HuHuGam Heritage Center
May 18, 2018
Huhugam Heritage Center
In the 1690’s Father Eusebio Kino introduced wheat to the Akimel O’otham and Pee-Posh and since that time, this food crop has played a major role in the history of farming for our Community.
The last hereditary Chief of the Akimel O’otham, Antonio Azule informed the anthropologist Frank Russell in the early 1900s about Pilkañ Baithag Mashath meaning the ‘ripening of the wheat month.’
Our fertile soils enabled Akimel O’otham and Pee-Posh to grow many wheat fields in our middle Gila River valley.
Pilkañ has its own category of language and words associated with growing and harvesting the food crop.
A Pilkañ oithag is a wheat field. The head of the wheat is called eshpo (beard) and the stalk is called va’ogach.
As days gone by the Tohono O’odham would come north and helped the O’otham and Pee-Posh with the wheat harvest.
Men and women formed a line in the pilkañ oithag to pilkañ hi:k (cut the wheat with a sickle) then tied it in a sheave with a short piece of rope as they walked along.
These were left on the ground and a horse and wagon was driven at a walk by the driver, and was flanked by men who voksha (picked up the sheave’s) and tossed them to another man who stood in the bed of the wagon.
The man in the wagon quickly untied the sheaves and tossed the rope back on the ground. He piled as much pilkañ as he could into the bed of the wagon and when it was full it was driven to the threshing floor.
A pole was set up in the middle of the threshing floor and a team of horses was driven around the pole and keihiva (to separate wheat seed by stepping) on it.
The threshed wheat would be removed from the floor and placed in a pile before more was added to the threshing floor.
At the pile men used a pitchfork and thaichtha (pitched the wheat and straw up into the wind). The wheat seed fell back straight down as the wind carried away the mo:gach (dried wheat straw).
The mo:gach and strips of wet ku:jul (Screwbean Mesquite) bark is used to weave the vashom (granary storage basket) where the pilkañ was stored.
When flour was needed for chemaith, the women and girls ground the wheat seeds into flour on the mach’chud (grinding stone).
The Tohono O’odham were paid in wheat for their labor and they knew when to come up north to help with the great wheat harvest each year.
Today, the Gila River Farms and Independent Growers raise a brand of wheat called Desert Durum and most of our annual wheat crop is exported to Foreign Markets around the world.
So when you see the combines out harvesting our pilkañ very soon, you will remember a little history of the way men and women worked together in harvesting the old way.
We encourage you to learn the Akimel O’otham words in the word match and use them in your everyday lives.