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ETHNONYMS: Hualapai, Jaguallapai, Yampai


Identification. The Walapai are an American Indian group located in Arizona. "Walapai" is the most common historic and ethnographic label for the group whose official Tribal designation is "Hualapai." The term, meaning "Ponderosa Pine People," originally referred to a single band, the first one encountered by explorers and prospectors coming into Walapai territory from the Colorado River. Prior to the administrative division into two reservations in the nineteenth century, the Walapai and the Havasupai constituted a single ethnic group.

Location. Historically, the Walapai inhabited an extensive territory in northwestern Arizona, bounded on the north and west by the Colorado River, and on the south and east by hostile groups of Yavapai. This arid range is characterized by hot summers and mild winters, with frequent and violent Thunderstorms throughout July and August. The Walapai now reside on a reservation of approximately 1 million acres within this aboriginal territory, with tribal offices located at Peach Springs, Arizona.

Demography. In the 1980s, the reservation population numbered about 950 Walapais. Accurate reconstruction of the historic size of the population is difficult, owing to the fluid nature of hunting and gathering bands, but it is probable that the group never numbered more than 1,000. By 1900, following a series of epidemics and battles with U.S. troops, the population had been reduced to less than 600.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Walapai language, along with Havasupai and Yavapai, form the Upland Pai group within the Yuman language family. Mutually intelligible dialects are also spoken by groups along the Colorado River and in Southern California and the northern part of Baja California, Mexico.

History and Cultural Relations

The Upland Pai are descendants of the prehistoric Cerbat tradition, inhabiting the present territory of the Pai as early as AD. 1100. The Walapai origin myth places the creation of all the Yuman groups at a place on the west bank of the Colorado River, where the Great Spirit transformed the canes along the river's edge into humans. Although Spanish explorers and missionaries established relations with the Yumans living along the river in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it was not until 1776 that direct and brief contact with Walapais occurred.

They remained isolated for another seventy years, until the U.S. Army began to sponsor the search through northern Arizona for railroad routes to the West Coast. These explorations initiated two decades of hostilities between the Walapai and Anglosthe soldiers and the settlers who followed closely behind them. The intrusions began with the discovery of gold near Prescott in 1863. In 1866, the respected Walapai leader, Wauba Yuma, was killed. For the next four years, Walapais engaged the better-armed and better-mounted soldiers in battle. Ultimately, the Walapai surrendered and were moved to the inhospitable lowlands of the Colorado River Indian Reservation. Finding conditions there intolerable, they fled back to their customary territory where, in their brief absence, ranchers and miners had appropriated the habitable areas and taken over many of the springs. Conditions did not improve markedly with the establishment of the reservation in 1883, for heavy grazing had already depleted the Walapai range, wiping out several of the food plants upon which the Indians depended. Impoverished and threatened by epidemic diseases, Walapais sought work in the towns on the Santa Fe Railroad and in the mines. Many, too, turned briefly to the millenarian Ghost Dance in the late 1880s, hoping, to no avail, that the magical power of the dance would expel Anglos from the territory.

Aboriginally, the Upland Pai (Walapai and Havasupai) were culturally and linguistically similar to the Yavapai along their southern boundary and to the Colorado River Yumans to the west. Yet these similarities did not lead to a shared sense of identity. Although Walapais intermarried with the Halchidhoma along the river, raiding and warfare characterized their relationships with the powerful Mohaves and the mobile Yavapais. Enmity intensified with the arrival of Anglo miners and settlers, as Indians were recruited to fight their traditional foes. This process led, in postcontact times, to an increased sense of unity within the beleaguered Walapai bands.


