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People of the Legends

Indigenous People of North America - Papago (Tohono O'odham)

Culture and Customs

Old photo of a Papao girlThe Tohono O’odham call their culture, ways of life and values, Himdag.

This includes everything that makes Tohono O’odham people unique as individuals and as a group.

Himdag is a lifelong journey and the people have to learn about many things including:


  • Arts - music, basket making, danceYellow flower of the prickly pear cactus
  • Beliefs
  • Community - Nation and family
  • Games
  • Harvesting and hunting
  • Language, songs and ceremonies
  • Land, environment, seasons, and the elements (earth, air, fire, water)
  • Medicinal plants
  • Mobility - walking, running, horses, wagons
  • Past and future – life’s journey
  • Relatives – related tribes like the Akimel O’odham and kinship
  • Songs
  • Storytelling
  • Spirituality and healing
  • Sensitivity to other people, the land and the environment
  • Values and respect.

Old photo of a Papago womanMusic, dance and basket-making have always been important in Tohono O’odham life.

Baskets were the earliest handmade containers. They were lined with clay for cooking and coated with tar, or pitch to make them water-proof.

Today basket-making is an art and Tohono O’odham baskets are sought after by tourists and collectors around the world, including miniature baskets made of horsehair.

In early times, most villages made a wooden calendar stick with marks and symbols carved in it for important events that happened over several years. Someone was in charge of keeping the stick and they had to remember what the marks and symbols meant. The stick was passed down from one generation to another. These sticks are not kept today.

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