When the Spanish arrived in the late 1500s, the Mojaves were the largest concentration of people in the Southwest. The land of the Mojave, the most northern of the Yuman tribes, stretched from Black Canyon to the Picacho Mountains below today’s Parker Dam, straddling the Colorado River. Today, this tribe is known as the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe of Arizona, California, and Nevada.
Official Tribal Name: Fort Mojave Indian Tribe of Arizona, California, and Nevada
Address: 500 Merriman Avenue, Needles, CA 92363
Phone: (760) 629-4591
Fax: (760) 629-5767
Official Website: http://mojaveindiantribe.com/
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: Pipa Aha Macav, meaning People by the River.
Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:
Mojave is pronounced “mo-hah-vee.” This name is a shortened form of the Mojave word Hamakhaave, which means “beside the water.”
Alternate names / Spellings / Misspellings:
The spelling Mojave comes from Spanish, and the spelling Mohave comes from English. Both are used today, although the tribe officially uses the spelling Mojave.
The tribal name has been spelled in Spanish and English transliteration in more than 50 variations, such as Hamock avi, Amacava, A-mac-ha ves, A-moc-ha-ve, Jamajabs, and Hamakhav. This has led to misinterpretations of the tribal name, also partly traced to a translation error in Frederick W. Hodge’s 1917 Handbook of the American Indians North of Mexico (1917).
This source incorrectly defined the name Mohave as being derived from hamock, (three), and avi,’ (mountain). According to this source, the name refers to the mountain peaks known as The Needles in English, located near the Colorado River. But, the Mojave call these peaks Huqueamp avi, which means “where the battle took place,” referring to the battle in which the God-son, Mastamho, slew the sea serpent.
Name in other languages: Tzi-na-ma-a. Mojave is a Hispanicization of the Yuman Aha-makave, meaning “beside the water.”
The Mojave Tribe lived in three groups – the northern Matha lyathum villages were from Black Canyon to the Mojave Valley, the central Hutto-pah inhabited the central Mojave Valley, and the southern Kavi lyathum extended from the Mojave Valley to below Needles Peaks.
Ancestors of the modern Mojave Indians settled the Mojave Valley around 1150. These people farmed soil enriched from sediment left by the annual spring floods. The Mojave may have encountered non-natives as early as 1540. Although they served as scouts for Father Francisco Garces’s Grand Canyon expedition in 1776, among others, they generally resisted Spanish interference and maintained their independence.
Reservation: Fort Mojave Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land
The Fort Mojave Indian Reservation is located along the Colorado River in the vacinity of Needles, California. The land is divided into three major segments: 23,669 acres in Mojave County, Arizona; 12,633 acres adjacent to Needles, California; and 5,582 acres in Clark County, Nevada.
Most Mojave Indians live on two reservations. The Colorado River Reservation (1865), containing roughly 270,000 acres, has an active tribal council (1937) and several subcommittees. The Fort Mojave Reservation (1870), within sight of Spirit Mountain and on ancestral lands, contains 32,697 acres, exclusive of about 4,000 acres in Nevada. Each reservation has its own tribal council. Both contain extremely irrigable land. Mojaves also live on the Fort McDowell Reservation in Arizona (24,680 acres, 765 population in 1992). The last traditional Mojave chief died in 1947.
Land Area: 42,000 acres
Tribal Headquarters: Needles, California
Time Zone: Pacific
Population at Contact:
In the 16th Century when the Spanish arrived, the Mojaves were the largest concentration of people in the Southwest, numbering approximately 20,000. The Franciscan missionary-explorer Francisco Garcés estimated the Mohave population in 1776 as approximately 3,000 Mojave Indians.
A.L. Kroeber estimated the population of the Mohave in 1910 as 1,050. Lorraine M. Sherer’s research revealed that by 1963, the population of Fort Mojave was 438 and that of the Colorado River Reservation approximately 550.
Registered Population Today: The 1990 census showed roughly 600 Indians living at Fort Mojave (of a tribal enrollment of 967) and roughly 2,350 Indians living on the Colorado River Reservation, a majority of whom identified themselves as Mojave.
