A'aga February 2016 by Billy Allen

February 5, 2016


Billy Allen


This is the season for storytelling in O’odham and Piipaash country.  The Huhugam Heritage Center hosted a group of Tohono O’odham children who enacted segments of our traditional stories followed by Mr. Barnaby Lewis whose stories had the people gasping and laughing.  It was a great opportunity to have an “ancestral experience.”  The audience helped make the evening special: People from different locations and different dialects, all ages, made it a gathering of clans.  When the tash/sun set and the cold surrounded us, we became Huhugam, anxious to hear our stories.


Stars and constellations figure heavily in many different cultures’ creation stories.   At the HHC event, I gave a brief summary of Gila River Indian Community names for various stars and constellations.  Anthropologist Leslie Spier recorded songs and stories of the Piipaash during the winter of 1929-30.  According to what was written, here is a brief summary.


A world had evil things in it and two brothers caused a flood to end this world. They went under this sea to be safe. When the water of the sea went down, the brothers floated up and one was blinded by the salt water. On top, they got on a log and floated about. They landed near a dry spot and dug up sand to make more dry land.


This world was dark, no sun, moon or stars. One of the brothers, Cipas, took a hair from his face, twisted it and placed it in the east; it became the sun. He took his fingernail and placed it in the west; it became the moon.  He dug deep within the earth for sand and spread the sand in the sky; they became the stars. Men and animals were created but the brothers quarreled about whose creations were better. In anger, one brother sank into the ground and attempted to pull down the sky to crush the world. Cipas put up his hand to hold up the sky. Morning stars in the eastern morning sky show his finger marks, visible in cold weather.   


Sources further explained to Mr. Spire, “that there was a duplicate of this world above the sky. Our earth and sky are moving, so that from time to time there is an opening at the horizon. When the sun sets it goes through this gap. Then it rises in the world above and moves eastward to set. Then, coming through the gap once more, it rises for us in the east.”


Frank Russell spent the winter of 1901-02 on our land to study our people. Thin Leather shared a version of our ancient stories. In the old days, it would take 4 nights to complete all the stories. In the beginning, there was nothing, so shegoi/creosote, s-cuk totoñ/black ants were made to dry the earth. Spider webs helped stabilize the earth. The creator threw frozen water to the east; it became the sun/tash. He threw another piece of frozen water skyward; it became the moon/masad. From his mouth, he sprayed water skyward; they became the stars/ho’o. He broke his crystal and threw the big pieces into the sky and they became the big stars. North Star is Pi himan ho’o/Not Walking Star.  He took his cane/tco kut, put ashes on the end and drew his cane across the sky. It became the Milky Way. Venus, though not a star but a bright planet, was known as a Morning and Evening Star. It is a Morning Star now and is called Su:mas Ho’o/Visible Star.


The stories give geographical locations which make our place the hik/bellybutton or the center of the world. The Colorado River, the Pinacate Mountain down south and Ho’ok Vo’o near the Santans give physical evidence to our stories.  Ga gauth/Crooked Mountain/Superstition Mountain shows how high the water rose during a flood creating the people of stone. This is the season of storytelling in O’odham and Piipaash country. Take advantage of a storytelling event before it gets too hot.