Evie Lopez and Aloea Goodwin are learning how to make Piipaash pottery, which was used for food gathering, water storage.

A Day of Piipaash Culture at the Huhugam Ki Museum

By Angela Willeford
Au-Authm Action News

On Saturday, July 17, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Huhugam Ki Museum presented an array of activities designed to create awareness and appreciation of the Piipaash culture.

There were several stations set up, including beading, pottery making, dancing and making modiily (tortillas). Each station represented a significant element in the Piipaash culture.

Cultural Resources Director Kelly Washington sat outside in the hot, humid weather preparing to teach some of the children of the Community the traditional gourd songs of the Piipaash people.

Although I originally attended to assist with making modiily, when I saw the group of young ladies nearby making braided necklaces, I knew there was no way I was leaving without making one myself.

Inside the museum was a long table where 11 women sat, lost in their beadwork. Quechan Community member Marianne Bobtailbear, along with her daughter and two grandkids, taught the young women how to bead the necklaces. Bobtailbear’s mother taught her how to bead when she was 16.

“[The] first thing is to measure out three arm lengths of string made especially for jewelry. You then rub it in beeswax to ensure the string will not be tangled. This also strengthens the thread. Next is threading the needle,” she explained.

I thought that threading the needle would be easy, since my great-grandmother used to sew a lot and I remember her always showing me how to thread a needle. But I spent a long time trying to push my string through the eye of the needle.

My savior was Nicole Pranger, the museum’s gift shop coordinator, who patiently inserted my thread through the eye of the needle. Since we were using size .010 needles, the eyes were small. I was glad that I was not the only one having a problem.

Outside, Washington had the boys and some of the other children who did not want to bead learning traditional Piipaash songs, and the boys played the gourds and sang the songs for the dancers. Washington explained to the boys and girls the importance of the bird dancing and what the songs meant.

At the modiily station, Evie Lopez, Aloea Goodwin and Kaitlin Donahue had been making modiily for only a week, and made them as big as flying saucers. Quite honestly, I was jealous, because when I tried to make mine, they always got holey and thick from me fixing the holes with more dough.

In addition to dancing and helping people with their beading, Pranger showed the kids how to make traditional pottery from red clay. Ground fine red clay is mixed with water, then you knead it, almost like making bread, until it is soft and pliable. Then you start shaping the pottery.

This cultural program is still in the preliminary stage; the Huhugam Ki Museum was testing the waters, seeing what people were interested in.

If you have any questions about cultural activities at the Huhugam Ki Museum, call (480) 362-6320.

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A Day of Piipaash Culture at the Huhugam Ki Museum