On April 25, the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, Lehi District held a social gathering, the Piipaash Matasheevm, at the Lehi festival grounds for everyone to come together for a day of chiyer (bird) singing and dancing. The event began around 10 a.m. with the posting of the colors, and a recognition of veterans also took place during the morning activities. A barbecue lunch was offered to all, and the day continued with singing and dancing through the evening and into the night.
Most of the Piipaash and their sister tribes have bird songs and dances that depict various stories, and the movements and actions of the dancers are telling a story. Even at social events, there are certain traditional aspects to the songs and dances that are done to ensure the people maintain important cultural elements.
Piipaash bird singing and dancing in the community of Lehi has been a long-standing tradition for many years. It was noted that the Community members of Lehi voiced a need and wanted to hold a gathering of the people in the area. For many years, Carolyn and Earl Stacey of Lehi led a strong group of people who put a lot of work into planning the event called the Spiritual Gathering of the Gourds. This was a social singing and dancing gathering that became an annual affair held every October since 1999.
This year, some of the Piipaash singers led a group of people to continue the event. Bob Aguilar, one of the lead coordinators, shared, “[The notion to do a Piipaash social now] started with [Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community] President Delbert Ray, Sr.; he asked to get a group of [people] from the Lehi area together to work on keeping this tradition going, our [Piipaash] culture. He was the one who started the talks going to get something started; from this, we got a good group of people together and had meetings to plan.”
Aguilar added, “Today, singers came from [the] Hualapai Tribe, the Quechan Tribe, other tribes from the Yuma area, some tribes from California, and there are people from Camp Verde and other Arizona tribes.”
One singing group shared a few words with the crowd to describe their songs and dances. The lead singer stated, “We are from the Quechan Tribe, and we came here to share some songs originally from our area [near Yuma]. We call them the peoples’ songs. These songs are like the bird songs, they go all night, they are sung for different occasions, and some are used for gatherings, such as this. These songs are sung in the Kumeyaay dialect.”
The lead singer went on to describe that the songs are a little difficult to sing because of the dialect, and the dance is a little different than the bird dance. He noted that the dance steps can be a bit “tricky,” as there are a lot of steps to the dance.
Throughout the day, different singing groups sang songs as the people could hear the accompaniment of the gourd rattles. They watched the men dance their male-style dance and saw the women sway, hop and step to the rhythm as they danced.
The event included many food vendors, arts and crafts vendors, and a day full of social interactions, sharing and enlightenment of a culture among all in attendance.
Aguilar expressed, “[I believe the event was successful], even though the planning began a little late; it was a combined effort with tribal government and the committee, putting this event together. There were a lot of people involved. We received a lot of help from [SRPMIC] Public Works, Marcus Begay [and his team], as well as from Janet Johnson and her staff.” In addition, Aguilar and the committee wanted to offer special thanks to Tribal Council Members Deanna Scabby and Michael Dallas, Sr. for their efforts in supporting the committee and in the planning efforts. Recognition and appreciation were offered to Council Member David Antone for his generous donation of a beef cow and for the preparation for the barbecue beef for all to enjoy.
The Piipaash Matasheevm was a good day for the Lehi community—the event could have gone all night.