Pima, Papago, Oodham

Who are the Pima, Pagago, and Oodham people?

The Tohono O’odham people also referred to as the Papago, people of the Sonoran Desert who primarily live in Arizona and the Mexican states of Sonora and and Chihuahua.

Tohono O’odham means “Desert People.” When the Spanish came upon them, they called them Papago, but the people themselves have rejected this name and officially changed it to Tohono O’odham in the 1980s.

They are thought to be descendants of the prehistoric Hohokam Culture. They share linguistic and cultural roots with the closely related Akimel O’odham or Pima people, whose lands lie just south of present-day Phoenix, along the lower Gila River.

The Pima Indians called themselves Othama. “Pima” is believed to have come from the phrase pi ‘añi mac or pi mac, meaning “I don’t know,” which they used repeatedly in their initial meetings with Spanish colonists.

Pima, Papago, Oodham Legend Overview

In the legends of the O’odham peoples, a great flood drowns all but three beings. Each of these three attempts to recreate man from earth and eventually Elder Brother (Se-eh-ha or Iʼitoi) is successful.

He treats his creations poorly however, and they kill him in the spring inside his cave. After four days Elder Brother used his immense power to rise from the dead and departed to the other side of the world to gather an army of warriors made by his younger brother.

When Elder Brother returned to the lands of his own creations, the Akimel O’odham, he conquered and subjugated them. As an old man, he returned to his old home.

Fearful to experience retribution once more, he turned his old home into a maze. When warriors did come to defeat Elder Brother, they became lost navigating the labyrinthine passages and suffocated deep within the mountain.

The maze has come to symbolize life itself to the Pima. The twists and turns are each moments of joy or anguish. The goal, as with any maze, is the end found at its center. 

Important characters in Pima and Papago (O’odham) Legends

I’itoi (also known as I’ithi, Si’ihe, Se’ehe, Se:he, or Siuuhu): Elder Brother, the culture hero of the Akimel and Tohono O’odham tribes. He was the creator of the human race and taught the people many things.

Related Links:

Famous Pima / Papago / O’dham

Pima and Papago (O’odham) Legends:


Article Index:

Pima Legend of the First People

AUTHOR: Pima Legend, Myth, Oral Story

Pima legend of how the first man and first woman were made.

The Ark On Superstition Mountain – A Pima Legend

The Pima Indians of Arizona say that the father of all men and animals was the butterfly, Cherwit Make (earth-maker), who fluttered down from the clouds to the Blue Cliffs at the junction of the Verde and Salt Rivers, and from his own sweat made men. As the people multiplied they grew selfish and quarrelsome, so that Cherwit Make was disgusted with his handiwork and resolved to drown them all.


 But, first he told them, in the voice of the north wind, to be honest and to live at peace.

The prophet Suha, who interpreted this voice, was called a fool for listening to the wind, but the next night came the east wind and repeated the command, with an added threat that the ruler of heaven would destroy them all if they did not reform. Again they scoffed, and on the next night the west wind cautioned them. But this third warning was equally futile.

On the fourth night came the south wind. It breathed into Suha’s ear that he alone had been good and should be saved, and bade him make a hollow ball of spruce gum in which he might float while the deluge lasted. Suha and his wife immediately set out to gather the gum, that they melted and shaped until they had made a large, rounded ark, which they ballasted with jars of nuts, acorn-meal and water, and meat of bear and venison.

On the day assigned Suha and his wife were looking regretfully down into the green valleys from the ledge where the ark rested, listening to the song of the harvesters, and sighing to think that so much beauty would presently be laid waste, when a hand of fire was thrust from a cloud and it smote the Blue Cliffs with a thunder-clang.

It was the signal. Swift came the clouds from all directions, and down poured the rain. Withdrawing into their waxen ball, Suha and his wife closed the portal. Then for some days they were rolled and tossed on an ever-deepening sea. Their stores had almost given out when the ark stopped, and breaking a hole in its side its occupants stepped forth.

There was a tuna cactus growing at their feet, and they ate of its red fruit greedily, but all around them was naught but water. When night came on, they retired to the ark and slept–a night, a month, a year, perhaps a century, they weren’t sure, but when they awoke the water was gone, the vales were filled with verdure, and bird-songs rang through the woods. The delighted couple descended the Superstition Mountains, on which the ark had rested, and went into its valleys, where they lived for a thousand years, and became the parents of a great tribe.

<h2>But the evil was not all gone. </h2>

There was one Hauk, a devil of the mountains, who stole their daughters and slew their sons. One day, while the women were spinning flax and cactus fibre and the men were gathering maize, Hauk descended into the settlement and stole another of Suha’s daughters. The patriarch, whose patience had been taxed to its limit, then made a vow to slay the devil.

He watched to see by what way he entered the valley. He silently followed him into the Superstition Mountains; he drugged the cactus wine that his daughter was to serve to him; then, when he had drunk it, Suha emerged from his place of hiding and beat out the brains of the stupefied fiend.

Some of the devil’s brains were scattered and became seed for other evil, but there was less wickedness in the world after Hauk had been disposed of than there had been before.

Suha taught his people to build adobe houses, to dig with shovels, to irrigate their land, to weave cloth, and avoid wars. But on his death-bed he foretold to them that they would grow arrogant with wealth, covetous of the lands of others, and would wage wars for gain.

When that time came there would be another flood and not one should be saved–the bad should vanish and the good would leave the earth and live in the sun.

So firmly do the Pimas rely on this prophecy that they will not cross the Superstition Mountains, for there sits Cherwit Make–awaiting the culmination of their wickedness to let loose on the earth a mighty sea that lies dammed behind the range.