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Contributed by Arizona State Museum
This exhibit is composed of 109 photographs of the Tohono O'odham Indians taken by the Arizona State Museum's photographer Helga Teiwes during the years 1970 - 1980. The exhibit is arranged into eleven themes and covers their arts and crafts, traditional practices and customs, and their way of life. Seven of the themes are arranged sequentially showing the progression of the work involved in food harvesting, basket weaving, and pottery making.
About the Tohono O'odham
The Tohono O'odham are native inhabitants of the Sonoran Desert, which is located in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The word "O'odham" means "people" and the word "Tohono" means desert, so "Tohono O'odham" means people of the desert. The Tohono O'odham have resided in the Sonoran Desert from the Paleoindian era, about 11,500 years ago. It is believed that two distinct cultures, the Hohokam and the O'odham emerged from these early people, with the O'odham culture developing around 1450 C.E.
The O'odham's ancestors survived in the hard Sonoran Desert's environment by adapting their tools, customs, and harvesting to its dry climate and limited resources. Their traditional harvesting techniques are documented in this web exhibit in the annual saguaro harvest and cholla bud harvesting themes and in the wheat threshing photos.
Native vegetation and land resources still play a life-sustaining role for the Tohono O'odham. Beargrass, yucca and devil's claw are used as fibers in their baskets. A more modern material, baling wire, is also used for making wire baskets. The traditional and contemporary weaving techniques are demonstrated by Tohono O'odham weavers in the coiled basket making and wire basket themes.
The Tohono O'odham's distinctive pottery is made from local sand, clay, and hematite. Potters Laura Kermen and Rupert Angea demonstrate how pots are crafted by hand using coils in the two pottery themes.
Today, there are approximately 28,000 O'odhams enrolled in the Tohono O'odham Nation. Their reservation, with over 2.8 million acres, is the third largest Indian reservation in the US. The settlements of Sells, San Xavier, Hickiwan, Topawa, Chuichu and Schuchulik are represented in the themes documenting their annual rodeo, fair and pageant and their daily life and activities in the 1970's.
The San Xavier district is known for its Mission San Xavier del Bac church, where traditional services and pilgrimages are still held. Photos of the church, pre-restoration, are shown in one theme. In another theme, other churches and holy places located on the reservation, are shown.
The Arizona State Museum is indebted to a number of people for sharing their expertise in assembling this exhibit, including photographer Helga Teiwes and O'odhams: Juanita Ahil, Laura Kermen, Rupert Angea and Albert Alvarez. In addition, the Museum is grateful to the following people who helped interpret the photos and the language: Dena Thomas, Joseph Joaquin, Leroy J. Juan, Alyce Sadongei, Ronald Geronimo, and Angelo Joaquin.
About the Photographer
Helga Teiwes worked for the Arizona State Museum from 1964-1993. Her photographs have appeared internationally in numerous exhibitions and publications.
To see more images by Helga Teiwes, visit the "Selections of Photographs from Helga Teiwes' Hopi Basket Weaving Project" exhibit on the Arizona Memory Project.