Odham Elder Barnaby V. Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community explains the meaning of the O’odham word Huhugam:
The O’odham of central and southern Arizona are represented by four separate federally recognized tribal governments that include O’odham of the Gila River Indian Community, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the Ak-Chin Indian Community and the Tohono O’odham Nation. O’odham of the Tohono O’odham Nation also occupy lands at San Lucy in Gila Bend, Florence Village east of Florence, and the San Xavier District Community in Tucson.
The O’odham have a familial relationship of shared cultural group identity that can be traced historically and prehistorically to the Huhugam that inhabited central and southern Arizona, as well as the northern region of present-day Mexico.
From published literature, the O’odham word Huhugam was first recorded in 1694 upon the discovery of Sivan Vahki (also known as Casa Grande Ruins) and in later years appeared in various documents such as the O’odham oral narratives written down in 1775 by Father Pedro Font.
The historic translation of Huhugam as recorded by ethnographers and archaeologists basically accepts an interpretation provided by O’odham informant(s) in 1908. The recorded translations that are attributed to the O’odham word Huhugam are incorrect. The limited knowledge of the English language on the part of the informant(s) and the context of the conversations may account for the misleading interpretations.
Huhugam does not literally mean “the things that are all used up.” Huhugam specifically applies to past human life and not objects as in the generally accepted translation, “that which has perished” (Haury 1976:5). The term “that” implies reference to an object, which is inaccurate and is not acceptable in the hearts and minds of the present-day O’odham.
Huhugam is not the same as the archaeological term Hohokam, which is limited by time periods and does not represent the true reverent acknowledgement of ancient ancestors, as well as living O’odham who will become ancestors today or tomorrow.
In the O’odham traditional view, Huhugam is used in referring to O’odham ancestors, identifying a person(s) from whom an individual(s) is a lineal descendant. The O’odham family tree is inclusive of all O’odham. This has been related not by one particular person, but has as its basis the Creation story that places the existence of life on earth from time immemorial.
The O’odham are primarily an oral history society. O’odham origins and history are recorded through oration and are passed from one generation to the next by practice of known traditional protocols to memorialize significant events in the passage of time. O’odham oral traditions identify Huhugam as the ancestral relatives of the present-day O’odham, and that knowledge is essentially the core of O’odham cultural identity. It may be best for the public to recognize that Huhugam and Hohokam are both in union as one in a spiritual realm of the past.
This perspective represents the understanding and beliefs of Odham Elder Barnaby V. Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community, December 2008.