep, antelope, and reptiles. They drank saguaro wine for ceremonial purposes.

Key Technology To irrigate their crops, Pimas diverted water from rivers with dams of logs and brush. They also built canals and feeder ditches. Farm tools consisted of digging sticks and a flat board used for hoeing and harvesting. Hunting bows were made of Osage orange or willow. After a great meteor shower in 1833, the people used calendar sticks—saguaro ribs with cuts—to mark certain events. The Spanish brought horse- and oxen-drawn wagons and plows and metal picks and shovels into the region.

Trade Pimas traded salt, seashells, and ceremonies for River Yuman pottery and food. They also traded with the Lower Pimas for hides, mescal, and pepper.

Notable Arts Women made highly prized baskets with abstract designs out of black devil’s claw. They also made red-and-black pottery. Men made equally good cotton belts and blankets.

Transportation The O’odham traveled by foot until the introduction of Spanish horses in the seventeenth century.

Pima women grew their hair long, wore ear pendants of turquoise and other stones, and tattooed and painted their bodies. This woman's elaborate face paint may denote her family or simply be ornamental.

Pima women grew their hair long, wore ear pendants of turquoise and other stones, and tattooed and painted their bodies. This woman’s elaborate face paint may denote her family or simply be ornamental.

Dress Men wore cotton or deerskin breechcloths. Women wore cloth, willow bark, or deerskin wraparound skirts. Both sexes used hide or fiber sandals and cotton and rabbit-skin blankets. They also grew their hair long, wore ear pendants of turquoise and other stones, and tattooed and painted their bodies.

War and Weapons Pimas placed a high value on peace yet became more oriented toward war with the growing Apache threat after the mid-eighteenth century. Traditional enemies also included Quechans and Yavapais; their main allies were the Pee-Posh. Pimas also fought against Apaches with the Spanish, Mexicans, and U.S. troops. Pimas fought in all U.S. wars beginning with the Civil War. Warriors who had killed an enemy underwent a 16-day purification rite. War bows were made of mulberry. Other weapons included clubs and shields.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations The Gila River Reservation was established in 1859. It consists of roughly 370,000 acres. A community council of 17 members governs by way of various committees; the governing structure also contains an executive and a judicial element. The Salt River Reservation was established in 1879, in Maricopa County, and contains roughly 52,600 acres. Its constitution and by-laws were adopted in 1940. Some Pimas also live among the Tohono O’odham on the Ak-chin Reservation.

Pimas lived in small, round, flat-topped, pole-framed structures, covered with grass and mud (pictured here in 1892). In warmer weather they moved into simple open-sided brush arbors.

Pimas lived in small, round, flat-topped, pole-framed structures, covered with grass and mud (pictured here in 1892). In warmer weather they moved into simple open-sided brush arbors.

Economy Almost all farmland is leased to non-Indians for industrial parks and agribusiness, although Gila River Farms produces a number of crops, and the Salt River Reservation has roughly 12,000 acres under cultivation. There is some wage work in the cities and with the tribe. There is also a large retail center on the reservation. Other sources of income include apiary licenses, traders’ licenses, industrial parks, a large motor racing park, and sand and gravel sales. Additional highway development may bring in some money. The Gila River Arts and Crafts Center, which includes a restaurant and a museum, is a focus for the local tourist trade.

Legal Status The Gila River Pima-Maricopa Community of the Gila River Indian Reservation and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community of the Salt River Indian Reservation are federally recognized tribal entities.

Daily Life Faced with the need to store calories against periodic famines, Pimas traditionally ate in what might today be called binges. The combination of the absence of famine and a diet that contains many highly processed, low-fiber, and junk foods has left Pimas with a marked tendency toward diabetes. A number of health centers, including the private Native American Dialysis Center, help with these problems. The Fiesta de Magdalena, held in the fall in Sonora, Mexico, remains the most powerful connection between the Arizona and Mexican O’odham. Water rights remain a pressing issue—the water table in their area has been lowered some 300 feet over the years—as does creeping urban and suburban sprawl.

Most Pimas are Presbyterians and are relatively assimilated into mainstream U.S. life. Few live any longer in extended families. The loss of most traditions has been difficult for some people: It led in part to the death of Ira Hayes, one of six men who raised the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima during World War II. The Pima hold annual fairs, particularly the mul-chu-tha festival, in March as well as a rodeo and parades. Some Pimas continue to make baskets. There is a net outflow of population off the reservations. Students attend BIA schools on the reservations (Gila River) as well as public schools. The Salt River Reservation contains a number of recreational and cultural facilities.

Next post:

Previous post: