In August, I was selected as a participant in the Artist Leadership Program sponsored by National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. The Artist Leadership Program provides training that enables indigenous artists to research, document, network and develop skills to enhance their artistic growth as well as strengthen their career development.
Part of the training involves a trip to Washington, which I took during the first two weeks of November. During this trip I visited four different museum collections that provided me the opportunity to research our tribal past by the way of viewing artifacts, pictures, literature and the fine craftsmanship of our people. The primary focus for my research project is the kiaha
(traditional burden basket), but I also took the opportunity to venture into other art forms. The creativity, color, textures and designs of pottery, baskets, tools and many other utilitarian items I saw were astounding, as were the collections of traditional three-hole flutes, the war clubs, and bows and arrows. Many items in the museum collections were noted to be from the local region, so this visit also included items from the Snaketown and Gila River areas. As a whole, my impression was that the artifacts showed a people of patient, complex and ingenious minds.
As part of the Artist Leadership Program, in addition to the research in Washington, the artists selected are asked to return home and present a project for their community in order to share the knowledge learned from the trip. So in early 2011, I will be presenting a four-part workshop on the kiaha and agave fiber work. The workshop is open to anyone interested in learning these traditional skills.
* First class: Saturday, January 29—Plants, History, Harvest, Processing, Cordage
* Second class: Saturday, February 5—Storytelling, Cordage, Weaving
* Dinner Event: Friday, February 11—Artist Reception
* Final Class: Saturday, February 12—Weaving and Final Presentations
I am truly humbled by this experience and honored to have had the opportunity to be selected for the NMAI Artist Leadership Program. I would like to thank my wife [Debbie] for her work, as she was instrumental in locating the funding opportunity and coordinating necessary details. I would also like to thank the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Tribal Council, Community Relations Department, and Cultural Resources Department Director Kelly Washington.
Pieces from the Past: Reflections of the Artists
As a part of Royce Manuel’s Smithsonian NMAI Artist Leadership Program project, a group of Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community artists were also invited to travel to Washington, D.C. We viewed some of the O’odham artifacts that are housed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian collections (NMAI). For years Royce has been working with agave cordage and has been producing the traditional gioho, or burden baskets. And it is because of the rarity of such work that he was chosen for this award.
As far as artists, we know a gioho has not been produced for at least the past 100 years. This is probably due to changing times that many of the O’odham faced and are still facing. With the introduction of horses and wagons, the gioho became obsolete for many O’odham. It was easier to load a horse-drawn wagon full of wood or other products than to carry them on one’s back. We saw about 10 to 12 gioho in the collections of the NMAI. There were burden baskets of different sizes and with varying patterns and designs. Some were highlighted with color, maybe of paint, mainly red and blue, and then the natural color of the agave cordage was the background. Along with the gioho were several helping sticks.
These were beautiful in their own way; many of the them were colored with red clay and had leather fringe attached to them. Another interesting part of the burden basket was the woven back mats. Few people have ever seen a burden basket, let alone seen or even known of the mat that goes between the gioho and the back of the wearer. There were so many things one could describe about the gioho and its parts, but the one thing that can be said is the craftsmanship of the burden baskets housed at the NMAI was impressive, they were so evenly and finely woven.
While there we also saw many coiled baskets, pots, sleeping mats, stone tools, bows and arrows, woven cotton sashes and household items. The pottery was my favorite. I had seen some of the pottery in books, but to actually see the pieces in real life, this was overwhelming. The pots were huge and had very dramatic shapes; even the color schemes were varied. There were so many with effigies, or human and animal figurines. It was amazing to see how artistic our people were.
I would like to thank Salt River business owners David Montiel of On Auk Mor Smoke Shop and Margaret Rodriguez of Au’ Authum Ki, Inc., who helped with travel costs. Without them, this trip wouldn’t have been possible. Also, I would like to say “muchas gracias!” to Royce and Debbie Manuel for asking me to partake in this experience. For those of you who know me, I’m real Indian and it took a little prodding to get me on board, but I am so glad I went. Thank you.
On November 4 and 5, I was invited as an artist to travel to Washington, D.C. and go through the Smithsonian National Museum of American Indian (NMAI) collections along with Royce Manuel, Joe Martinez and Ron Carlos. As we toured the collections and had the opportunity to handle some of the most amazing pieces of work at the Smithsonian NMAI, the feeling was something I can’t really explain. For me, it’s hard to describe the feelings I had while going through the collections, because it’s something that has to be experienced firsthand. To be able to take part as a guest in the Artist Leadership Program with Royce Manuel has been definitely rewarding and exciting at the same time. Not many people have the opportunity to see these collections and have the chance to closely examine traditional items and everyday functional tools of the O’odham such as burden baskets, coiled baskets, pottery, shields, sandals and sleeping mats. To see all these items at all, let alone in excellent condition, was amazing and educational.
Several items in the collections really interested me. The burden basket caught my attention; examining the many burden baskets there was incredible. Seeing such fine and detailed fiber work was awesome, and not to mention the very elaborate designs. That inspires you.
The coiled basket was another interest of mine. I learned how to make a coiled basket some time ago, and the chance to see all these older baskets there, words cannot describe it. I held large, medium, small and miniature baskets.
