hundred years and finally a family reunion has taken place.
A reunion of the Paipai
Indians of the Baja California region and their ancestral relatives
of old, the Yavapai. Despite the time that has passed, relatives
have greeted each other with just as much excitement and anticipation
to catch up on things as any other family would in a reunion.
The Paipai Indians
of Baja California have been coming up into the states and visiting
the various Pai tribes of Arizona including the Yavapai of the
Verde Valley, for the last year. Bringing their traditional wares,
knowledge, language and understanding of plants and medicine,
the Yavapai Indians of Prescott and the Verde Valley are gleaning
a host of traditions long forgotten or lost in their own culture.
Pai tribes, including
Havasupai, Walapai, Yavapai and Paipai are all interrelated. Archeologists,
such as Mike Wilkens who works directly with the Paipai, say it
is uncertain as to when the separation occurred, but it is guessed
it began 2,000 years ago when changing climatic conditions forced
some of the Yuman tribes from around the mouth of the Colorado
River to look for more favorable lands for survival. With the
Paipai's linguistic similarities to the other Pai tribes along
with common biological features, and traditions, it has become
more and more evident that they had been peas of the same Pai
pod at one time.
Wilkens said the Paipai
have remained traditionalists all of these years, mostly out of
necessity. He adds that the uniqueness of their situation as a
tribe nearly unmarred by outside influence has been due to their
continual honoring of their heritage's importance, which they
held tightly to despite everything else.
Other tribes weren't
so lucky. During the time of Spanish missionary influence and
displacement due to disease and other prevailing factors, many
of the native tribes in the region were absorbed into another
culture. There once were 50,000 natives but today only 1,200 remain,
all within eight indigenous communities and four tribes.
"These people had
to sacrifice their way of life of traveling from the mountains
to the ocean," Wilkens said. "They hid from the Spanish in the
mountains and near small water holes. And those who didn't later
intermarry or die, continued the knowledge and traditions of the
because these indigenous tribes continue to live in their traditional
manner, most are without the modern conveniences of electricity,
running water and modern health care. In contrast, the other Pai
tribes of the United States, such as the Yavapai, who have wealth
through gaming, are often without traditions and culture. With
this, the two tribes have decided to make an exchange.
The Yavapai have asked
to receive the traditional knowledge and the Paipai, food, clothing
and medical care.
"For the native people
of Baja California struggling to hold on to their land,
needing to create jobs in their communities, and with difficult
access to health care - the support of their northern relatives
has been crucial in helping to turn their situation around," Wilkens
The Museum of Northern
Arizona has known about the quality craftsmanship among the Paipai
as well as all other Pai tribes for some time. This is why each
year they conduct the Pai Festival. Last year was the first time
the Paipai Indians were able to represent themselves at the festival
crafts are not the only thing the Yavapai are interested in gleaning
from the Paipai. Other important missing links to their heritage
include the identification of local plants and their medicinal
uses. Last year, Paipai elders Josefina Ochurte, Benito Peralta
and Teodora Quero made a special trip to the Verde Valley to help
teach the Yavapai what they could about the plants.
Spending a week with
tribal members, elders and Flagstaff ethnobotanist Phyllis Hogan,
they were able to find, identify and label a large variety of
native plants in the Verde Valley and Sedona Region. With Baja
California having a similar ecosystem to the Verde Valley, many
common plants were discovered.
Hogan said the plants
were catalogued for the Yavapai-Apache Nation's upcoming cultural
center for future reference and use.
"We are pressing plants
and putting them on herbarium sheets so that any university or
specialist can look at specimens, identify them and see the correct
scientific language and use by tribes," she said. "They will then
be housed in a special cabinet that the tribe has agreed to buy
and will be placed in the future Yavapai-Apache Cultural Center."
The group identified
40 specimens during their four-day stay. Katherine Marquez, Yavapai
Cultural Department director said that this opportunity to learn
about the traditional medicines has been very important to the
Yavapai and now the knowledge can be offered to the whole tribe.
"There are so many
medicines out there we didn't even know about. The root for the
Four O'Clock we found can be used for depression. There are many
plants for diabetes, ulcers, kidney problems. I am so happy that
we found the Paipai."
Because the Paipai
are so connected to their native traditions, Wilkens formed the
CUNA Institute in Baja, California which offers the opportunity
for other artists or anthropologists to come down and study these
unique people's ways. In addition to helping educate outsiders,
the Paipai use the funds to help alleviate some of the poverty
Wilkens future goals
for the CUNA Institute are to create a website where the villagers'
crafts can be displayed and sold and to take more groups of Pai
Indians to visit their ancestors north of the border, including
the Supai Reservation. He says that the Supai's language and the
Paipai are the closest of all Pai dialects. He believes this is
due to Supai receiving the least amount of influence by other
Despite the slight
language barrier between the Yavapai and Paipai, the chance for
Yavapai elders to share similar words, hear ancient stories they
had never heard spoken in a similar tongue and listen to the wisdom
of the Pai elders, has been worth the 500-year wait.