Food System & Culture


Perhaps the most sacred of these cultural practices is the jujkida (saguaro wine ceremony).  Designed to “sing down the rain” that makes agriculture possible in the dry desert, the saguaro harvest and the wine ceremony served as a cornerstone of O’odham ceremonial life, marking the beginning of the new year.  Today, however, only a tiny portion of the O’odham community participates in this sacred rite.  The reason for this decline is relatively simple: today, few O’odham produce their own food.  Grocery stores and federal commodity programs – rather than the desert – are the source of food.  The endangerment of this essential element of O’odham culture is the direct result of changes in the material foundation.  People did not stop planting the fields because the ceremony was dying out; the ceremony began to die out when people stopped planting their fields.


"Every year, I sang the songs that called down the summer rains.  But this year, I had a garden filled with devil’s claw and corn, melons and squash.  This year, I sang for them.  This year, I sang like I really meant it."

              – Christine Johnson, Elder from Nolic Village


Given the connections between the Tohono O’odham food system and cultural traditions, it is virtually impossible to imagine a scenario in which the O’odham language, songs, ceremonies, stories, dances – the O’odham Himdag (Desert People’s Way) itself – can remain a vital and living tradition without the rejuvenation of the food system.  However, as cultural practices are reconnected with their material foundation, they once again take on their central role in the community.  Putting ceremonies, songs, stories and other cultural traditions back into their original context strengthens them.


At the same time, efforts to revitalize key cultural practices (e.g., ceremonies, legends and songs) help motivate individuals and the general community to work toward the redevelopment of a sustainable food system.  TOCA works to integrate food system redevelopment, promotion of physical fitness and cultural revitalization holistically.