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Pima

Pima (pē´mə), Native North American tribe of S Arizona. They speak the Pima language of the Uto-Aztecan branch of the Aztec-Tanoan linguistic family (see Native American languages). There are two divisions, the Lower Pima and the Upper Pima. Before the mission period, the Pima and the Tohono O'Odham, who spoke variations of the same language, called themselves the People—River People (Akimel O'Odham, the Pima) and Desert People (Tohono O'Odham). Archaeological evidence shows their probable ancestors to have been the Hohokam, who built a network of irrigation canals for farming. Many of the ruined pueblos in the Pima territory have been attributed to an ancient Pueblo tribe. Tradition further states that increased population caused the Pima to spread over a larger territory, but invading hostile tribes (probably Apache) forced them to consolidate. Thus in 1697, when visited by Father Eusebio Kino, the Pima were living on the Gila River in S central Arizona.

Although the Pima were warlike toward the Apache, they were friendly to the Spanish and later to the pioneers from the E United States; the Pima villages were a stopping place for pioneers who took the southern route to California. The Pima were sedentary farmers of the Southwest area; they farmed corn, squash, beans, cotton, and wheat (introduced by the Spanish). They lived in dome-shaped huts built of poles and covered with mud and brush. Women performed much of the labor, including basket making; their baskets are noted for their beauty. The Pima were expert with the bow and arrow and had war clubs and rawhide shields. The Pima numbered some 2,500 in 1775, but their population was increased when the Maricopa joined them in the early 19th cent. The Pima now live, together with the Maricopa, on the Gila River and Salt River reservations and, with the Tohono O'Odham, on the Ak-Chin reservation, all in Arizona. They earn their income from agriculture, crafts, and leasing land for mineral development. In 1990 there were over 15,000 Pima in the United States.

See P. H. Ezell, The Hispanic Acculturation of the Gila River Pimas (1961).

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Pima

Pi·ma / ˈpēmə/ • n. (pl. same or Pi·mas ) 1. a member of either of two American Indian peoples, the ( Upper) Pima living chiefly along the Gila and Salt rivers of southern Arizona, and the Lower Pima of central Sonora. 2. the Uto-Aztecan languages of these peoples. See Papago. • adj. of or relating to this people or their language.

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Pima

Pima Tribe of Native North Americans speaking an Uto-Aztecan tongue, and closely related to the Papago. They occupied the Gila and Salt river valleys in s Arizona, where some 8000 still reside today. They are the descendents of the ancient Hohokam people.

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Pima

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Pima

Pimabeamer, blasphemer, Colima, creamer, dreamer, emphysema, femur, Iwo Jima, Kagoshima, lemur, Lima, oedema (US edema), ottava rima, Pima, reamer, redeemer, schema, schemer, screamer, seamer, Selima, steamer, streamer, terza rima, Tsushima •daydreamer •dimmer, glimmer, limber, limner, shimmer, simmer, skimmer, slimmer, strimmer, swimmer, trimmer, zimmer •enigma, sigma, stigma •Wilma, Wilmer •charisma • Gordimer • polymer •ulema • anima • enema •cinema, minima •maxima • Bessemer • eczema •dulcimer • Hiroshima •Fatima, Latimer •optima • Mortimer • anathema •climber, Jemima, mimer, old-timer, part-timer, primer, rhymer, timer •Oppenheimer • two-timer •bomber, comma, momma, prommer •dogma • dolma

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Pima

Pima

Name

The Pima (pronounced PEE-mah ) referred to themselves as Akimel O’odham (pronounced AH-kee-mul oh- OH- tum) or Akimel Au-Authm (“River People”). Legend has it that Spanish explorers asked several questions of the first Pima Indians they encountered. When the Natives answered their questions with the phrase Pi-nyi-match (“I do not know”), the Spanish misunderstood and thought they were saying Pima. Thereafter, the Spanish explorers referred to the people as Pima.

Location

The Pima were desert dwellers from various portions of the 100,000-square-mile (258,999-square-kilometer) Sonoran Desert. Those the Spanish called Upper Pimans came from southern Arizona and southeastern California; Lower Pimans inhabited western Sonora (a section of the desert that extends into Mexico). Modern-day descendants of the Upper Piman Indians live with members of the Maricopa tribe on the Gila River Reservation and the Salt River Reservation in southern Arizona. Some Pima also live on the Ak-Chin (Maricopa) Reservation in Maricopa, Arizona. (Lower Pimans are now called Tohono O’odham.)

