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Tohono O'odham
Ofelia Zepeda is a renowned poet and linguist and an enrolled member of the Tohono O'odham (formerly Papago) Nation of Arizona. She grew up in Stanfield, Arizona, a rural cotton farming community near the Tohono O'odham reservation. The first of her family to attend school, she received her Master's degree and Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Arizona where she is now a Regent’s Professor. This honor is awarded only to full professors whose exceptional achievements have brought them national and international distinction.

Ofelia has authored and edited several books, including, Where Clouds are Formed (University of Arizona Press); Jewed 'I-hoi / Earth Movements: O'odham Poems, (Chapbook/CD published by Kore Press); Ocean Power : Poems from the Desert (University of Arizona Press); Mat He kid o ju: When It Rains : Papago and Pima Poetry; and Home Places: Contemporary Native American Writing from Sun Tracks. She is currently the series editor of Sun Tracks and a member of the editorial board of The Smithsonian Series of Studies in Native American Literatures.

Ofelia published the first grammar of the Tohono O'odham language A Papago Grammar, and has actively worked with her tribe to improve literacy in their native language and in English. She is commonly employed as a consultant, not only by the Tohono O'odham, but also by other tribes, in the development of language curricula.

In 1999, Ofelia was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for her work as a linguist, poet, editor, and community leader devoted to maintaining and preserving Native American languages and to revitalizing tribal communities and cultures. She has also received a grant from the Endangered Language Fund; the Tanner Award from the American Indian Alumni Association at the University of Arizona; and a Lannan Literary grant.

Former director of the American Indian Studies Program, she is currently co-director of the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI), an annual summer institute for American Indian Teachers, where she has taught for the entire period of its existence. Ofelia co-chairs the Planning Symposium for a "Clearinghouse" on Endangered Languages of the Americas (IPOLA) in Santa Fe, NM and is an Executive Board member of IPOLA. She is an Executive Board member of the National Museum of the American Indian, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution. She has been Chairman of the Division of American Indian Literatures and a member of the Committee on Languages & Literatures of the Americas of the Modern Language Association, an Advisory Board member for the D'Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian, and a representative at large for the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas. Currently she is a member of the Advisory Committee on Research for the National Museum of the American Indian.

Please visit www.nativewiki.org/Ofelia_Zepeda to read more about Ofelia Zepeda, and watch a short film about Ofelia’s life and work.

(“Pulling Down the Clouds,” “O’odham Dances,” and “Ocean Power” reprinted with permission by the author from Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert, University of Arizona Press, 1995.)

(“Jewed I-hoi/Riding the Earth” and “B 'o e-a:gi mas 'ab him g Ju:ki/It is Going to Rain” reprinted with permission by the author from Earth Movements, Kore Press, 2005.)


"Jewed 'I-Hoi/Earth Movements (Introduction)"

© 2005 Ofelia Zepeda

"Jewed 'I-Hoi/Earth Movements"

© 2005 Ofelia Zepeda

"Those That Walk the Earth"

© 2005 Ofelia Zepeda

Riding the Earth

Tohono O'ohdham version

Jewed 'I-Hoi

Kus hascu hab a:g mat hab o cei,
"añ ep ta:tk mat si 'i-hoi g jewed,
nap pi sa'i ta:tk a:pi?"
"Pi'a, pi'a."
Ñia, kus hascu hab a:g?
Kutp hems heg hab a:g mat o sa e-hai g jewed k o 'i-hoi
a no heg hab a:g mat sikol o memdad mo g milga:n b a'aga rotation.
Nia, kutp hems heg hab a:g mo hegai ta:tk.
Kutp hems hab e-elid mo an ke:k id jewed da:m c da'a an da:m ka:cim
Cessajcug g jewed hab masma mat hemakc g s-melidkam kawyu o
An medad c g mo'oj selim an e-widut huhu'u mehidag ku:bs oidc.
S-ke:g hab ma:s.
Heg an we:maj wiappoi mo an ko:mcug g tas c gahu amjed I-bebhe
si'alig ta:gio amjed gamhu hukkam hudnig ta:gio.
Ñia, kut hegai mas d masad ced o'odham o si al hehemad mats an o

English version

Riding the Earth

She said she felt the earth move again.
I never knew whether she meant she felt a tremor
or whether it was the rotation of the earth.
I like to think she felt the rotation, because
anyone can feel a tremor.

