Elders Listening Session held at the Salt River Community Building.

O’odham and Piipaash storytelling, is it a cultural practice fading away?

By June Shorthair
Au-Authm Action News

As wintertime approaches, it is nice to remember some of the O’odham traditions that took place in the past and in some households continue today. One tradition is the preparation and enjoyment of traditional foods, like Ga’ iwsa (ground corn), a dish that was made from the roasted corn that was harvested in the fall and stored for use throughout the winter and into the coming year. Another tradition was the sharing of stories to teach and entertain each other as the winter nights became longer.

Among the O’odham and Piipaash people, a belief is that the stories of the people should be shared in an oral fashion, and that certain stories should only be told during certain times of the year. As a result, not many written examples of these stories exist. The reliance on oral storytelling has caused a dilemma for many tribal nations, resulting in many stories and teachings no longer being passed down.

The traditional stories about the Big Flood and Superstition Mountain, Blue Bird and Coyote, how the Milky Way Was created, and more, seem to no longer be shared by families in the Community. In the past, these stories taught children and adults about what happens if people grow selfish and quarrel among each other, as well as passing on other life lessons. The book O’odham Creation and Related Events: As Told to Ruth Benedict in 1927, by Donald Bahr, features some of the stories told by the O’odham people and appears to be one of the last documented records of certain areas of O’odham culture. The well-known author Anna Moore Shaw, an Akimel O’odham woman, wrote a book in 1968 titled Pima Indian Legends. This book also provides some written documentation of certain O’odham stories. (Both books are available through the University of Arizona Press,

The limited documentation of O’odham and Piipaash stories and legends shows how oral cultural storytelling can be devastating to a tribal nation if it is not continued; on the other hand, it can reinforce the cultural practice if it is continued. The challenge for Native peoples is to continue oral storytelling today, and to create written documentation of the stories, in order to share this valuable information with future generations. This is a huge challenge for most Native tribes; some have succeeded, some have made some strides, and others have begun to lose this critical practice, which is a key element of tribal culture preservation.

The SRPMIC Cultural Resources Department will be conducting its annual winter storytelling in the coming winter months. The department, along with other tribal cultural entities, is focused on the practice of sharing cultural stores in an oral setting. Because this is the chosen way of many Native people at this time, it is extremely important that people from the tribes participate in projects to help preserve this content.

Au-Authm Action News will provide information on upcoming SRPMIC winter storytelling sessions in future issues of the newspaper; please consider adding your participation to this important cultural project.
For more information, contact the SRPMIC Cultural Resources Department at (480) 362-6324.

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O’odham and Piipaash storytelling, is it a cultural practice fading away?