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Field Division of Education
Material Culture of the Pima, Papago, and Western Apache
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The Pima-Papago and the Apache are two rather strikingly different groups, both of which were intimately concerned with the founding and history of Tumacacori Mission and the other missions of Arizona and northern Sonora. The first group furnished the motive for the founding of the missions; the second was a principal cause of their ultimate decay. The two groups differ radically in speech, much in temperament, to a considerable degree in culture, and somewhat in racial composition.

The Pima, with which are probably to be classed the now extinct Sobaipuri, were and are an almost completely sedentary tribe, subsisting largely on the products of agriculture and the abundant mesquite bean, small game, and, strange as it may seem in this desert country, fish. This last item, fish, was probably of major importance only to the Gila Pima.

The Papago may be described as a sedentary tribe also, but with seasonal migrations. They relied to a larger extent upon wild products than the Pima. In the rainy season they made seasonal migrations from their permanent villages, by waterholes and springs along the base of the mountains, to sow and harvest crops planted in the lowlands which, except for the rainy season, were without water. Culturally the Papago may be described as Pima whose culture has been limited and somewhat altered by their more arid desert environment. Historically, perhaps, this characterization should be reversed and we should describe the Pima as Papago whose culture had been enriched by moving into a more favorable environment.

The Apache formerly consisted of a large number of groups or bands scattered over an enormous extent of territory. We are concerned only with the western Apache, whose major divisions will be indicated later. Before white contacts, these Apache were agricultural in a desultory fashion, but depended largely on game and wild vegetable products for their food. They were primarily nomadic in their habits, ranging over a more or less defined area, only settling down now and then in favorable spots to raise a crop of corn and other products. With the beginnings of white settlement they became increasingly nomadic and began to depend more and more on the results of raids on the cattle of their Mexican and Indian neighbors. Agriculture became correspondingly less important. In all probability the western Apache were more closely allied to the Navaho than they were to the eastern Apache. Apache traditions sometimes mention the vicinity of Flagstaff as their former home. This is now Navaho country.

The history of the two tribes is also quite different. Pima traditions are that they originated in the region they now occupy and there is nothing in their culture to indicate that they have not been in or near their present habitat for a very long time. It has been suggested that they are descendents of the builders of Casa Grande and similar type ruins, but for this there is no definite proof. Viewed conservatively, this opinion has many points against it. It is equally probable they were a people of lower culture co-existing with the builders of Casa Grande in the same general area. From the latter the ancestors of the Pima may have acquired a few cultural traits, occupying their lands after the collapse of the culture, and perhaps even absorbing the population remnants. There seems no definite proof for either of these theories.

The Apache, on the other hand, are unquestionably newcomers to the area. Their linguistic affiliations are far to the north and it is doubtful if they have been anywhere in the Southwest for much more than five hundred years. Certainly their contacts with the Pima and Papago are not that ancient. Most probably they reached their present westerly position not more than three or possibly four hundred years ago.

Pima and Papago culture was in part marginal to the Pueblo civilizations. Its major features, however, strongly resemble the culture of the sedentary Yuman tribes of the Gila and lower Colorado rivers. In a larger sense these lowland cultures in general appear to be partially derived from marginal contacts with cultural influences which came up the west coast of Mexico and the Sierra Madre to the Pueblos. The Pueblos modified and elaborated upon these influences, while the lowland peoples apparently simplified them. A good deal of similarity exists, moreover, between the lowland Arizona peoples and the lowland tribes of southern Sonora, the Yaqui and Mayo. (Spier, 1933, 41; Ibid. 1928, comparative sections; Beals, 1932, distribution maps and discussion, Ibid. Yaqui-Mayo ms.)

Apache culture has evidently a different history. They appear to have come into the region as wandering nomadic hunters, learning the utilization of their new environment in large part from other peoples in the area, becoming minor agriculturists, and taking over a little of the social organization and ceremonialism of the Pueblos.

The following detailed discussion of the two groups is divided into two parts. One is a general discussion of each topic for which museum display is intended, including the data needed for collecting and arranging materials, as well as some data which it would be pertinent for the custodians to have in mind. At the conclusion of each major topic, brief but specific suggestions for the museum displays are presented.

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Last Modified: Mon, Dec 24 2001 10:00:00 am PDT