Iitoi, the Man in the Maze, Tohono O'odham Tribal Symbol

To the Tohono O'odham, the human figure on the top of the tribal symbol suggests birth – birth of the individual, of the family, of the tribe. We travel through life as through a maze, taking many turns while growing stronger and wiser, overcoming obstacles as death at the dark center of the maze comes closer.

Tracing the light path, you will find an additional turn before reaching the journey's end. Here we retreat to a small corner of the pattern and, looking back on the road traveled, we are able to reflect on the wisdom we have gained. Finally, in harmony with our past, we accept death.

The Tohono O'odham Nation, located in the Sonoran Desert, spans the US/Mexican Border from Southern Arizona into Northern Sonora. Once known as Papago, the Tohono O'odham (Desert People) inhabit the second largest reservation in the US, comprising close to three million acres. Their tribal headquarters are located in Sells, sixty miles west of Tucson. One third of the ancestral land of the Tohono O'odham is separated by the international border, as established by the Gadsden Purchase of 1854. As a result, the Tohono O'odham were divided into two groups and considered either Mexican or American citizens. While the Tohono O'odham living in the US presently live under extremely difficult conditions, they are recognized by the US Government and receive certain benefits, including medical care and education available within the reservation. Life on the other side of the border, in Mexico, is undeniably more difficult. They speak the same language and safeguard the same traditions yet the Mexican Tohono O'odham receive little government aid and are no longer allowed to cross the border to visit family, tend to their flocks or receive social services. Notwithstanding this indiscriminate segregation, the Tohono O'odham look beyond the imposed border. They continue to consider themselves as neither American nor Mexican but rather Tohono O'odham. They view their nation as united.

The Estudio Busqueda de Pantomima Teatro A. C. began working with the Tohono O'odham in spring of 2006 during a residency funded by the International Sonoran Desert Alliance, of Ajo Arizona. Our project was, through movement theatre and circus skills, to integrate a disintegrating community comprised of Mexican, Anglo and Native Americans. While our ultimate goal was to unite the three factions of the Ajo community in cultural activities, last year's preliminary phase was focused on working with each group separately.

Our interaction with the Tohono O'odham included three phases:

  • Performances by the Estudio Busqueda de Pantomima Teatro
  • Classes of basic movement techniques and juggling
  • Mask work and transformation face painting using images
    from the desert landscape and tribal symbols

We worked with the Tohono O'odham within their schools and community centers.

Our previous residency took place in March and April of 2007 and has been partially funded by The Nalac Foundation for the Arts and The Ford Foundation's Shifting Sands Initiative. We will focus on transposing Tohono tribal stories upon a foundation of Movement Theatre techniques in order to create individual and group pieces.

Visit the International Sonoran Desert Alliance