It should be noted that Tohono O'odham (Papago) basketry is NOT the same as Pima Basketry. In addition to stitch and other differences, the most obvious is that Papago use a core of Beargrass and the Pima use Willow. When looking at a closed weave basket, Papago almost always use a four pattern geometric design in the center. Be weary of any basket advertised as a Pima Basket. Older Pima baskets are very valuable, and many 50's and 60's Papago baskets are sold as Pima bakets to unsuspecting buyers. Almost all old Pima Baskets are utilatarian and will show signs of wear.
Notice the center of this basket. The pattern is typical of nearly all Tohono O'odham baskets. The basket shown at the left is from the late 1960's. Notice the beautiful golden patina that has come with age.
Tohono O’odham, which means “Desert People” in their language officially changed their name from Papago in the mid 1980’s with the ratification of a new constitution. Papago which loosely translated means “bean eater”, was a name given to the O’odham by the Spaniards in the 1600. It is assumed that the Spanish observed many O’odham chewing on the gum of Mesquite trees which produce bean like seeds when the name was given. The name change reflects a desire to retain identity and culture by telling the world who they really are.
The first known inhabitants of the region, the Hohokam (O’odham for “the people who vanished”) lived a prosperous life thousands of years ago. The Hohokam left evidence of advanced farming techniques that made use of collecting seasonal rainfall, and extensive irrigation channels from the local rivers. The Tohono O’odham practiced the same type of farming until the 20th century when modern growth in the Tucson area caused the Santa Cruz River to flow underground. The Santa Cruz River is one of only two rivers in the United States to flow north. The Hohokam also left behind dramatic ruins, evidence of a large civilization.
There is no agreement among scholars that the Tohono O’odham are descendents of the Hohokam. Most O’odham do believe that they are. The Hohokam are often mentioned in the O’odham folklore, and are respected for their spiritual and earthly qualities.
In the 1600’s the Spaniards came to the region then known as the Pimeria Alta and Papagueria that stretched form what is now northern Sonora well into southern Arizona. They found a large population of O’odham numbering in the thousands, and began establishing missions. In the 1690’s Father Kino arrived and began converting the O’odham to Christianity. Today most Tohono O’odham are Catholics practicing a parallel belief based on Judeo-Christian concepts coupled with a strong appreciation for the earth and nature. They tell stories of the creator, I’toi, whom they believe still lives in the Babaquirvari Mountains southwest of Tucson.
Prior to western influence, the Tohono O’odham were semi-nomadic, spending their time between a summer village where thy irrigated their fields with summer monsoon flood water, and a winter village higher in the mountains where natural springs attracted wildlife. Although the Sonoran Desert brings unrelenting, harsh, conditions, it also supplied the O’odham with everything they needed. They cultivated wild Saguaro and Cholla cactus fruit, gathered Mesquite bean pods, and hunted wild Javelina. By the time the Spaniards arrived, the Tohono O’odham had established lucrative trade routes with the Pima and other inhabitants of the region.
O’odham homes were built with Mesquite tree wood for the structure, Saguaro and Ocotillo ribs for the roof and sides, and covered with mud. Ramadas without walls were built for everyday living and activities in good weather.
By the 1750’s, the Tohono O’odham began to feel the strain of western influence and began a short-lived rebellion against the Spaniards. They attacked missions and settlements hoping to drive the Spanish south into Mexico. The O’odham rebellion failed and the Spanish reclaimed Papquira leaving their everlasting influence on the region.
During the same period as the O’odham rebellion, the Apaches, who lived to the east, were expanding their territory through bloody conquest. The Tohono O’odham eventually found the need to fight as allies with the Spaniards against the Apache. This dependence led to the O’odham settling near Spanish presidios and missions, such as San Xavier.
To be continued...