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
Positions of authority such as subchiefs or local leaders derived from dreaming or oratory. Hereditary chiefs in the male line did exist, although with obscure functions. Despite their loose division into bands and local groups, the Mojave thought of themselves as a true tribe; that is, they possessed a national consciousness, and they came together for important occasions such as warfare.
Name of Governing Body:
Number of Council members:
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers:
Language Classification: Hokan -> Yuman -> River Yuman
Language Dialects: Mojave
Number of fluent Speakers:
In 1994 approximately 75 people in total on the Colorado River and Fort Mojave reservations spoke the Mohave language.
Mojave culture traces the origins of its people to Spirit Mountain, the highest peak in the Newberry Mountains, located northwest of the present reservation inside the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Bands, Gens, and Clans
The Mojave clan system was given to them in First Time by Mastamho. They were named for things above the Earth – the sun, clouds and birds: and for things of the Earth and below the Earth. Mastamho gave the Mojaves 22 patrilinear clans (today that number is reduced to 18), and the children took the name of their father’s clan, though only women used the clan name.
Colorado River Indian Tribes of the Colorado River Indian Reservation in Arizona and California, is shared by members of several local tribes, including some Mojave people.
Allies included the Quechan, Chemehuevi, Yavapai, Western Apache, Cahuilla and Mission Indians.
The Mojaves were fierce fighters. A warrior society (kwanamis) led three different fighting groups: archers, clubbers, and stick (or lance) men. In addition to those three types of weapons, they also used deer-hide shields, mesquite or willow bows, and arrows in coyote or wildcat quivers. War leaders experienced dreams conferring power in battle. Traditional enemies included the Pima, O’odham, Pee-Posh, and Cocopah. The Maricopa and Pima tribes were frequent enemies.
The Mojave often took girls or young women as prisoners, giving them to old men as an insult to the enemy.
Ceremonies / Dances:
The Mojaves performed few public ceremonies or rituals. Instead, they sang song cycles for curing, funerals, and entertainment. The cycles consisted of dreams and tribal mythology and were accompanied by people shaking rattles and beating sticks on baskets. A complete cycle could take a night or more to sing, and the Mojave knew about 30 cycles, each with 100-200 songs.
The Mojave believed that performing rain dances would bring forth rain that would help them grow bountiful crops.
Modern Day Events & Tourism:
Annual Pow Wow each February.
Legends / Oral Stories:
Art & Crafts:
Mojave artists are famous for their fine coiled pottery and beaded jewelry. Mojave women were especially known for making intricate beaded collars to wear around their necks. In more recent times Mojaves are known for making glass beadwork.
Originally, Mojave people didn’t wear much clothing– men wore only loincloths and women wore knee-length skirts. Shirts were not necessary in Mojave culture, but the Mojaves sometimes wore rabbit-skin robes or ponchos at night when the weather became cooler.
After Europeans arrived, the Mojaves began to adapt some Mexican fashions such as cotton blouses and colorful blanket shawls. Unlike most Native American tribes, the Mojaves never wore moccasins. They either went barefoot or wore sandals.
The Mojaves did not wear war-bonnets like the Plains Indians. Mojave men twisted their hair into hair rolls, which looked a little like dreadlocks. Sometimes they would wind these hair rolls up around their heads or attach eagle feathers to them. Mojave women wore their hair long and straight.
Women carried babies on the hip, never on the back.
Both male and female Mojaves wore facial tattoos and also painted their faces and bodies for special occasions. They used different colors and patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration. Many Mojave people also painted horizontal white or yellow stripes on their hair. Slaves were identified by their chin tattoos.
Housing / Social Structure:
Bands and families lived in scattered rancherias, or farms.Mojave people built two different types of houses. Close to the Colorado River, the Mojaves lived in thatched huts raised off the ground with stilts, to protect against summer flooding. Further from the river, the Mojave people built sturdier earthen houses, which were made of a wooden frame packed with clay. The thick earth walls kept this kind of house cool in the heat and warm in the cold, making it good shelter in the desert.
