Big Jim: The Children's Shrine

2014-02-07T00:00:00Z Big Jim: The Children's ShrineJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Just west of Gu Achi (Santa Rosa Village) near the center of Tohono O’odham Nation stands a beautiful shrine — one of the holiest places on that nation. It consists of a pile of flat rocks surrounded by a circle of peeled ocotillo stalks. This circle has four openings; one for each of the four cardinal directions. It commemorates an event that has seared itself into Tohono O’odham memory: the sacrifice of four children.

Long ago, beyond count of years, a farmer was tending his fields to the west of Gu Achi, when he noticed that something had been eating his beans and melons. Tracks identified the thief as a badger. One day the farmer saw a badger in his field and chased it into a dry wash, where it started digging. It is forbidden to even touch a badger, but the angry farmer dug after it, in order to kill it.

Suddenly water gushed out of the hole. The farmer was frightened and told the villagers, who consulted their medicine men. These said that if nothing were done to stop the water, it would spread over the entire earth, drowning everyone.

After prayer and deliberation, the medicine men put animals into the hole: a small sea bird, a crane, and a sea turtle. When the water kept coming it was determined to place four children, a boy and a girl from each of the great divisions of the Tohono O’odham, into the hole.

The children were selected, dressed, painted and prepared, and as the elders sang, the children danced. As they danced, they slowly sank down until they were seen no more. According to O’odham, they are not dead, but alive in the Underworld. The shrine is carefully kept up, and in a ceremony held every four years the people come and dance for four days. At this time it is believed that the Flood Children dance with them, bringing blessings.

There is more to the story than I have room for here: what happened to the children whose mothers hid them during the selection process, how I’itoi took them around to see the world they had saved, and more. Most importantly, the shrine is still there and still cared for, although it is now surrounded by a protective fence. People wishing to visit it must apply at the District Headquarters in Santa Rosa.

For more discussion concerning the Children’s Shrine, see the following sources mentioned in my earlier blogs: Saxton and Saxton, pp. 341-346; Griffith 1992: pp. 22-28.

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About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at tucson.com/wildcatgear.

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail bigjimgriffith@gmail.com

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