Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tohono O'odham: Relationship with Cacti

One of the most fascinating people I met during February Break was Sterling of the Desert Alliance. While we spoke with him, he shared as a story about saguaro cacti. The stroy is about a young boy whose mother leaves him for several years. When he reunites with her, she ignores her and tells him to leave. Later, the mother goes looking for the boy, finding that he turned into a saguaro cactus. When I think about this story, I wonder if parents tell it to their children because of the traditional implications of the story of if they believe that cacti are real people and want their children to understand as well. Do the Tohono O'odham people still hold cacti in the same esteem as they did hundreds of years ago? Or is the personification of cacti a means to keep the Tohono O'odham culture alive.

Chip Littlefield says he never harms cacti. Out of respect for O'odham beliefs and the importance of the plants, Littlefield never touches the plants and educates people on the role of cacti in the environment. After listening to Sterling's story, I wondered if Littlefield also believes in the humanity of cacti. Does he show respect for them because of their personification in Tohono O'odham culture or due to their endangered status? Since Littlefield does work with someone from the tribe, its very possible he heard the story of the boy who turned into the saguaro. If this is the case, then Littlfields have several reasons for why he reveres cacti rather than his occuptation. However, is it possible that non-Tohono O'odham people can fully believe in the cultural significance of the saguaro. Or does Littlefield respect cacti as a way to respect Tohono o'odham culture?

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