The Upland Yumans were masters of their domain. Descended from the ancient Patayan, they lived and died in an area consisting of nearly one-third of present day Arizona. Overlapping territory, common language, and similar culture were the traits they shared. They provided the connective tissue of Native America that coupled the eastern tribes of the Hopi and Western Apache with the western tribes of the Mojave, Shoshone, Quechen, and Piaute. Before Anglo contact, they survived for centuries in the desert, on the plateau, and in the mountains; they had mastered an unimaginable diversity of climate and territory; they had conquered their provenance.
The Pai (Hualapai and Havasupai) migrated to Matwidita Canyon after their creation near a mountain in the west. A dispute between two groups separated the people and one of them (Havasupai) moved eastward to the great plateau. The Pai recognize the Yavapai as one of their created brethren while the Yavapai define their own source of life. They emerged from Ahagaskiaywa, from the bowels of the earth, from a place of safety. It was a long way from the mountains of origin of the Pai. They climbed a corn stalk to the surface of the earth when a flood came and devastated all before it. While the origin stories differ, the commonalities persist. The instinct persists. The modern day presence persists. They have all survived.
It is only fair to treat all three peoples separately in this summary, as they have all suffered common, yet divergent histories. Little is known of the Pai prior to 1776, when Francisco Garces passed through their lands. He brought disease and metal tools but passed on little knowledge of the people, as he was killed in 1781 along the Colorado River. The Pai were free from further outside contact for nearly 70 more years. The Yavapai were relatively free from contact with Europeans until the early 1860’s when the prospectors invaded their territory. The people of the Pai and the Yavapai were free to live their lives on the land that sustained them for a short period of time.
All three peoples learned life’s lessons from generation to generation dating back to their origin; follow the blooming plants, plant when the time is right, store when the harvest is plentiful. The way of “right living” was taught from rooftops.
The Hualapai and Havasupai made annual rounds, moving to where plants and trees provided fruit, nuts, and seeds aplenty. These were stored in caches and used in winter when plant sources were scarce. Agave was a year-round life-giver. Agriculture was used to supplement the diet of the people, but was not a huge contributor to the daily survival. The Yavapai made a similar journey, but covered twice the area. These resourceful people gathered and hunted over a tri-dimensional climate zone that ranged from desert to mountain. The Yavapai practiced irrigation techniques, but hunting and gathering remained as the staple for food. For all three peoples, the autumn was the time of abundance. Fat wildlife, nuts, seeds, and fruits provided them with all they needed for the fall and the winter to come. Plant in the spring when the floods came, they taught their children. Harvest in the fall. The fall is the time of plenty. The winter kills. With these teachings they survived for scores of decades in the hinterland. They were masters of their environment.
The Pai and the Yavapai were divided however, by tribe and possible resultant acculturation due to the “whites” arrival. The original division of these peoples persisted for centuries and they became enemies of one another The Hualapai made a connection with the Mojave, Shoshone, and the Quechen. The Havasupai were friends of the Navajo and the Hopi. The Yavapai traded with the Pima, though they often fought, and inter-married with the Western Apache. The tribes of present-day Arizona gelled into a melting pot of Hualapai, Mojave, Shoshone, Havasupai, Hopi, Western Apache, Yavapai, O’odham, and Southern Piaute. This was western America; a precursor to the melding of culture and language that was yet to come to the east. The enmity of the Native cultures would be reflected decades later among the Europeans, as would their coalescence. As the masters of their domain until the 19th century, the Pai and the Yavapai survived. As the masters of their domain after the 19th century, the European invaders would rule. The European people wouldn’t dominate these Natives, but infections and venereal disease would. It became the force that would wrest power and control of the lands from the Natives. Weakened by disease and depression the Natives would begin to succumb to the whites.
Before the European arrival exogamy was practiced as a matter of course. Cultural practices of puberty rites, arranged marriages, and burial were observed. The people recognized a bilateral descent pattern that gave their culture structure. It allowed movement between bands and groups. It allowed flexibility. Marriage was not a ceremony, but rather recognition of unity, and the possible resultant divorce, was a matter of someone moving out of the conjugal home.
