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Field Division of Education
Material Culture of the Pima, Papago, and Western Apache
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Pima and Papago houses are virtually identical except that the Papago house averages somewhat larger in size. The interior support of the house is four crotched posts which are set in a square 3 to 4 m. apart. Heavy beams are laid across two opposite sides of the square, resting in the crotches. According to Bartlett (2:233) for larger dwellings three posts on a side were used or a total of nine, but modern writers express themselves as somewhat sceptical of this and believe he was attempting to describe an extension sometimes made at the door of large houses. Lighter cross poles are laid across the two heavy beams, forming a grill. This part of the house is usually entirely of cottonwood. Light willow poles are set half a meter deep in the ground around the circle which is to be the base of the wall. Three to five circles of horizontal stays are lashed on to these willows with willow bark after the willows have been bent over and lashed to the central framework. The entire frame is then covered with brush, straw, or arrowweed. Earth is then heaped on the top to a depth of 15 to 20 cms. Sometimes it is also banked about the sides. Doors are always to the east and are usually low and narrow, 60 by 90 cms., and closed by blankets, or slats woven together with rawhide. There is no smokehole according to Russell, although Hrdlicka reports a small smokehole sometimes occuring. Testimony of early visitors indicates, however, that the smokehole originally was almost if not entirely lacking. The fireplace is in the middle. The materials of the Papago house are palo fierro (ironwood), mesquite, and cactus ribs.

The average dimensions of the Pima house as given by Russell are:

Interior diameter5.48
Interior height1.72
Distance between main supporting posts2.28-2.43
Distance between posts and walls.91-1.60
Diameter of rafters.08
Distance between rafters.30
Distance between horizontal ribs.30
Distance between arched willow ribs.20
Height of door.81
Width of door.61

The Interior of the Pima house is loaded with soot from the smoke. Usually two or more families occupy each house. If there are two, their sleeping mats are placed on each side of the door with the head toward the east.

Houses are built by the men. They are used largely for sleeping and for protection from rare inclement weather. Some of the belongings are stored in the house, ollas, mats, dishes, gourds, ceremonial paraphenalia. They were formerly destroyed after a death occured in them. Adobe houses are a post-Spanish innovation. (Russell, 1908, 153-5; Hrdlicka, 1906, 41-2; Gaillard, 1894; 293. Among the Pimas, 58-9; for illustrations see Russell, 1908, fig. 76, page 154; plates 35, a, b, et. seq; Hrdlicka, 1906, plate 9, opp. page 45; Ibid. 1908, plates 4, 5, 6; Dorsey, 1903; 200; Kissell, 142; 146; Densmore, 1929, plates 2, c, 6, a, b, and c.)

Formerly a low rectangular council house was built in each village as a meeting place for the men. Browne's (108) somewhat fanciful drawing gives the only suggestion of the nature of these but he should hardly be taken as a model. The rectangular shape is also uncertain. Rev. Whittemore (Among the Pimas) says they were elliptical. Such is certainly the case among the Maricopa. (Russell, 1908, 155; Among the Pimas, 58; Spier, 1933, 84; 91-92.)

The third type of building was a shade which consisted of a rectangular cottonwood framework supported by crotched posts and covered with arrowweed and earth, affording a protection from the sun. Much of the year it was the real living and working quarters of the family. Here women ground the food on the metate or pounded in the mortar while small children were placed in their hammock-like cradle, consisting of a blanket pinned across two parallel ropes. The roof was used for drying squash, melons, fruit. Occasionally one or more sides were enclosed in arrowweed as a protection against the wind.

A rectangular storehouse was built in much the same way as the shade except the walls were of ocatilla trunks or cactus ribs or of a large bush, Baccharis glutenosa. Storage bins are usually on the roof of this structure among the Pima. After a good harvest year the Pima storehouse was an interesting sight. On the walls hung basketry materials, martynia, willow bark, and willow splints. Standing in the corner were bear grass, cat-tail, and wheat straw. From beam to beam hang peppers, red and green, while on the ground are squashes, gourds, and great baskets full of grains, beans, and seeds. (Russell, 1908, 156; plate 25, e, f; Hrdlicka, 1906, 42; Kissell, 182.)

Many Pima houses have a separate kitchen enclosure, not a house but part of the house group. They are usually of arrowweed, circular, about 4-5 m. in diameter. Sand usually piles up against these. Inside are a half-dozen cooking pots, a fireplace of three stones, or a more modern equivalent. (Hrdlicka, 1906, 42; Russell, 1908, 69; 156-7.)

Pima and Papago villages are rambling affairs even now and were more so in the past owing to the custom of burning the house when a death occured and building another some distance away. Browne (108) gives a somewhat fantastic sketch of a Pima village.

Access to the storage bins of the Pima was by a ladder. The oldest form apparently was the notched log. (Kissell, 1916, 176.)

Household Utensils

The Pima use two kinds of mortars, usually of cotton-wood or mesquite. One has the hole sunk in the end of the log and the opposite end either flat to stand on the ground or pointed and sunk in the ground. The other type is always portable, having the hole sunk in the side of the log. Dimensions of the latter type are: length, 40 cm. and up; height, 27 to 37 cms.; diameter, about 32 cms.; cavity about 17 cms. Stone mortars from ruins are occasionally used and some bedrock mortars occur on the Pima reservation and elsewhere as near Tucson in former Pima territory. The pestle is of stone or is a mesquite club with a rounded head. (Russell, 1908, 99-100; fig. 13, a, b, c; Kissell, 194-195.)

