Papago Woman

Topics: White people, O'odham language, Tohono O'odham Pages: 9 (3545 words) Published: November 29, 2012
Papago Woman, written by Ruth M. Underhill, is an ethnography of the life of a native american woman named Maria Chona, a member of the Southern Arizona Papago people located right outside of Tucson, Arizona on a reservation. Ruth lived among the Papago from 1931 till 1933. She studied the life of the Papago with her main subject an older Papago woman named Chona. She says at one point how she learned amongst these people and Chona, “I feel, nevertheless, that out of all this flurry there came the story as it had appeared in Chona's mind,” (27). By hearing the life of this Papago woman she learned about life as a Papago.

To collect data about the Papago way of life and Chona, Ruth Underhill asked many questions. She was very forward with her questions at first because she had not yet known the Papago way of life, such as asking the name of Chona's dead son and not knowing that the name of the dead are not said out loud. Underhill integrated her life into that of the tribe. In the 3 years she stayed there she learned much through this method. She studied the language and Papago method of breathing by listening to the way they say their words and learned how they pronounce r's as l's and f's as p's. She also used translators along the way.

Part one of the Papago woman describes Ruth Underhill's first encounter with the Papago people. Ruth goes to Tuscon, Arizona on a grant from Colombia University, the college she was attending, to live amongst this native american tribe in the southwest. Underhill drives to Arizona and meets a few friends living in Tuscon who tell her about the tribes people . They tell her how a few Papago come to their homes looking for work. They describe them as soft-spoken, brown people. Underhill inquired about any of the english speaking Papago she could meet. She is then introduced to a yardman, Rafeal, or Lapai in the language of his people. Lapai in turn takes her to meet a woman named Chona who lives on a reservation in an unfurnished dwelling, similar to that of a cellar. Ruth listens with intent as Chona talks. Lapai translates the conversation for her. Throughout her stories, Ruth notices that Chona talks about how it used to be when she was a child. Ruth asks Chona about her family. She learns that Chona had two sons and a daughter but one son who was a medicine man died, the other is in Mexico, and the daughter got married and moved away. Ruth asks the name of Chona's dead soon and is met with an uncomfortable silence. Lapai tells Ruth that Chona had a sister who married a man named Lillat, whom she calls “husband-of-my-sister,” but died and Lillat was remarried with children (Underhill 5). They decided to go on a trip to visit Lillat and his family who lived far out on the reservation away from government headquarters. Soon they set out but not before the rest of the people living around Chona tried to all hitch a ride with Ruth to see Lillat.

On the way, Ruth learned much about the land as the Papago know it. She learns about eating cholla during the dry season, or “hungry time,” (Underhill 8). Chona points to a white rock and tells Ruth about the kidnapping of the Papago woman by the Apache during the fall when the corn was ripe. Chona also mentions Coyote and I'itoi who are very important people in Papago stories of history. “Coyote,” she said, “helped put the world in order. Only he made mistakes,” (Underhill 9). She would not talk further about Coyote because, “These things about the Beginning are holy. They should not be told in the hot time when the snakes are out. The snakes guard our secrets. If we tell what is forbidden, they bite,” (Underhill 9). A few hours later they arrived at Lilliat's adobe home. In true Papago fashion, they waited to be welcomed. They all stood across from each other smiling. Lapai and Ruth were never introduced but instead were greeted with kind smiles of gratitude. She learned that the Papago do not believe in sayings superficial things such as...
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