Population

In 1694 there were an estimated two thousand to three thousand Pima. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 15,074 people identified themselves as Pima, making the tribe the sixteenth-largest in the United States at that time. After that the number of Pima dropped dramatically; the 2000 census recorded only 8,519. Some 13,532 people, however, claimed some Pima heritage.

Language family

Uto-Aztecan.

Origins and group affiliations

The Pima believe they originated in the Salt River Valley and later spread to the Gila River area. They most likely descended from the prehistoric Hohokam people, whose culture faded about 1450. The Pima Nation shares a similar language and certain traits with tribes in Sonora, Mexico—especially with the neighboring Tohono O’odham (often called the Papago). The Pima were friends and allies of the Maricopa and enemies of the Apache and Quechan tribes, who often raided and stole from them.

Once a farming people, the Pima were known for their courtesy and generosity. As they employed Spanish agricultural know-how and technology, they became large-scale, prosperous farmers in their own right. Their newfound wealth was said to have changed them from a gentle people into warriors forced to protect their surplus crops from enemy raiders. The Pima frequently supplied produce to American settlers passing through their seemingly barren desert territory. Carrying on a tradition now hundreds of years old, the people continue to farm the arid (dry) lands of Arizona, but their difficult job has been eased somewhat by modern irrigation techniques.

History

Early encounters with the Spanish

No one knows for sure how long the Pima Indians have lived in Arizona and Mexico. By the time the Spanish encountered them in 1694, the tribe had adapted to the widely varying environments in their homeland, which ranged from extremely dry sections where food and water were in short supply to regions that supported crops quite well.

Historians believe that when the Spanish first encountered them, the Pima were weak, having suffered from plagues of diseases for the previous 170 years. The Pima lived in several farming communities, where people worked together to plant and harvest crops. For some time after their arrival in the New World, the Spanish were busy in other regions, trying to convert Native Americans to the Catholic faith and make them a useful part of the Spanish empire. Tribes such as the Pueblo rebelled against the Spanish (see Pueblo entries), but Pima participation in the revolts was minimal for three main reasons: (1) their location was remote, (2) they were busy with their farms, and (3) they had less contact with outsiders.

The Spanish government knew little about the Pima, but they approved of the tribe’s industrious nature and its policy of noninvolvement in the numerous Native uprisings that occurred in the eighteenth century. Hoping to win the tribe’s confidence and support, the Spanish introduced modern farming techniques to them.

Important Dates

1694: First contact with Spanish explorers.

1848: Pima lands become U.S. territory following the Mexican-American War.

1859: American surveyors map out a reservation on the Gila River for the Pima and Maricopa Indians. It includes fields, but no water.

1871: New non-Indian settlements reduce the water supply to Pima lands, thus destroying the tribe’s farms.

1879: The Salt River Indian Reservation is established.

1895: Congress formally establishes the Gila River Indian Community, setting aside 375,000 acres of land for Native Americans.

1993: Gaming is approved; tribe opens casinos.

Spanish innovations make prosperous farmers

The Pima reaped instant benefits from Spanish innovations. They gained a new food crop—winter wheat—and were thus able to farm year-round. After learning to grow more food by means of advanced irrigation methods, the tribe became an important economic force in the region, and years of prosperity followed.

A surplus of grain and cotton allowed the Pima to engage in trade. Their visibility in the trading community brought them to the attention of the Apache (see entry), who took note of Pima surpluses and began to raid their communities. This forced the Pima to cut down on their travel, to move into fewer, larger settlements for protection, and to sharpen their fighting skills.

In 1848, following the American victory in the Mexican-American War (1846–48; a war fought between the United States and Mexico which led to loss of about one-half of Mexico’s national territory to the United States), the United States acquired Pima lands. The Pima hoped to learn more about farming from the Americans, but they were disappointed when no such help was given. For their part the Pima proved to be good friends to the United States. They supplied food and livestock to pioneers who traveled through Pima lands during the California gold rush, which began in 1848. When American frontiersman Kit Carson (1809–1868) asked to buy food in 1846, the Pima chief replied, “Bread is to eat, not to sell. Take what you want.”

