Auppa I’ivakithak Mashath
The Akimel O’otham name for this month translates to ‘The budding of the Cottonwood tree Moon’ otherwise known as January by Western society. Throughout the course of time, Akimel O’otham have added words to our spoken and known language to describe new items in our universe. Take for instance the introduction of the Russian thistle in the late 1800’s, which originated in the country of Russia, hence its common English name. Known as the common tumbleweed in western folklore and has become entrenched in practically all counties throughout our state.
Let us take a little trip back in time and imagine our Hechiu O’otham working in their fields and observing a wind-driven tumbleweed rolling by. Now, in their mind-set they knew that this plant was not native and introduced somehow into our O’otham country, along with other plants and food crops. It invaded the landscape and became an everyday sight throughout the growing season. One characteristic readily apparent is that they were often observed in motion on windy days. Through practical observations, the name “Vopotham Sha’i” was applied to the common tumbleweed, which translates to ‘rolling/moving brush.’ The next time you see a Vopotham Sha’i roll on by, you will understand why our Hechiu O’otham named it that way. O’otham have always added new words to our language collective by describing a characteristic of the new plant by how it looks, how they are colored and the fruit and seeds they produce.
This process of applying names to everything includes birds and animals. In this article, we will now shift our focus to seven lesser known bird’s observable on the landscape. They are described by the way they look, their song, and social habits. Some birds are solitary foraging in pairs, while others travel in large communal flocks. A few live with us year-round and others spend the winters in our community. The Akimel O’otham translation of the seven bird names are given here in English: “The Whistler (Resident); Yellow Rump/Back (Winter); Leather Chaps [cowboy] (Winter); Dark Cloud (Resident); Wears a Red Hat (Winter); Eats Everything (Resident) and Singing Bird (Winter). Your challenge is to match the Akimel O’otham name with the bird picture using the above descriptions, and the common English name. It will make a fun family outing to take to the field and look for these seven lessor known birds. Remember that the birds who spend the winters with us will leave when spring arrives. Speak with an elder or speaker, spellings and pronunciations may be different between villages.