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Pima Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Pima Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Pima language and culture pages for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Pima pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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   Pima Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Pima"? What does it mean?
Pima is pronounced pee-mah. The origins of this word are not known for sure, but it's said to come from a white neighbor's misunderstanding of the native word for "I don't know," pinimahch! In their own language, the Pima people call themselves Akimel O'odham, which means "river people." But today, they use the name Pima as well.

Where do the Pimas live?
The Pima are native people of southern Arizona and northern Mexico. Most Pima people are still living in that location today.

How is the Pima Indian nation organized?
Most Pima people live on two reservations in Arizona, which they share with their allies the Maricopas. An Indian reservation is land that belongs to a tribe and is under their control. The Pima Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Pimas are also US citizens and must obey American law.

In the past, each Pima village had its own chief. Pima chiefs were looked to for leadership, but they did not make decisions for the tribe. When there was a political decision to make, every member of the tribal council had to agree before the tribe could act (this is called consensus.) Sometimes this could take a long time, but the Pima people really value harmony, so this was an important system for them. Today, the Pima tribe is led by a tribal council elected by the citizens, and the council members still work by consensus much of the time.

What language do the Pima Indians speak?
Almost all Pima people speak English today, but many of them also speak their native Pima language. Pima is a complex language with long words. If you'd like to know some easy Pima words, "Shap kaij" (sounds a little like shop kite-ch) is a friendly greeting in Pima. You can also read a Pima picture glossary here.

What was Pima culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is the homepage of the Salt River Pima Tribe. On their site you can find information about the Pima people in the past and today.

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How do Pima Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Pima children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. The Pimas were known as good runners, and Pima children enjoyed competing in footraces. A Pima mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back. Here is a website with cradle-board pictures.

What were men and women's roles in the Pima tribe?
Pima women did most of the cooking, child care, and basket-weaving. Men did most of the farming and hunting, and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Pima political leaders and warriors were traditionally always men, although today women also serve on the tribal council. Both genders took part in storytelling, music and artwork, and traditional medicine.

What were Pima homes like in the past?
Most Pima Indians lived in wickiups. Wickiups are small round or cone-shaped houses made of a wooden frame covered with brush and dirt. These are very simple houses and Pima people really only used them to sleep in. When they were resting, socializing, or working on crafts, Pima people sat outside-- it was rarely cold or rainy in the desert climate where they lived. Here are some pictures of wickiup houses.

Pima people do not live in these old-fashioned dwellings today, any more than other Americans live in log cabins. Pima families live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What were Pima clothes like? Did the Pimas wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Originally, Pima people didn't wear much clothing-- men wore only Native American breechcloths and sometimes deerskin leggings, and women wore knee-length skirts. Shirts were not necessary in Pima culture, but the Pimas sometimes wore rabbit-skin robes at night when the weather became cooler. Pima people did not usually wear shoes, either, but when they did, they wore sandals made of rawhide or yucca fiber rather than moccasins. Here is a site with pictures of Indian clothes in general.

The Pimas did not traditionally wear Native headdresses. Some Pima men twisted their long hair into hair rolls, which looked a little like dreadlocks. Sometimes they would wind them up around their heads, or wrap a turban around them. Pima women wore their hair long and straight with bangs in front. The Pimas painted their faces and bodies for special occasions, and also wore tribal tattoos on their chins and faces.

Today, many Pima people still wear moccasins or mantas, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of a breechcloth... and they only wear regalia for special occasions like a dance.

What was Pima transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Pima Indians weren't coastal people, and rarely traveled by river. Most often they just walked. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe. Once Europeans brought horses to America, the Pimas could travel more quickly than before.

What was Pima food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Pimas planted crops of corn, beans, and squash. Pima men also hunted deer, rabbits, and small game, and sometimes went fishing in the rivers. Pima women gathered nuts, fruits, and herbs. Favorite Pima recipes included cornbread and stews, which they baked in pit ovens. Here is a website with more information about Southwest Native American food.

What were Pima weapons and tools like in the past?
Pima hunters used bows and arrows. The Pimas did not go to war often, but when they did, Pima warriors usually fired their bows or fought with spears and clubs. Here is a website with pictures of Native American weapons. Pima tools included wooden farm implements and looms for weaving cotton.

What other Native Americans did the Pima tribe interact with?
The Tohono O'odham traded regularly with other tribes of the Southwest. They were close allies of the Papagos and Maricopas. Besides trading, these tribes would often help each other in times of drought and famine, and sometimes celebrated annual festivals together. The Pimas also fought wars with some of their neighbors. The Apaches and Mohaves were frequent enemies.

What are Pima arts and crafts like?
Pima artists are known for their beautiful Native American baskets. Here is a museum website with more information about O'odham basketry. Pima artists also made Indian pottery and woven blankets.

What kinds of stories do the Pimas tell?
There are lots of traditional Pima legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Pima Indian culture. Here is a Pima story about Coyote losing his eyes. Here's a website where you can read more about Pima stories.

What about Pima religion?
Sorry, but we cannot help you with religious information. Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Pima and Papago beliefs, or this site about Native American beliefs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Truth Is A Bright Star, a good historical novel for young readers about a Pima boy's experiences in the 1800's. Younger children may like Field Mouse Goes To War, a picture book of a traditional Pima legend. Meet Mindy is an illustrated biography of a modern Pima-Tewa girl which makes a great introduction to Pima life today. If you want to know more about Pima culture and history, two good books are Pima Native Americans and The Pima Indians of North America. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American Indian books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2015.

Thanks for your interest in the Pima Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Pimas

Pima Indian Tribe
An overview of the Pima people, their language and history.

Pima Language Resources
Pima language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Pima Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Pima tribe past and present.

Pima Words
Pima Indian vocabulary lists.

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