The Tohono O'odham believe I'itoi, the creator, lives in a cave on the flanks of Baboquivari Peak.


This story, which is part of a much longer narrative, is set near the Sonoran O’odham village of Pozo Verde, near the southern end of the Baboquivari Mountains.

At some time in the distant past, a terrifying woman named Ho’ok lived in a cave near the village. She had animal claws on her hands and feet, and, after moving into her cave, started devouring the village children. The alarmed villagers went to I’itoi in his cave to ask for his help. Knowing that Ho’ok enjoyed dancing, I’itoi told the people to prepare for a big sing and circle dance, and to invite Ho’ok.

The dance lasted for four days and nights. All this time the people kept the Ho’ok dancing, and gave her special cigarettes that made her sleepy. Whenever she felt tired and tried to go home, the people hid in the bushes and rattled their dance rattles, knowing that Ho’ok was afraid of rattlesnakes. In this way they kept her dancing until she finally dropped to the ground, fast asleep.

In the meantime, the people had filled her cave with dry wood, and made a series of doors out of grass. They arranged the wood and the doors, carried Ho’ok into the cave, and set fire to the wood. Then they sealed the cave. In her agony at being burned alive, Ho’ok flung herself against the ceiling of the cave, splitting the rock, but I’itoi stamped on the crack and closed it. However, a wisp of smoke escaped and became a dangerous blue hawk…but that’s another part of the story.

The villagers at Pozo Verde can show you the Ho’ok’s cave, and the dance floor where the party took place. The story has gotten beyond the O’odham — I first heard it in the 1950s from a Mexican vaquero in a bar in Sasabe, Arizona. It is very much a part of the living geography of this part of the Border.

It, along with the other stories I‘m telling, also proves the O’odham claim to this land. No other group has a collective memory of this place that reaches back so far. We are in O’odham country, and as my friend Daniel Joaquin told an Anglo audience once when his waila band was introduced to them, “We hope you make us welcome because after all, we made you welcome.”

For the full story of the Ho:ok as it is told in Pozo Verde, see Saxton and Saxton (cited in the last blog) pp. 281-305. In the second chapter of my Beliefs and Holy Places (Tucson: U. of A. Press, 1992) I tell and comment on much of the material I’ve included in this short series.