The coming of the “whites” in the 19th century signaled a decline of the Pai and Yavapai. Disease decimated their numbers. Their aboriginal traditions disappeared. Railroads stole their lands. Hunting, gathering, and agriculture disappeared as mining, ranching, and farming by the invaders grew prevalent. The white man moved in and took control. The cavalry established forts, camps, and reservations. The Hualapai and the Havasupai became distinct peoples as a result of U.S. government policy. A mutual culture was destroyed. A people were subjugated.
Yet the Pai survived. They had lived for hundreds of years as three tribal divisions; they were the Middle Mountain People, the Yavapai Fighters, and the Plateau People. They had lived in small units we now call “subtribes”. Small encampments of 25 or so persons lived under a headsman that resolved differences and managed day-to-life. They survived in the desert, in small dome-shaped houses or under ramadas. Annual floods provided life-sustaining water. They farmed, and hunted, and gathered. The Pai survived.
Headsman ship was passed from generation to generation, assuming a descendant had the leadership qualities necessary. Rites of passage for girls and boys were observed. Children were never named after anyone else, and their mother named them. War parties had their own local chief. Civic leaders spoke of “right behavior”. The dead were burned. Tradition continued. Life continued. The groups acculturated with neighboring peoples. They adopted traditions. They did what was needed to survive.
At some point the traditions of the shamans disappeared, though. Dreams that were so important to their lives, acculturated from the Mojave, as a sign of power in the heuristic desire for healing and hunting, lost importance. The U.S. soldiers subsumed the tradition of burial rites. On the Fort McDowell Yavapai reservation, so many were killed by disease, there weren’t enough alive to collect wood for cremation. Only the mourning ceremonies survive.
Ceremonies were rare for the Pai. Their settlement patterns were not conducive to large gatherings, as they spread themselves out over the landscape. In the past, at the time of the harvest, the round dance used to be practiced. It was a great celebration. For the Havasupai, all surrounding Natives were invited. Hopi and Navajo attended as well as Hualapai. Tribal dances continued throughout the centuries.
The Ghost Dance phenomena permeated Pai culture in the late 1800’s. The promise of the return of the dead, the death of the white man, and the restoration of all the plants and animals held an enormous attraction for the Native people. While the ceremony resulted in the massacre of scores of Lakota at Wounded Knee by Nelson Miles (the man who captured Geronimo), it was still practiced into the early 20th century. The Ghost dance was a regular occurrence on reservations for decades. Thought to be well meaning for the life of the people, the Ghost Dance failed to produce significant results and faded into obscurity.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, life has changed yet again for the Pai and the Yavapai. Disease has exterminated thousands of people that lived simply off of the land. Annual rounds of the environment have become impossible. War and enmity are a thing of the past, yet families and bands have been dispersed. Populations have been reduced many fold and survivors have been stuffed into small canyons. But traditions have survived. Cultural education has emerged like the Phoenix. The Pai and the Yavapai have survived. The Trail of Tears has been endured. While remembered yearly, that event is now a celebration of freedom.
Reculturalization and education are now the norm. The resurrection of culture is a paramount feature of these peoples. Gaming revenue generated by the Yavapai-Apache is helping. Housing, education, and care of the young and old are again traditional values. Re-education of the young in their cultural language is significant to these people. The Peach Springs Bilingual/Bicultural Program is a model of the movement to revitalize the Pai and all Natives to recognize and embrace their cultural heritage. A result of hard work, determined research, and recognition of cultural identity, this program has become an exemplary prototype for the future development of cultural programs for all peoples. Self-esteem and pride are returning to the survivors.
A microcosm of “Anglo-American” life, the Pai and the Yavapai are the denied and disenfranchised people of “America”. The Pai and the Yavapai are making the best of their circumstance. They are reclaiming their legacy as survivors. They are, again, becoming masters of their own domain.