HHC: Ha:shan Baithag Mashath

June 15, 2018


Huhugam Heritage Center

Gila River Indian Community 


The name for this month means ‘Harvest of the Saguaro cactus fruit Moon’ and refers to the ripening of the cactus fruit. This is also the traditional beginning of the O’otham New Year.  Our O’otham, long-ago named every living thing out on the landscape because they encountered them every day and observed their life-span and growth. 


The Saguaro cactus roots are called ha:shañ thathk and attached to the thathk is the ha:shañ shon (trunk). Attached to the shon are ha:shañ mamhadag (branches), which some O’otham referred to as the ‘arms’ of the ha:shañ.  As we all know, the ha:shañ is covered with thousands of ho’i (needles) which protect the cactus from harm by people and animals.  In early spring the tops of the ha:shañ get covered with ku:kug (buds), which later develop into hio’hosig (blossoms) and then mature into baithag (unripe cactus fruit).  In the last stage the mature fruits turn red and burst open and are then ready for harvesting. 


The outer husk of the baithag is called the elthag (skin), which covers the baithag (cactus fruit pulp).


Baithag is filled with hundreds of tiny black kak’kai (seeds).  The hard stem attached to the top of the baithag is called hiosig gakithag (dried blossom).  Dead and dried Saguaro cactus ribs called va:pai are cut and cleaned before lashing together with aj vainom (thin wire) to construct the kuipaḍ (harvesting pole).  At the top-end of the kuipaḍ a cross-piece cut from shegoi (Creosote bush), or va:pai, called a mach’ kuḍ is tied on to finish the kuipaḍ.  The harvester positioned the mach’ kuḍ below a baithag and nuichkwua, “pushed off’ the baithag. 


The mach’ kuḍ can also be hooked over the baithag and bo i:wa ‘pulled down’ from the top.  Once off the ha:shañ the baithag is then called baithaj because it’s no longer attached to the cactus and is then a food source. The baithaj was picked up off the ground and split open by using the hiosig gakithag as a knife and baithaj was collected in a hua (basket). Nowadays, O’otham collects the baithaj in a va:so (bucket).  Baithaj can be eaten raw, slow cooked to make sithol (syrup), ha:shañ gakithag can be stored (dried fruit for later use), or made into ha:shañ vadag (cactus fruit drink). 


This month’s word match will center on things associated with the ha:shañ. We encourage you to learn these words and use them in your everyday lives.