None that I could see was made of horsehair. There were flat baskets, olla shapes and so many other styles of baskets. Some baskets were well-made, while others were noticeably different. Nonetheless, seeing a wide range of the designs the weavers used was also an inspiration. Thinking about it now, I don’t recall seeing the same design twice out of all the baskets there.
Considering how much time and effort went into the objects that were used day in and day out is just unbelievable. These tools weren’t meant for a one-time use; they were meant to last. This was the same for everything we saw— not just the baskets, but the other objects as well.
My appreciation goes to all those at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian for the great hospitality we received from them while we were there. Thanks to the Salt River business owners/sponsors, David Montiel and Margaret Rodriguez, and a big thank-you for our host, Royce Manuel.
Gabriel J. Martinez
When I was first approached about participating in this project, I was excited and eager to learn more about the kiaha (burden basket) and to work with the agave fiber. I have been researching and working with the O’odham language for some years now. To aid in my research, I would try to find the names of traditional items and the materials used to make them to help me learn about our culture. The opportunity to travel in early November to the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives in Washington, D.C. and research the burden baskets in the collections there was a chance of a lifetime.
I was not expecting to learn as much as I did from examining the collections and archives that contained pieces of our people’s history and evidence of our proud culture. The privilege to touch and hold items that I had only read about or seen in books was unbelievable, and it is humbling to know that these items were once part of my people’s daily life. I was holding in my hands something that someone had spent so much time and effort to make, from gathering the material and preparing it to work with, to the work of carving, weaving or shaping the material.
The craftsmanship and artistry created by our people are an inspiration to strive for when re-creating our traditional articles. They were used to help us survive in the desert land not so long ago, and they are a testament to the hard work and resourcefulness of the O’odham. The chance to experience and witness firsthand our tribe’s past and legacy will always remain close to my heart and mind, and it has motivated me to continue my work with the O’odham language, and to continue sharing my knowledge of our people’s culture with the Community.
The most exciting part of the trip was the time we spent in the Museum Support Center collections. Although we were only able to see a fraction of what was there, it was still very worthwhile and educational. There are two areas that really inspired me and gave me new insight into our way of life. First, there was the discovery of the brightness and color of the dyes used in various articles, including the woven belts/headbands, rawhide shields, and the burden baskets.
Second, it was inspiring to see all the items made of rawhide and leather, including the sandals, shields, tobacco pouches, and the fringed jacket believed to be worn by an O’odham scout. Of course there were other interesting items to examine, like the wooden and stone kickball used by runners, the calendar sticks, bows and arrows, war clubs, gourd rattles, and the different baskets and pottery that were made for various purposes. Everything offered something new to be learned and respected by us and moved each of us in different ways.
Initially for me, there was the shock of seeing things up close and in living color.
Many photos of the items I had seen in books were in black and white, and the actual sizes of the items were deceiving. One of the most pleasant discoveries involved the belts/headbands woven from dyed cotton used by the O’odham. Just the detail of the designs and tightness of the weave alone were amazing. What surprised me the most about them was the colors of blue- and red-dyed cotton used in the designs woven into the belts/headbands. These two examples of cotton weaving done by our people have captured my interest and sparked a desire to learn more about weaving cotton fabric and the materials used for the dye. Cotton was a very important part of O’odham life, and the art of weaving has long been forgotten. This is proof that the art form must be revived and carried on to future generations.
Next, being able to see all the items made of rawhide and leather was another interesting part of our experience. The knowledge gained from examining the sandals worn by the O’odham and the simple design used was a great insight.
The construction of the shields and the way the straps were tied was another useful bit of information. What drew my attention the most was the fringed leather jacket that is believed to have been worn by a scout. I had only seen this once, in a two-page layout of O’odham artifacts in a book about Native tribes. In the photo the jacket was covered by other items, so it was hard to tell how it was made and what significance it had to the O’odham. When I saw this being pulled out of one of the drawers, it was unbelievable. After looking at the detail and studying the design of the jacket, this became another item of interest to research and one of my favorite pieces of O’odham clothing. I would like to try to re-create this article if possible and share the story of its origin and place in O’odham history.
Trying to re-create pieces of our past and to help us better understand ourselves as a people is something that I have done to teach the language. There is traditional knowledge held in knowing about certain items used by our ancestors, and the skills to survive are also part of those teachings. This trip has educated me in ways that cannot yet be explained, but it has motivated me to share whatever knowledge I hold with those willing to learn. Hopefully, our experience will open the doors for others to follow and to take advantage of the knowledge left for us by our ancestors, in the items that they left in this world. I am very grateful to be part of this project and to be able to share our history with the Community.
I’d like to thank all those who made this possible. Thanks to Royce and Debbie Manuel, and to our business sponsors, David Montiel and Margaret Rodriguez, for contributing to our finances and for their support. Thanks to the various organizations, including the Smithsonian Institution, NMAI and the Artists Leadership Program, and all the staff and supporters who made this trip a success. I’d also like to thank those who have gone on, the Hu’hugam. To any and all of those whom I have forgotten, thank you. Our work will not go unnoticed.
Editor’s note: You may have noticed that the burden basket is spelled two different ways in the article, according to Royce Manuel this relates to dialect. The people use giaho if there is a Tohono O’odham influence and kiaha if from the River people or Ak-mierl Aw-thum.