The Pima also helped the U.S. Army protect settlers against Apache raiders and supplied farm goods to U.S. troops. The Pima hoped to receive guns and shovels in return, but U.S. officials failed to deliver on their promises. The tribe’s anger and confusion grew when the federal government—without explanation—supplied farming implements to the Pima people’s traditional enemy, the Apache. (Apache Indians were not farmers and therefore were not likely to use the implements.) The U.S. failure to repay the Pima’s generosity must have been especially bewildering to the tribe because of their gift-based bartering system (see “Economy.”)

Around the same time the Apache were also raiding Maricopa Indian villages to the west, forcing the Maricopa toward Pima territory. In 1859 American surveyors plotted out the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Reservation for both the Pima and Maricopa Indians. The reservation included only fields—no water—and the era of Pima farming wealth quickly began to fade.

“Years of famine”

The Pima economy collapsed in 1871, after the construction of a dam that diverted water from the Gila River to lands settled by whites. Some Pima moved south to a location on the Salt River; in 1879 their new settlement became the Salt River Indian Reservation.

The Pima way of life disappeared completely between 1871 and 1918, a period the tribe remembers as the “years of famine.” Those who wanted to work became dependent on wages earned performing labor for whites. Presbyterian missionaries arrived on the scene, discouraged the Pima from practicing their traditional religion, and assumed control of the education of their children. Many members of the tribe turned to alcohol. Tensions within the tribe escalated. Isolated from the world and unwilling to learn English or adopt white ways, the people fell into poverty and despair.

Becoming a part of the outside world

Pima Indian contact with the outside world was almost nonexistent at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their isolation lessened somewhat after they acquired battery-powered radios and began to learn English. Some Pima men served in the U.S. military during World War II (1939–45) and returned to the reservations with a wider worldview and a determination to bring their fellow Pima into modern life. This process was further hastened by a tremendous postwar population explosion in the nearby city of Phoenix, which grew from about 107,000 people in 1945 to 790,000 people thirty years later.

Major technological advances took place in Arizona in the first half of the twentieth century. Among them were the expansion of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the building of the Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River, and other significant water projects that returned some water to the Pima. Since then the Pima have become involved in the expanding economy of the surrounding urban areas. Forward-thinking Pima leaders are working hard to take on the challenges of the twenty-first century. They predict that the tribe will (1) embrace and adopt worthwhile aspects of the larger American culture, (2) modify its farming lifestyle to keep up with the competition, and (3) expand its economic base by developing nonagricultural means of support.

Religion

Not much is known about early Pima religious practices. According to the Pima origin story, the Earthmaker created a world populated by supernatural beings such as Coyote the trickster and a man-eating beast. A great flood later caused the supernatural beings to flee, but Elder Brother returned, created the Pima and their neighbors, and taught them the arts and ceremonies they had. Like other Southwestern Native Americans, the Pima celebrated the corn harvest, fertility (the ability to conceive and bear children), and rainmaking.

Early Spanish Catholic missionaries had little influence on the Pima. The people accepted some Catholic rituals such as baptism, but blended them with their own traditional ceremonies. Presbyterian missionaries were much more successful. They arrived during the 1870s and had a profound effect on the Pima. By the 1890s they claimed about 1,800 Pima as members. Officials of the Catholic Church returned and started the first missions among the Pima around 1900, but the tribe did not accept this attempt to convert them to another kind of Christianity.

Pima Bajo Words

Most of these words are used by the Mexican Pima. Many Pima words used in the United States are similar to those in the Tohono O’odham (see entry) dialect (variety of language).

  • goka … “two”
  • himak … “one”
  • kai … “seed”
  • kili … “man”
  • maakov … “four”
  • masadi … “moon”
  • maviis … “five”
  • okosi … “woman”
  • sudagi … “water”
  • tasa … “sun”
  • vaika … “three”

Language

The Pima speak a single dialect (variety) of the Piman language. By way of comparison, their relatives, the Tohono O’odham (see entry), speak the same language, but have maintained several distinct dialects. As longtime allies and neighbors the Pima and Maricopa traditionally have known each other’s languages.

In the twentieth century the Pima people began learning English. Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of the Census in 2000 showed that of almost ten thousand O’odham speakers, about 8 percent spoke little or no English. Only 4 percent of the younger generation (under age fifteen) did not speak English well.