Walapai settlement patterns have been and continue to be closely tied to the availability of resources. Aboriginally, the "camp," composed of about 25 related individuals, was the primary settlement and subsistence unit. Relying for much of the year on the abundant and varied wild resources of Walapai territory, the camp might join others during some seasons, either to exploit game or farm near springs and washes. During the period of conquest, there is evidence that farming took on increased importance, resulting in larger and more stable settlements of as many as 250 Walapais. With the establishment of the reservation and consequent reduction in the territory available to Walapais for hunting, gathering, and farming, many took jobs and quarters in towns along the railroad. By 1960, only half of the enrolled tribal members resided in the reservation town of Peach Springs.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the primary aboriginal house form was the rough brush wickiup, a circular structure without poles. Habitation debris has also been located in caves and rock shelters. During the postcontact period, Walapais were observed living in more permanent domed houses, thatched with arrowweed or covered with juniper bark. Eight-sided hogans and tar-paper shacks became common during the reservation period. During the 1970s, the tribe undertook a substantial effort to develop adequate housing on the reservation.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Historically, the Walapai economy was based primarily on hunting and gathering seasonally available wild resources. Moving frequently, the camps visited locations where resources were known to be abundant. This annual round focused on several key plant foods. In the spring, agave or mescal was gathered in canyons and foothills. When baked for several days in an earth oven, the plant's inner core was eaten immediately while the outer layers were crushed into pulp, dried, and stored for future consumption. Following the mescal harvest, the camps or Individual families moved down to the valley and basin floors to collect stick-leaf and abundant and protein-rich wild seed. By midsummer, fruits of several cactus species ripened, and in late summer, attention shifted to nut gathering in mountain groves. Few vegetal resources were available during the winter months, but the Walapai survived on wild game and the stored products of the spring and summer. As settlers moved into Walapai territory in the nineteenth century to graze cattle, cut trees for mine timbers, and exploit wild game, this adaptive hunting and gathering economy changed. Walapais, of necessity, turned increasingly to farming the land around springs and the few perennial streams in the region. Walapais constructed diversion dams to irrigate gardens of squash, maize, beans, watermelons, and wheat. But, once again, this response proved to be short-lived. Restricted to the high grasslands of the reservation after 1883, Walapais in the twentieth century have come to rely on cattle (four thousand head in the 1980s), wage employment in tribal and federal agencies, a successful doll factory, and recently, the development of recreational facilities along the Grand Canyon, bordering the reservation. Nonetheless, over 40 percent of Reservation residents remain unemployed. The horses and cattle introduced by Europeans were viewed, until the reservation period, as food on the hoof.

Industrial Arts. Walapai basketry came to be highly valued in the trade network and afforded women a major outlet for artistic expression. Most baskets were functional containers such as large firewood and burden baskets, conical seedgathering baskets, flat trays for parching and winnowing seeds, and water bottles sealed with pitch from the piñon tree. Walapai pottery, another aboriginal art, did not survive the influx of metal utensils during the postcontact period.

Trade. The Walapai actively traded the products of hunting and gathering pursuits to their agricultural neighbors during aboriginal and postcontact times. When at peace with the Mohave, they bartered meat for the beans, maize, and pumpkins cultivated along the river's floodplain. Cultivated foods were also obtained from the Havasupai in return for deer and the skins of mountain sheep. Trade linkages extended well beyond adjacent groups, however. Walapai introduced distinctive productsdried mescal, red hematite pigment, and the prized basketryinto an exchange network which linked Indians of the Pacific Coast to the Pueblos of New Mexico.

Division of Labor. In the traditional hunting and gathering economy, women bore primary responsibility for collecting and processing plant resources, and men hunted. Farming activities were carried out by all members of the family.

Land Tenure. Prior to the establishment of a reservation, land tenure took the form of a "customary range," an area of habitat diversity within which the bands gathered and hunted wild resources. The boundaries of these ranges were not Precisely demarcated, but there was common consent among the Walapai that the various ranges were the primary subsistence grounds of the bands inhabiting them.


Kin Groups and Descent. Historically, the nuclear family of parents and children was seldom an isolated and self-sufficient unit. Rather, camps of about twenty-five Individuals, usually several related nuclear families, proved to be necessary for protection against raids, for communal hunts, and for efficient gathering of wild plant resources. While the camp was the primary land-use unit during the historic period, Several camps utilizing adjacent territories were grouped into patrilineal bands, headed by the most respected of the leaders of the individual camps. Eligibility for camp leadership, and thus for the headship of the bands, was transmitted patrilineally, but potential leaders won respect more for their bravery, wisdom, and oratorical abilities than for strict genealogical descent.

Kinship Terminology. Under reservation life, the Yumantype kinship terminology of the Walapai does not appear to have retained its salience.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Traditionally, marriage was not marked by Formal ceremony. Rather, the process was initiated through repeated gifts by the male suitor to the girl's father. If the father found the man to be acceptable, he would urge his daughter to receive the man. Upon marriage, a man was expected to live for a time in the camp of his spouse and then return with his wife to his own patrilineal camp. In practice, however, young couples typically joined the camp that was most in need of their help in subsistence activities. Divorce was Reported to be frequent in the postcontact era, for reasons of incompatibility, jealousy, and adultery. With settled reservation life, the incidence of divorce has declined substantially.

Domestic Unit. Several related families joined together to form the basic domestic entity, the camp. Frequently, these families were polygamous, out of the need to ensure sufficient labor for domestic activities.

