In April 2012, eight women of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, along with 20 other Native American women representing the 21 tribes of Arizona, were inducted into the Women’s Plaza of Honor at the University of Arizona campus in Tucson.
Among them was the late Hilda Manuel. Manuel was selected for her outstanding traditional O’odham basket weaving and her part in helping preserve the knowledge of weaving by passing it on to other Community women.
Born on August 21, 1928, Manuel was the daughter of the late Carl Enos and Anna Enas and the sister of the late Alvadores Enos, the late Terry Enos, the late Franklin Boyd Enos and Sherwin Enos. She married Lazarus Leslie Manuel, Sr. and had 11 children: Sharon Rita Enos, Marceline Luana Enos, Burdina Burke, Benton Manuel, Coleman Manuel, Marcedice Carlita Manuel, Faron Mitchell Manuel, Lorina Mureen Manuel, Yolanda Manuel and Ardelia Rochelle Manuel.
Raised by her dad’s mother, Lucy Enos, Manuel learned the trade of basket weaving at the age of 11. When she was young, she would travel by wagon to Gila River with her grandma Lucy to visit their relatives for about two weeks, explained Manuel’s daughter Burdina Burke. By the time they would return, it would be winter and they would start weaving their baskets.
As she grew into a woman, Manuel continued to make baskets to help support her family financially. As a young mother, she also took on the task of taking care of her siblings, nieces, nephews and her own children.
“I remember always going to the river,” said Manuel’s son Coleman Manuel. “We would be there all day, [with] our meat, water, bread and babas (potatoes). We didn’t know what we were doing, we just thought we were going there to swim. But she had us bring her cattail from the other side of the river and she would sit at the bank and strip the cattail.”
“She was teaching us her way,” explained Burke. “She would have us go get cattail and/or willow, and she would tell us to get the specific type of willow [she wanted for her baskets].
“That’s when I learned how to prepare material [for making baskets],” said Burke. “I didn’t know what I was doing—I thought I was just helping her, and that’s how she taught us how to prepare her material. She would lay out her cattail and the boys would get into them and play with them, but they learned the hard way because you get fine splinters and it would hurt. We usually did that all summer because she said there was never enough material. You always needed a lot, so we went out there all the time.”
Manuel started teaching Akimel O’otham basket-weaving classes in 1964, and her first class was teaching non-Native women.
“I don’t know why, or who asked her to teach that class, but she did,” said Burke. “Later on down the road, she started teaching Community-member women with the late Alfretta Antone with a Save the Children grant.” The grant was funded under the Indian Nations Program of the Save the Children organization in 1984; it was a 26-week basket-weaving class that taught more than 20 women ranging in age from 10 to 40.
Manuel regularly demonstrated her basket weaving at the Don’s Tracks, the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archeological Center, the Casa Grande Ruins and the Arizona State Fair.
She won first prize at the 1980 Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial in Gallup, New Mexico, for her 18-inch tarantula basket. She modeled the design after an old basket that was featured in the 1954 book Basket Weavers of Arizona by Bert Robinson. It was the largest basket she ever made, and it took her more than six months to complete.
“She would work on it all day and night,” said Burke. The basket is currently for sale on eBay for $4,000. “If we had the money, we would buy it back. It was the first one she ever made like that, with the tarantula design.”
Among her other talents, Manuel as was a traditional singer and dancer, and with the late Earl Ray she worked to translate traditional O’odham song lyrics into English and wrote down the descriptions of the songs.
Manuel did her best to pass on her knowledge. She taught all of her daughters how to weave baskets in hopes that they would pass the skill on to their daughters.
“I try to continue to teach other women in the Community how to weave. Since I only have sons, I try to pass that knowledge on to the
other women. That’s what she would have wanted, to keep the knowledge of basket weaving going,” said Burke. “If women would like to learn, I would be happy to teach them, as long as they are willing to pick [their own] material and show up to learn.”
Manuel continued to make baskets until her last days before passing on March 30, 1987.
“She was considered one of the greatest basket weavers throughout the years,” said Burke.