Government

Long ago the Pima were a loosely organized society. Each independent farming community had a designated leader and one or more influential persons called shamans (pronounced SHAH-munz or SHAY-munz ), who specialized in healing, controlling the weather, or ensuring success in battle. As the Pima began farming on a greater scale and interacting more with outsiders during trade and warfare, the position of leader (or governor) became increasingly important and was passed down from father to son.

The Pima people earned considerable distinction as farmers and then as soldiers. Their uncompromising work ethic and impressive organizational skills secured their title as a “nation” in the eyes of the Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. governments. The Pima Nation elected its own governor and tribal council.

The Pima of the late twentieth century lived on reservations held jointly with the Maricopa tribe, a traditional neighbor and ally. The Gila River Indian Community is governed by a 17-member elected tribal council with a governor and a lieutenant governor who serve three-year terms. The tribal council encourages and facilitates youth participation in government.

The official governing body of the Salt River tribe is the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Council, whose seven elected members include a president and a vice-president. Council members are elected from one of two electoral districts for four-year terms. Ak-Chin Reservation has a Community Council of three members in addition to the chairperson, vice chairperson, and appointed secretary-treasurer.

Economy

Early farming

The Pima Indians have always been farmers. Tribal members became traders only after the Spanish arrived in the New World. Before the Pima developed their own “buying and selling” economy like that of white settlers, they had an interesting way of exchanging goods: they distributed most items as gifts. In this system of give and take, a person offered a possession to another person who had to accept it. The giver gained power or importance, and the recipient was obliged to return the gift in some way. Sometimes the presenter used lines to mark the value of a gift. For example, when offering grains or beans in a basket, the donor marked lines on the basket to show how high up the sides the grain or beans came. This ensured that when the receiver returned in the basket, the amount matched or exceeded the original in worth. Merchandise also changed hands based on the outcome of games and foot races.

After contact with the Spanish the Pima began growing winter wheat and used more elaborate irrigation methods to increase the productivity of their crops. Agricultural development supported more people and allowed the Pima to trade surplus grain with other tribes and with non-Natives. Eventually the Pima sold crops for gold and silver.

During the period of their greatest prosperity the tribe’s surplus goods made them an attractive target for Apache raiders. To get back at the Apache thieves, the Pima sometimes kidnapped and sold Apache children to the Spanish for use as slaves. They later traded wheat, baskets, and blankets to the Mexicans and to other tribes for items like hides and wild peppers—things not available in Pima homelands.

Where they had once grown only as much food as their own needs demanded, the Pima responded to increased outside demands for their grains and produce by growing more. The resulting prosperity introduced the concepts of personal possessions and wealth to Pima culture. By the time they lost the water they needed to grow so many crops the Pima had also lost the old ways of farming their land as a cooperative group and sharing the proceeds with others. Farming was not reestablished as a productive way of life for nearly a century.

Modern economy

The water crisis of the late 1800s and the period of famine that followed forced some Pima to turn to low-paying wage jobs and government welfare until farming became practical once again. The reservations looked for other ways to use their land, such as leasing it to outside industries—research and development companies, a brass foundry, telecommunications businesses, and manufacturing plants. These industries brought jobs to the reservations.

With modern irrigation techniques in place, agriculture is once again an important source of income for the Pima. In addition to their very fine Pima cotton, the tribe grows wheat, millet (small-seeded cereal grasses), alfalfa, barley, melons, pistachios, olives, citrus fruits, and vegetables. The location of the reservations in prime Sunbelt territory attracts many tourists, who are drawn by artifacts offered at the Hoo-hoogam Ki Museum and the Gila Indian Center. Golf courses, a marina complex, an international racepark, and many tribal annual events are also open to the public.

After gaming was authorized in 1993 the tribe constructed casinos. They also developed tourism, built industrial parks, and opened businesses on the reservation. Although all of these have proved profitable, unemployment still remains high on the reservations. In 2000 at Gila River almost 25 percent of the people who want to work cannot find jobs; unemployment at the other reservations is about 10 percent.

Pima Cotton: Among the World’s Finest

Extra-Long Staple (ELS) cotton has been grown in the Southwest since the early 1900s. It was previously called American-Egyptian cotton. In 1951 a seed was developed that produced a superior ELS cotton known for its outstanding silkiness. It was called Pima cotton in honor of the Pima tribe, who were raising the cotton on a U.S. Department of Agriculture experimental farm in Sacaton, Arizona, headquarters of the Gila River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community. Pima cotton is used by the world’s finest modern textile (clothmaking) mills.

