Just imagine, in the late 1600s a stranger on horseback has entered a village. Many of the people gather to see this stranger who is dressed in a dark, flowing robe and large brimmed hat. The people of the village greet the stranger and welcome him. These people are the Tohono O'odham and the village is Wa:k. The stranger is Father Kino.
The Tohono O'odham of today is a nation with a population of more than 24,000 people. They live on four separate land bases totaling more the 2.7 million acres. The land bases are comprised of the main reservation, San Xavier District, San Lucy District and Florence Village. The main reservation is located in south central Arizona with the Sells community which serves as the Nation's Capital. The San Xavier District is located just south of Tucson. The San Lucy District is located near the city of Gila Bend. Florence Village is near the city of Florence southeast of Phoenix.
For years, many have known the people as Papago, but during the 1980s, Papago was officially changed to the Tohono O'odham, meaning Desert People in the O'odham language. The Tohono O'odham are closely related to the Pima Tribe and are most likely descendants of the prehistoric Hohokam Culture. Many O'odham that reside on the four land bases are Catholics, but are very aware of their "himdage" which means "way of life". Many traditions and beliefs of the O'odham elders continue to be handed down from one generation to another. The O'odham language is thriving. There are several different dialects and these dialects come from different parts of the reservation.
The O'odham were seasonal farmers who took advantage of the rains. They grew crops such as sweet Indian corn, beans (tapery), squash, lentils and melons. They also took advantage of native plants, such as saguaro fruits, mesquite tree beans, cholla buds and mesquite candy (sap from the mesquite tree). At present very few O'odham farm due to lack of pumping of underground water. Today many O'odham work for the Tohono O'odham Nation or federal govenment. Others are ranchers, and many who live close to the Nation's boundaries work in the metropolitan cities of Phoenix, Casa Grande and Tucson.
The O'odhams are well known for their basket weaving. O'odham baskets were used as household wares, such as food containers, medicine and trinket holders, strainers for liquids, etc. Baskets have progressed to an art, where weavers can express themselves in various patterns and designs. Baskets were made by women, but today many are men have taken up the art.
The O'odham are hospitable and giving people. At first meeting they are very quiet to strangers, but once they know someone they are very outgoing. They are very involved with both traditional and spiritual ceremonies. Photographs are generally not permitted during ceremonies; please ask for persmission.