Inheritance. Under aboriginal conditions, notions of Inheritance of private property were weakly developed, since an individual's possessions were burned upon death. Access to wild resources within the tribal range was, however, a critical right inherited through the patrilineal band.

Socialization. Historically, the socialization of children and adolescents centered on economic pursuits, training the young in the critical tasks of hunting and gathering. In recent years, a noteworthy interest has been shown by Walapais in documenting and preserving Walapai language and culture. The Peach Springs School, opened on the reservation in the 1950s, has implemented an extensive program in bilingual and bicultural education for its students.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Prior to its disruptive encounter with the U.S. Cavalry in the 1860s, the Walapai tribe was divided into three named subtribes, each encompassing several adjoining patrilineal bands and their constituent camps. These social units tended to be endogamous, since marriage partners were most frequently selected from adjacent camps and bands. But strict territoriality does not appear to have been maintained: subtribes shared land and resources with other Walapais when necessary for survival. The reservation system has transformed this aboriginal social organization. The Havasupai reservation was established for a single band within one subtribe, and the Walapai reservation, drawing its designation from the proper name for another patrilineal band, now houses descendants of twelve other aboriginal bands.

Political Organization and Conflict. War with the United States, as well as the customary practice of governmental agents to seek "chiefs" as signatories to official documents, elevated several of the camp and band headmen to positions of subtribal leadership. Wauba Yuma, shortly before his murder, put his mark on the toll-road contract on behalf of the Yavapai Fighters subtribe, as did Hitchi Hitchi for the Plateau People. And Cherum, of the Middle Mountain People, took military command in the ensuing war, developing a clever trade network by which he procured arms from Southern Paiutes who had in turn obtained them from Mormons in Utah. With the creation of the reservation, bringing agents of the Indian Service to Truxton Canyon, the incipient tribal leadership fell dormant. The present tribal government, an elective nine-member council, was established under provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act in the late 1930s.

Social Control. Aboriginally, the wisdom and oratorical skills of the camp and band leaders were marshaled in family disputes. Undoubtedly, too, the fluidity of group membership facilitated resolution, as disputants could join the camps of friends and relatives.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Walapai, like other Yuman groups, do not have an elaborate cosmology or a complex ritual cycle. Spirits to which shamans attach themselves are associated with particular locations within aboriginal Walapai territory. In the twentieth century, they have been subjected to repeated missionary activity, but the Baptists, Mormons, and the revivalist Four Square Gospel mission have met with little success on the reservation. Much of the traditional religious activity, continuing well into the present century, centers around the shaman.

Religious Practitioners and Medicine. A deceased relative's spirit alerts a prospective shaman to his specialty through a series of dreams. Then, during a solitary visit to a mountain, the individual acquires the necessary power from the spirits through additional dream sequences. Thus prepared, the shaman may operate in the realm of curative Medicine. Treatment of diseases and snakebites consists of singing over the patient and sucking the wounds. The specialist may then produce a small object from the wound, believed to be the locus of the malignant spirit. By extracting the offending object, the shaman returns the evil spirit to its mountain. It is reported historically that the shaman was liable to be killed by the relatives of a deceased patient or rewarded with buckskins if the patient recovered.

Ceremonies. The individualistic character of the shaman complex gives rise to few groupwide ceremonial occasions among the Walapai. Girls pass through a brief puberty Ceremonial following their initial menses, but, historically, Marriage was not marked by formai rites.

Arts. Facial painting and shell neck pendants were, historically, important modes of personal decoration and expression. The shells, obtained in trade from Yumans along the Colorado River, functioned as charms or amulets, guarding the wearer against disease.

Death and Afterlife. Traditionally, Walapai dead were cremated along with their material possessions. The souls of the good people departed for the ancestral land on the bank of the Colorado River to the accompaniment of ceremonial crying by living relatives and friends. Late in the nineteenth century, U.S. soldiers attempted to enforce Christian burial practices, and many Walapai partially acquiesced, interring the dead in rock slides and cairns. The mourning ceremony, an elaborate ritual among the Colorado River Yumans, persists in attenuated form among the Walapai.


Dobyns, Henry F., and Robert C. Euler (1970). Wauba Yuma's People: The Comparative Socio-Political Structure of the Pai Indians of Arizona. Prescott College Studies in Anthropology, no. 3. Prescott, Ariz.: Prescott College Press.

Kroeber, Alfred L., ed. (1935). Walapai Ethnography. American Anthropological Association, Memoir 42. Menasha, Wis.

Martin, John F. (1985). "The Prehistory and Ethnohistory of Havasupai-Hualapai Relations." Ethnohistory 32:135-153.