Daily life

Families

Pima families included a husband and wife, their young children, the families of their married sons, and their unmarried adult daughters.

Buildings

The early Pima built small, round, flat-roofed houses called ki (pronounced kee ). The typical ki measured 10 to 25 feet in diameter. Materials such as arrowwood, cattail reeds, wheat straw, or corn stalks covered a cottonwood frame. Four posts and two main support beams propped up the roof. The support beams, in turn, braced several lighter cross poles. Light willow poles were bent in a circle around this square frame and tied to it. Dirt on top of brush or straw covered the light, domed frame. Although they often leaked, these homes could survive strong winds.

Other structures in the traditional Pima village included a rectangular council house, storehouses, a lodge for women who were menstruating, and cottonwood arbors that protected people from the heat of the sun.

Even after centuries of contact with people who lived in adobe (pronounced uh-DOE-bee ) homes, the tribe persisted in building the ki single-family home until the late 1800s. (Adobe is a sun-dried mud made of a mixture of clay, sand, and sometimes ashes, rocks, or straw.) The Pima began building pueblo-style adobe houses around the turn of the twentieth century, but cement-block construction later became a more popular method of construction.

Clothing and adornment

Before the Spanish arrived in Pima territory, the people wore little clothing. Men dressed in breechcloths, apronlike garments that hung from the waist. Women wore skirts made of cotton or of the inner part of cottonwood bark; padding under the skirts made them stand away from the body. Sandals and cotton blankets added protection and warmth when needed. Later on Pima men wore Spanish clothing as a sign of their importance.

The Pima paid particular attention to hair styles, body painting, and tattooing. Men and women wore their hair long. While women wore theirs loose with bangs, men braided or twisted theirs into locks and added human or horse hair and sometimes woven headbands to make it look bulkier and fuller. Frequent brushings and a dressing of river mud and mesquite gum kept the hair dark and shiny. The Pima sometimes painted their hair, faces, and bodies. Both sexes had their lower eyelids lined with tattoos, usually at the time of puberty or marriage. Men also tattooed lines across the forehead; women added lines along each side of the chin. Grease applied to the face protected against chapping.

Food

For many centuries Pima farmers used just two implements: a digging stick and a sharpened board that served as both hoe and harvester. They concentrated on farming the islands in the Gila River and the land on the surrounding floodplain. The tribe’s most important crops were corn and tepary beans (pronounced TEH-puh-ree ), supplemented with wild foods such as mesquite beans and saguaro (suh-WAHR-uh ) cactus fruit.

Although their methods were primitive, the Pima usually met their primary food needs without having to hunt or gather. When drought or other catastrophes damaged their crops, they fished or hunted deer, rabbit, quail, and doves. They also searched for food to make up for the lost grains and vegetation. The area where they live abounds with cactus. Most cacti had fruit that the tribe stewed into preserves or made into syrup or wine. After cooking the fruit from the cholla cactus for half a day in a pit lined with hot stones, the women ground it into meal and mixed it with wheat flour to make mush.

Spring Saguaro Cream

The Pima made a cross-shaped picking stick from the long, skeletal ribs of the dead, dried out saguaro (pronounced suh-WAHR-oh) cactus to knock down fruit that grew high overhead. Inside a saguaro fruit has red pulp and tiny black seeds. People compare its taste to a combination of figs and strawberries. Spring Saguaro Cream is a tasty desert made from saguaro fruit.

  • 1 envelope plain unflavored gelatin (1 Tbsp)
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup mashed Saguaro fruit
  • 1 cup mashed strawberries
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Soak gelatin in cold water for 5 minutes. Add, with lemon juice, sugar and salt to the boiling water; stir until gelatin is dissolved. Chill until it begins to thicken, then stir in fruit. Fold in whipped cream and chill until set. To serve, garnish with additional fruit if desired.

Serves 6.

Pyle, Linda McMillin. Desert U.S.A. http://www.desertusa.com/mag98/june/papr/jun_lil.html

Education

In early times Pima chiefs and parents were a child’s primary source of knowledge. Their role was taken over by missionaries and government agents during the early reservation period, but the Pima were so impoverished at the time that they had little interest in education of any kind.

