Tohono O'odham from Big Fields, Arizona
Join us as we travel the distant and fascinating lands of Indian Country. This download was originally aired nationally as a public radio program titled Oyate Ta Olowan--The Songs of the People during the 90s. Each Oyate download includes the 30 minute program plus the full length songs featured during the program.
See the longer description below to hear a short clip of this show and to read for a full account of our journey to meet Danny.
Oyate Ta Olowan was produced by Milt and Jamie Lee with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. The series was aired nationally by Public Radio International.
Danny Lopez, a Tohono O’odham, lives south of Tucson on Sonoran Desert in a small village called Big Fields. The land out there has a large and lonely quality; a sky that makes a person feel small. Danny Lopez met us out beneath that sky in a summer kitchen where we recorded.
Because of the desert heat, many of the homes have “summer kitchens,” The summer kitchen is fenced in with the tall, prickly branches of the ocotillo bush. Danny says the branches are placed deep in the ground and close together to keep out snakes. Sometimes they root and grow again, giving the fence a sporadic leafiness.
Danny has a quiet voice and manner. He is an elementary teacher in Sells and considers the teaching degree he earned late in life a major accomplishment. He loves teaching culture and music to the children. Many of the songs he sings are specifically for children. One favorite song of the children is about a small carpenter ant that wants to be a cowboy but doesn’t ride very well and keeps getting dumped. Danny has three children of his own and seven grandchildren.
The Tohono O’odham were more commonly called the “Papago” by others, but the name actually means “Bean Eater” and they have reverted back to their original name. The Tohono O’odham are known as the Desert People and are of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Their culture revolves around the desert. With no major rivers nearby, these desert people relied entirely on the scanty resources of the land and did so with great mastery.
Irrigated farming, gathering seeds, cactus fruit and other wild foods, hunting, and knowing the seasons allowed them to live here. The mesquite bean was a main food source, hence the name. The Tohono O’odham were very efficient at irrigating the crops, diverting water from washes and gullies during flash floods and rains.
Listen to a short sample of this show below.