Bread trays of mesquite, rarely of cottonwood, are highly prized. One specimen collected is .615 m. long, .365 m. wide, .071 m. deep, and has three legs carved from the same piece of wood, 24 cms. in length. Smaller circular, elliptical, and rectangular trays are obtained from the Papago. Large wooden ladles are derived from the Papago and are probably of Mexican origin ultimately although this is far from certain. (Russell, 1908, 100-101; fig. 13, d; fig. 14, b, c.)

Hanging shelves are a part of most Pima-Papago houses. They are of rods twined with bark or more commonly, tied to cross pieces, forming a grill-like frame which is suspended from the roof beams. They are miscellaneous storage places. (Russell, 1908, 101-2; figs. 16, 17; Kissell, 141, et. seq.)

Bird cages are a common part of each household. They are squarish or vaulted in shape, usually made of arrowweed laid up in log cabin fashion or tied to transverse bars. Doves and eagles are the principal birds kept in them.

The fire drill was formerly used, but perhaps was made for each occasion it was needed as fire was ordinarily kept in a rotten tree somewhere about the village. The hearth was of saguaro or other soft wood about 3.15 m. long and 21 mm. wide. It was of the simplest form but no further data were given. The drill was presumably of hard wood. (Russell, 1908, 103.)

The cradle would be a part of nearly every household's equipment. It was a narrow bow of willow with five to ten cross pieces tied to it. A detachable hood of willow bark in checker weaving was used with it. (More complete description under basketry heading.) (Russell, 103-4, figs, 19, a, b.)

Paint brushes for painting the face were made of the tufted ends of arrowweed. (Russell, 1908, 104.)

Rope twisters, spindles balls of yarn, looms, etc., and various paraphernalia having to do with weaving and basketry, and with pottery-making would all be part of the household furnishings. (See appropriate headings for descriptions.) The same is true of weapons.

An important part of every household is the metate, a flat, legless, stone slab, slightly concave on its upper surface from end to end, flat from side to side. (in distinction to Pueblo metates). They are made of coarse rock from the neighboring hills and vary in weight from twenty to two hundred pounds. The muller or manois of lava rock and has no shaping except as acquired through use. (Hrdlicka, 1906, plate 8, opp. page 42; Kissell, 192, fig. 41; Russell, 1908, 109-110; figs. 28-29.)

A stone pestle is often used with the wooden mortars, particularly with mesquite beans. They average 4-1/2 pounds in weight, 253 mms. long and 76 mms. in diameter. They vary from the size of one's finger to specimens 20 pounds in weight. They are recovered from the ruins or slowly pecked into shape, often being used only partly shaped, the shaping continuing as time offers. (Russell, 110; figs. 28-29.)

Stone axes are still in use, largely for roughening the surface of metates. They are always recovered from the ruins about and single and double bitted and adze shapes are employed. Those hafted are tied with sinew to the limb of a tree of suitable size. (Russell, 1908, 110.)

Firestones are small convenient stones, three in number, for supporting pots. They are about 15 cms. in diameter. (Russell, 1908, 111.)

Headrings, nets used as saddle bags, and hair brushes would generally be found about the house as well. They are described elsewhere. Stone pipes, pouches of leather, and other leather objects would be present.

Apache houses are a modified form of the Pima-Papago house, differing largely in lacking the central supporting frame and in being much smaller. They are of poorer workmanship also. The diameter is 10 to 12 ft. the height, 9 to 10 ft. Poles, usually peeled green willow, are set in the ground 2 to 2-1/2 feet apart, the tops bent over and tied with anything handy. Usually a smoke hole is made at the top. Brush is thatched over the framework, which is customarily dome-shaped but is occasionally conical. An extension is often made by the door to serve as a windbreak. The door is always to the west. When the house is finished, the interior is excavated 12 to 18 inches and the dirt piled around the base to keep out water. The winter house is smaller.

For a small house, horizontal supports are tied around the upright ribs. For a larger house, overlapping arches are set in the ground all the way around except where the door is to be. Goddard says the thatch is usually bear grass rather than brush. The White Mountain Apache also have a double lean-to affair like a gable roof set on the ground which is thatched with grass or corn stalks. They also sometimes make a summer house in the form of a brush roofed (flat?) shade, often with the sides wattled with interwoven limbs of trees and brush. (Hrdlicka, 1905, 482-483; Dorsey, 1903, 182; Reagan, 290; Goddard, 1913; 133-134; Hrdlicka, 1908, plate 2, c; Ibid. 1905, plate 30, opp. page 482; Bourke, 1891, page 49, has an excellent display of the house and household equipment.)

The furniture of the Apache house is meager. Pots, a frying pan or two, dishpan, 5 gallon oil can, water jug, pounding or grinding slabs, usually recovered from a ruin, and sundry baskets. Summer houses, however, sometimes have a bed of poles as much as two or three feet above the ground with brush and dry grass placed upon it. (Reagan, 291.)

The firedrill of the Apache has a yucca base with a greasewood drill. The usual socket is made near the edge of the hearth with a groove leading to the edge. Decayed wood from a hollow tree is used as tinder. (Hough, 1901, 585-586; Dorsey, 1903, 183.)

An incised gourd ladle is reported as part of Apache house furnishings. (Hrdlicka, 1905, 484.)

Museum Display

Model of an Apache house and a house group of the Pima-Papago, including house, shade, storehouse, and kitchen windbreak, showing as many as possible of the household utensils and furnishings in place and in use, is desireable. It should be entirely feasible to have a full-size Pima or Papago house constructed on the Monument grounds if desired as there are still Pima and Papago who know the techniques. Many of the artifacts suggested above are difficult to secure but models may be made easily for the most part or copies can be made by old Indians living in the vicinity. Against this is the difficulty of keeping such a life-sized structure in presentable condition. The limited materials used for house building may be indicated.

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