Present-day Pima recognize the importance of education and training to ensure that young people attain good, high-paying jobs. Education starts early with a Head Start program for preschoolers. There are elementary schools on the reservations, and children attend high school at public schools in nearby cities. Pima children are encouraged to attend college and return home to use the skills they acquire for the betterment of the tribe. The tribe contributes about $6 million every year to pay for higher education for Pima students.

Healing practices

The early Pima believed that people could be made ill by behaving badly toward animals or by offending clouds or lightning. They called on shaman-healers for help. Shamans gained their powers through dream visions in which they met powerful supernatural beings. Later they called upon these beings to heal the sick.

To find out what ailed a person, the shaman breathed tobacco smoke over the patient’s body and sometimes used an eagle feather or crystal to connect with the spirit world. This ritual allowed the shaman to see what spirits had visited the body and harmed its health. If these steps did not work, the shaman sang to the spirits, asking them to communicate the nature of the illness. Then a curing ritual was performed.

The Pima thought of shamans as heroes, but white missionaries encouraged the people to look upon shamans with suspicion. Because of this, the tribe blamed three shamans for causing a plague and killed them. In the late twentieth century shamans had regained the respect once given them, but the number of these healers had decreased dramatically.

Modern-day Pima have become a subject of great interest to U.S. health officials. Native Americans are more likely than other Americans to contract diabetes. In diabetic patients, blood sugar levels rise well above normal limits. The frequency of a certain type of diabetes at the Gila River Indian Reservation is the highest known in the world. Pima diabetics are studied and treated for the disease at a sophisticated health center located on the reservation. The results of these studies will benefit diabetics around the world. Other health care is provided by the Community Health Center, the Phoenix Indian Medical Center, HuHuKam Memorial Hospital, and several service units and outpatient clinics. A nursing home and cancer survivors group operate on the Gila River Reservation.

Arts

The Pima made beautiful and functional baskets and woven cotton blankets. Many baskets were shaped like large, round trays that could be carried on their heads. They wove them of willow or cottonwood and dyed some fibers black with the pods of devil’s claw, an acacia bush. They made larger burden baskets from four giant cactus ribs that they tied together with rope braided from human hair. Women carried these baskets on their backs, but also supported full baskets with a strap across their foreheads.

Pima pottery was more practical (useful), than decorative. Early pottery was cream-colored. Later redware was developed, which was decorated with black designs made with mesquite gum.

The Bluebird and Coyote

This Pima tale is based on a report made by Frank Russell, an anthropologist (a person who studies human cultures) who visited the Pima in 1908.

The bluebird was once a very ugly color. But there was a lake where no river flowed in or out, and the bird bathed in it four times every morning for four mornings. Every morning it sang: “There’s a blue water, it lies there. I went in. I am all blue.”

On the fourth morning it shed all its feathers and came out of the lake in its bare skin, but on the fifth morning it came out with blue feathers.

All this while Coyote had been watching the bird. He wanted to jump in and get it, but he was afraid of the water. On the fifth morning he said, “How is it that all your ugly color has come out and now you are blue and gay and beautiful? You’re more beautiful than anything that flies in the air. I want to be blue too.”

Coyote was at that time a bright green. “I went in four times,” said the bird, and taught Coyote the song. So Coyote went in four times, and the fifth time he came out as blue as the little bird.

That made him feel very proud. As he walked along, he looked on every side to see if anyone was noticing how fine and blue he was. He looked to see if his shadow was blue too, and so he was not watching the road. Presently he ran into a stump so hard that it threw him down in the dirt, and he became dust-colored all over. And to this day all coyotes are the color of dirt.

“The Bluebird and Coyote.” American Indian Myths and Legends. Edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz. New York: Pantheon, 1984.

Customs

Festivals and ceremonies

In ancient times the Pima had few ceremonies, although there may have been a simple puberty ritual for girls. Modern Pima celebrate many occasions, adding a Native flare to non-Native-style events. Annual happenings include a New Year’s Chicken Scratch Dance; the “Mul-Chu-Tha,” a tribal fair that raises money for youth activities and features a parade, Native American rodeo, arts and crafts, and dances; and the Red Mountain Eagle Powwow. A powwow is a traditional song-and-dance celebration. Modern-day powwows include singers and dancers from many different tribes. Several basketball tournaments, a beauty/talent pageant, a Fall Carnival, and A’al Tash Rodeo Days are more recent additions to their lineup of public events.