Doors faced south against the cold north winds. The people also used cylindrical granaries with flat roofs.
A hereditary chief, called the aha macav pina ta’ahon, along with leaders from the three regional groups of the Mojave, governed the people, but only with their continued support and approval.
They were prosperous farmers with well-established villages and trade networks that stretched as far away as the Pacific Ocean.
Mojave people were known as excellent swimmers and runners. They often traveled widely for trade and fun, covering up to 100 miles by foot in a day. Mojaves traded agricultural products with tribes near the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean for shells and feathers. They also acted as brokers between a number of tribes for various indigenous items.
Leaders addressed the people from rooftops in the morning about proper ways of living.
Men planted the crops and women harvested them. Crops such as corn, beans, and pumpkins (and wheat and melons after the Spanish arrived) constituted 50 percent of the Mojave diet. They also caught fish; hunted game such as rabbits and beaver with bows and arrows, traps, or deadfalls; and fished in the rivers, while women gathered nuts, fruits, and herbs.
Mesquite beans in particular were a staple, used for food, drink, flour (pith from pods), shoes and clothing (bark), hair dye, instruments (roots), glue (sap), fuel for firing pottery, and funeral pyres.
Favorite Mojave recipes included baked beans, hominy, and flat breads made from corn and bean flour.
They used reed rafts to cross the river; headrings for carrying; gourds for storage of seeds and water and, with wooden handles fastened with greasewood and arrowweed, for rattles; bows and arrows; planting sticks and wooden hoes; and assorted pottery and baskets. They also caught fish using drip and drag fish nets, traps, and basketry scoops.
Reed or log rafts were used for long river trips. Also, swimmers used “ferrying pots” to push food or small children ahead of them while they swam.
For the Aha Macav, the river was the center of existence. They practiced a dry farming method, relying on the regular overflow of the Colorado River to irrigate crops planted along the banks. Preparation was painstaking; trees were felled, brush cleared. After planting, there was constant weeding and watching for pests. They supplemented this with wild seeds and roots, especially mesquite beans.
Mojave hunters used bows and arrows, and fishermen used nets and wooden fish traps. In war, Mojave men fired their bows or fought with clubs or spears. Some Mojave warriors used leather shields to protect themselves from enemy archers. Hunters generally gave away what they killed.
The Mojaves traded regularly with neighboring tribes, particularly Southern California tribes like the Cahuilla and Mission Indians. They especially liked to trade corn and beans for shell beads from the Pacific coast, which they used to make jewelry.
The Fort Mohave Indian tribe operates two Tribal casinos on the reservation, two RV parks, a marina, the Aha Quin Park, a full service hotel, gift shop, and restuarant, and the Mojave Resort PGA Championship Golf Course.
Farming remains important on the Colorado River Reservation, where unemployment stood at 10 percent in 1985. An 11,000-acre farming cooperative produces mainly cotton, alfalfa, wheat, melons, and lettuce. Tourism is also important.
Motorboat races are held in the spring and a rodeo in November. Some people herd sheep or work for the BIA or the public health service. Long-term leases provide significant income, as do numerous large and small businesses, such as a 10-acre recycling plant that opened in 1992.
Although agriculture (primarily cotton) remains important at Fort Mojave, that reservation is harder to irrigate successfully because it contains a checkerboard of private lands. Unemployment there hovers around 50 percent. There are plans to build a huge residential and commercial development, including a casino, in the Nevada part of the reservation.
Fort Mojave also leases some land and some opportunities exist in and around the reservation for wage labor.
Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:
The Mojaves believed, as did all Yumans, that they originally emerged into this world from a place near Spirit Mountain, Nevada. The Tribe’s spirit mentor, Mutavilya, created the Colorado River, its plants and animals, and instructed the Pipa Aha Macav in the arts of civilization.
