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Calendar stick

Akimel O´odham (Pima) Oos:hikbina (calendar stick)
ca. 1833–1921
Gila Crossing, Maricopa County, Arizona
Saguaro cactus wood, paint
91 x 3 x 2 cm
Collected by Edward H. Davis

In the absence of a formal written language, the O´odham of southern Arizona relied on oral tradition for memorializing significant events. The Oos:hikbina—translated from O´odham as “stick cuts upon”—was one way the Akimel O´odham (River People) annotated oral history. The other manner of revitalizing human memory is through songs.

Most often, an Oos:hikbina was made by trimming a dry saguaro cactus rib flat on one or two sides to enable the recorder and keeper of the Oos:hikbina to etch dots, small notches, V-shaped cuts, and deep straight lines across the stick representing years. The symbols were often painted with natural pigments of blue soot and red clay.

This Oos:hikbina, kept by Mr. Joseph Head and acquired by the collector Edward H. Davis in 1921, records events beginning in 1833. The Gila River Indian Community, the keeper’s homeland, was established by executive order in 1859. Several battles in which the Akimel O´odham and Piipaash (Maricopa) joined forces against enemy tribes are recorded. Natural phenomena and European influence—including the coming of the railroads in 1878 and 1886—are revealed with etched symbolism. The Oos:hikbina does not record every event that affected the lives of the Akimel O´odham and Piipaash, but it does provide insight into the inevitable progression of new beginnings.

—Barnaby Lewis (Akimel O´odham)
Traditional singer, knowledge-keeper, and cultural preservation officer, Gila River

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