War rituals

The Pima began as a society of gentle people who valued peace. The wealth they gained from growing surplus crops changed their lives. They were forced to station guards around their settlements and defend themselves from raids by tribes who wanted what they had. Warring became far more frequent as the tribe carried out counter-raids to punish thieves. The Pima trained their men to be outstanding warriors—they fought with heavy clubs and shot arrows treated with rattlesnake poison. But the concept of war was still considered an evil among the tribe. When a Pima warrior killed someone, he tried to make up for the person’s death by secluding himself for a 16-day purification, which involved fasting and special rites performed by a shaman to cleanse the warrior’s weapons.

Marriage and divorce

Parents usually arranged marriages for their children, but children could freely express their wishes about their future mates. Marriages in Pima society were quite informal: the couple lived together and declared themselves married with no ceremony to mark the occasion. Divorce and remarriage were also relatively simple.

Current tribal issues

Because it was diverted by non-Native farmers farther upstream, the Gila River ran dry. This loss of water, combined with periods of drought, caused crop failure and famine. For almost one hundred years the Pima engaged in legal battles to reclaim their water rights. The issue was settled by a law passed in 2005.

Gila River also struggled with clean-up of a hazardous waste dump on land they had leased to a tire recycling company. Over eleven thousand tons of tires had been piled up on the property. When an arsonist set them on fire, they smoldered for months, causing air pollution and forcing many tribal members to be evacuated. Soil contamination is another concern connected with the dumping area.

Like other Southwestern tribes, the Pima are working to improve the quality of education and health care on their reservations. While many Southwest tribes have at least partially closed their communities to outsiders and protect aspects of their culture through secrecy, the Pima have allowed outsiders to observe their culture. Modern Pima regard themselves as a people with their own history and traditions, which they have retained despite all outside attempts to change them.

Notable people

Ira Hamilton Hayes (1923–1955) was probably the most famous Native American soldier of World War II. In February 1945 his unit landed on Iwo Jima, a barren island in the Pacific Ocean. Iwo Jima served as a base for launching U.S. air strikes against Japan, the United States’ greatest rival in the war. Hayes became one of six marines who raised the U.S. flag on the summit of the island’s now-famous Mount Suribachi in the midst of heavy enemy fire. The Associated Press photograph that captured the moment on film became the basis for the renowned bronze monument in Washington, D.C., that commemorates the battle of Iwo Jima. After he finished his military service, Hayes returned to the Pima Reservation, but the taste of fame that came with his war exploits had a destructive effect on him in the postwar years. He became a drifter, an alcoholic, and a lawbreaker. Hayes died of exposure in the Arizona desert on January 24, 1955. He was buried alongside many of his fallen comrades in Arlington National Cemetery, not far from the bronze statue that captures the pivotal moment in his life.

The 1961 film The Outsider starring Tony Curtis, is loosely based on the life of Ira Hayes. Folksinger-songwriter Bob Dylan’s single “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” released in 1965, provides a far more realistic account of this tragic hero’s experiences. For a generation of young Native Americans who came of age during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hayes took on new prominence, becoming a modern symbol of the wronged Native American warrior: he fought for the United States and gained celebrity, but he died in near-obscurity.

Ezell, Paul H. “History of the Pima.” Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 10: Southwest. Edited by Alfonso Ortiz. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983.

Innis, Gilbert C. “Pima.” Native America in the Twentieth Century. Edited by Mary B. Davis. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994.

Rea, Amadeo M. Wings in the Desert: A Folk Orinthology of the Northern Pimans. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007.

Russell, Frank. The Pima Indians. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2006.

Ryan, Marla Felkins, and Linda Schmittroth, eds. Tribes of Native America: Pima. San Diego: Blackbirch Press, 2003.

Underhill, Ruth. The Papago and Pima Indians of Arizona. Palmer Lake, CO: Filter Press, 2000.

“Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian.” Northwestern University Digital Collections. (accessed on August 6, 2007).

“The Pima Indians: Pathfinders for Health.” National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. (accessed on August 6, 2007).

“Traditional Songs of the Salt River Pima [CR-6324].” Canyon Records Productions. (accessed on August 6, 2007).

Ned Blackhawk, Associate Professor, Department of History, American Indian Studies Program, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Laurie Edwards

Laurie Edwards

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