HHC: Vashai Gakithag Mashath
September 21, 2018
Huhugam Heritage Center
This month marks the beginning of fall with the occurrence of the Autumnal Equinox in a few days ahead. We observe the sun as it slowly starts to travel further toward the south with each sunset. This month the land starts to dry out from the abundant summer rains and most summer crops are ready to be harvested. This month’s featured plant will be I:bai – Engelmann’s Prickly-pear, Opuntia engelmannii.
The name for this desert cactus translates simply as ‘the fruit’ and refers to the edible fruits which are ready for picking in fall. I:bai is the cactus fruit O’otham are familiar with, as they grow just about anywhere there is suitable soil. However, most I:bai remain on the nearby foothills of the surrounding mountain ranges. The fruit of this cactus are usually dark-purple when they are ripe. O’otham learned to be very careful when picking i:bai off the cactus plant ever mindful of the numerous spines. Some O’otham used metal kitchen thongs to pry off the cactus fruit and stored them in a container. The tiny bunches of glochids are then brushed off with Shegoi or Desert Broom, or a stiff brush.
The cactus fruit can then be split open and eaten raw and the hard seeds discarded. O’otham has learned to be careful with the juice of i:bai, as it will permanently stain clothing. Some groups of O’otham call this plant Na:v and there is a place called S-Na:vkam in the vicinity of Komaḍk Vecho.