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Southwest Indian Mojave Pottery and Fine Art
The land of the Mojave, the most northern of the Yuman tribes, stretched from Black Canyon to the Picacho Mountains below today’s Parker Dam (on the California and Arizona state border), straddling the Colorado River.
In the 16th Century, the time the Spanish arrived in the territory, the Mojaves were the largest concentration of people in the Southwest. The people who made up the Mojave Tribe lived in three groups:
- northern Matha lyathum lived from Black Canyon to the Mojave Valley
- central Hutto-pah inhabited the central Mojave Valley
- territory of the southern Kavi lyathum extended from the Mojave Valley to below Needles Peaks
The Mojaves live within a clan system that was given to them in First Time by Mastamho. They were named for things above the Earth—the sun, clouds and birds—and for things of the Earth and below the Earth. Mastamho gave the Mojaves 22 patrilinear clans (today that number is reduced to 18), and the children took the name of their father’s clan, though only women used the clan name.
A hereditary chief, called the aha macav pina ta’ahon, along with leaders from the three regional groups of the Mojave, governed the people, but only with their continued support and approval.
For the Aha Macav, the river was the center of existence. They practiced a dry farming method, relying on the regular overflow of the Colorado River to irrigate crops planted along the banks. Preparation was painstaking; trees were felled, brush cleared. After planting, there was constant weeding and watching for pests. They supplemented this with wild seeds and roots, especially mesquite beans, game and fish taken from the river with traps and nets.
The Mojave could be a fierce people willing to protect their land, and willing to venture far from it. They traveled to the Pacific Coast, becoming proficient traders. They exchanged with coastal tribes surplus crops for goods they desired and valued, such as shells. And back along the banks of the river, they made pottery from sedimentary clay and crushed sandstone. The material was coiled into shape, dried, painted and fired in either open pits or rudimentary kilns. They created pots, bowls, ladles and dishes decorated with geometric designs. And the women took the crafts further by making unique pottery dolls for the children, dressing and decorating them like people, complete with human hair. The art of tattoo was important to the Mojave. They tattooed their faces with lines and dots—a cosmetic and fashionable practice.
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