And when she felt this
she could see herself
standing on the earth's surface.
Her thick, wide feet solidly planted,
toes digging in.
Her visualization so strong
she almost feels her body arch
against the centrifugal force of the rotation
She sees herself with her long hair floating,
floating in the atmosphere of stardust
She rides her planet the way a child rides a toy.
Her company is the boy who takes the sun on its daily journey
and the man in the moon smiles as she passes by.

In memory of Barbara Lannan

It is Going to Rain
Tohono O'odham version


B 'o 'e-a:g mas 'ab him g ju:ki.
Sag wepo mo pi woho.
Nañpi koi ta:tk g jewed mat am o i si ka:ckad c pi o i-hoiñad c o
Sag wepo mo pi woho.
Nañpi koi ta:tk g da:m ka:cim mat o ge s-wa'usim s-we:ckad.
Sag wepo mo pi woho.
Nañpi koi ta:tk g hewel mat s-hewogim o 'i-me:
Sag wepo mo pi woho.
Nañpi koi hewegid g s-wa'us jewed
mat g hewel 'ab o 'u'ad.
Ñia, heg hekaj o pi sa'i woho mats o ju:.

English version

It is Going to Rain

Someone said it is going to rain.
I think it is not so.
Because I have not yet felt the earth and the way it holds still
in anticipation.
I think it is not so.
Because I have not yet felt the sky become heavy with moisture of
I think it is not so.
Because I have not yet felt the winds move with their coolness.
I think it is not so.
Because I have not yet inhaled the sweet, wet dirt the winds bring.
So, there is no truth that it will rain.

In memory of Barbara Lannan
Pulling Down the Clouds
Tohono O'odham/English version

Pulling Down the Clouds

Ñ-ku'ibadkaj 'ant 'an ols g cewagi.
With my harvesting stick I will hook the clouds.
'Ant o'i-waññ'io k o 'i-hudiñ g cewagi.
With my harvesting stick I will pull down the clouds.
Ñ-ku'ibadkaj 'ant o 'i-siho g cewagi.
With my harvesting stick I will stir the clouds.

With dreams of distant noise disturbing his sleep,
the smell of dirt, wet, for the first time in what seems like months.
The change in the molecules is sudden,
they enter the nasal cavity.

He contemplates that smell.
What is that smell?
It is rain.

Rain somewhere out in the desert.
Comforted in this knowledge he turns over
and continues his sleep.
dreams of women with harvesting sticks
raised towards the sky.

In memory of Barbara Lannan
O'odham Dances
Tohono O'odham/English version

O'odham Dances

'E-atki 'ep 'ai mat o 'e-keihi go'odham
o 'e-keihi kut hab masma ab o 'i ha-miabi g ju:ki
'apt ge cuhug oidk o ka:d mat hab o kaijjid:

"'oig 'o, 'oig 'o
'at hahawa o ma:si
'oig 'o, 'oig 'o
'am o askia wi'is g ñeñe'i
'oig 'o, 'oig 'o
'at hahawa o 'i-ces g tas
'oig 'o, 'oig 'o
'am o askia wi'is g s-cuhug
'oig 'o, 'oig 'o."

It is the time for the ritual.
To dance, to sing so that rain may come,
so that the earth may be fixed one more time.
Throughout the night,
a night too short for such important work,
the people converge energies.
They call upon the night.
They call upon the stars in the darkness.
They call upon the hot breezes.
They call upon the heat coming off the earth.
They implore all animals.
The ones that fly in the sky.
The ones that crawl upon the earth.
The ones that walk.
The ones that swim in the water and
the ones that move in between water, sky, and earth.
They implore them to focus on the moisture.
All are dependent.
From the dark dryness of the desert,
on that one night the call of the people is heard.
It is heard by the oceans, winds, and clouds.
All respond sympathetically.
Throughout the night you hear the one who is assigned yelling:

"'oig 'o, 'oig 'o
before it becomes light
'oig 'o, 'oig 'o
there are still songs to be sung
'oig 'o, 'oig 'o
before the sun comes up
'oig 'o, 'oig 'o
there is still a little bit of night left.

With the dawn we face the sunrise.
We face it with all our humility.
We are mere beings.
All we can do is extend our hands toward the first light.
In our hands we capture the first light.
We take it and cleanse ourselves.
We touch our eyes with it.
We touch our faces with it.
We touch our hair with it.
We touch our limbs.
We rub our hands together, we want to keep this light with us.
We are complete with this light.
This is the way we begin and end things.

In memory of Barbara Lannan