O’otham Tha:gio, Cardinal Directions

Submitted by 

Huhugam Heritage Center


There was a time when reading maps and using a magnetic compass was a common skill.  Back in the day we had Boy Scout and Girl Scout Troops organized at certain villages within our community.  We had family members in both Scouting groups.  One skill they learned was how to use a magnetic compass and read maps.


From there they learned how to orienteer, which is travelling a fixed route with map and compass in unfamiliar landscapes.  They learned how to set a bearing and travel that route to reach their appointed destinations.  Once they mastered the art of orienteering they earned their Scouting Badge.



Today, we have Global Positioning Systems in our modern vehicles and the compass on our dashboard display indicates which direction we are traveling.  We can download a compass Application on our modern wireless devices.  Despite these modern conveniences, some of us still manage to get lost, especially in the nearby large sprawling cities.


Since time immemorial, our Hekiu O’otham have named everything in our natural universe. The earth is called Jeveḍ, which also refers to land and soil. The cardinal directions, underground and the heavens above are very important directions.


 Some O’otham refer to the east direction as Thai or Si’al.  One prominent landmark is Sivan Vah-ki, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. Thai is a very important direction because that is where Thash rises (sun).  O’otham track the movement of Thash to track time throughout the day.  There are generally three parts to the day, Si’al at sunrise, Thamjuk at high-noon and Hudinig at sundown.  Kwiva is the direction of west.  One prominent landmark is Komaḍk, the Sierra Estrella Mountain Range.


South is Vecho, also known as the direction from where the summer rains arrive. One prominent landmark is Table Top Mountain.  North is Tha:m and is the direction from which the cold weather arrives. One prominent landmark is Mua:thag, Greasy Mountains, also called South Mountains.  Jeveḍ Vecho (underground) is very important because of the animals that live in dens and burrows. 


The roots of all plants and especially food crops take their nourishment from the soil.  Another important direction is Tha:m Ka:chim, which is the blue skies above during the day and the star-filled heavens at night. One easily identifiable night-sky object is Tho:mag (Milky-Way).  Si’al Hu’u is the morning star and Hudinig Hu’u the evening star (Planet Venus).


During the night Mashath (moon) provides moon-light during its phases and one cycle marks the passing of another month.  Two useful terms are Mashath Chechshaj (Moon Rise) and Hu huḍ g Mashath (Moon Set). A few lunar phases include vo’iva g mashath (moon in first quarter). ‘E ‘etha hu: mashath (half-moon). Thaha g Mashath (full-moon) and Mashath huhugig eḍ (last-quarter).


We encourage you to learn the cardinal directions and observe the movements of Thash and Mashath.  Speak with an Elder or Speaker and seek their knowledge of Thash and Mashath. Terms maybe slightly different between the villages. This month’s word match will test your knowledge of the cardinal directions and prominent landmarks. 

Information related from Edward F. Castetter and Willis H. Bell, Pima and Papago Indian Agriculture, Field Notes (unpublished), 1934.  Answers to word match puzzle on page. 10.