Dreaming was the key to the Mojave religious experience. Dreams were seen as visits with ancestors. There were omen dreams and, more rarely, great dreams, which brought power to cure, lead in battle, orate a funeral, or do almost anything. However, dreams were considered of questionable authenticity unless they conferred success. Dreams permeated every aspect of Mojave culture. They were constantly discussed and meditated upon.
The dreams, su’mach, were viewed as the source of knowledge. Through them the dreamer could return to the time of creation where the origin of all things would be revealed. Great dreams and visions were related to the tribe as Great Tellings and Sings. They shared the history and legends of the people, deeds of bravery and war, magic and heroes.
And through sumach a’hot, a person was given a gift to do one thing better than others, or called upon to receive a gift of knowledge to know how to cure or treat a special kind of illness. A person called to receive such a gift had to go through much fasting and other trials, sometimes not passing the test and remaining like ordinary people. For those who passed such a test, the Mojaves say of them, “sumach a’hot,” meaning they are gifted.
Shamans had the most elaborate great dreams, which were considered to have begun in the womb. Shamans could cause disease as well as cure it, a situation that made for a precarious existence for them.
They have traditionally used Datura in a religious sacrament. A Mohave who is coming of age must consume the plant in a rite of passage, in order to enter a new state of consciousness.
Today, many Mojaves are Christians.
The Mojaves used cremation to enter the spirit world. The property and belongings of the deceased were placed on a pyre along with the body, to accompany the spirits. Mourners often contributed their own valuables as a showing of love. Song cycles for the dead were sung while the cremation took place.
The names of the dead were never spoken again.
Today, the Mojave continue to cremate their dead, and mourn them with some of the old songs and ceremonies. Few other myths or song cycles are remembered.
No formal marriage ceremony existed. Marriages were arranged by the couple, and divorce was easy and common.
Education and Media: Children attend public schools.
Famous Mojave People:
Contact with non-natives remained sporadic until the nineteenth century. At about that time they began raiding Anglo-American fur trappers. They also allowed a band of Paiute Indians called the Chemehuevi to settle in the southern portion of their territory. The Mexican cession and discovery of gold in California brought more trespassers and led to more raids.
In 1857, the Mojave suffered a decisive military loss to their ancient enemies, the Pima and Pee-Posh (Maricopa) Indians. Two years later, the United States built a fort on the east bank of the Colorado River to stem Mojave raiding and give safe passage to American immigrants traveling from east to west. Initially, this outpost was called Camp Colorado, but it was soon renamed Fort Mojave. Fort Yuma was built the same year. By this time, however, the Mojave, defeated in battle and weakened by disease, settled into peace.
After the military fort was closed in 1891, the buildings were transformed into a boarding school, which operated until 1930. Ruins of Fort Mojave still exist today as a reminder of the once-troubled historic relationship between Pipa Aha Macav and American civilization. The ruins are located on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River just south of the boundary of present-day Bullhead City.
In 1865, the Mojave leader Irrateba (or Yara Tav) convinced a group of his followers to relocate to the Colorado River Valley area. The same year, Congress created the Colorado River Reservation for “all the tribes of the Colorado River drainage,” primarily the Mojave and Chemehuevi. Roughly 70 percent of the Mojaves had remained in the Mojave Valley, however, and they received a reservation in 1880. This split occasioned intratribal animosities for decades.
The early twentieth century was marked by influenza epidemics and non-Indian encroachment. The first assimilationist government boarding school had opened at the Colorado River Reservation in 1879. Legal allotments began in 1904. Traditional floodplain agriculture disappeared in the 1930s when the great dams tamed the Colorado River. During World War II, many U.S. citizens of Japanese heritage were interned on the Colorado River Reservation. For this operation the United States summarily appropriated 25,000 acres of Indian land.
For 19 years after the war, until 1964, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) opened the reservation to Hopi and Navajo settlement (tribal rejection of this rule in 1952 was ignored by the BIA). Now all members of four tribes call the reservation home, having evolved into the CRIT (Colorado River Indian Tribes) Indians, a difficult development for the few remaining Mojave elders. In 1963 a federal court case guaranteed the tribes title to federal water rights. They received a deed to the reservation the following year.
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