In this story we find proof that the oldest digging utensil was a sharpened stake.
Before these people became agricultural they must have subsisted mainly on the game and wild fruits of the desert. They showed me several seed-bearing bushes and weeds which in old time had helped to eke out for them an existence.
Starvation must have often stared them in the face, and the references to hunger, and the prophecies of plenty, and of visits to relatives whose crops were good, are scattered pathetically all thru these legends.
And indeed, until very recently, mezquite beans and the fruit of various cactus plants were staple articles of food.
Mezquite beans grow in a pod on the thorny mezquite trees. The gathering of them was quite a tribal event, large parties going out. The beans when brought home were pounded in the chee-o-pah, or mortar, which was made by burning a hollow in the end of a short mezquite log, set in the ground like a low post. A long round stone pestle, or vee-it-kote, was used to beat with, and sometimes the cheeopah itself was of stone. But stone mortars were usually ancient and dug from out the vahahkkee ruins.
The beans, crushed very fine and separated from the indigestible seeds, packed into a sweet cake that would keep a year.
Various cactus fruits were eaten. They warned me that for a novice to eat freely of prickly pears produced a lame, sore feeling, as if one had taken cold or a fever. I noticed no symptoms however. The fruit of the giant cactus is gathered from the top, around which it grows like a
crown, by a long light pole, made from the rib of the same cactus, with a little hook at its end made by tying another short piece, slant-wise, across. They called the constellation of Ursa Major, Quee-ay-put, or The Cactus-Puller, from a fancied resemblance to this familiar implement.
The giant cactus, or har-san, was eaten ripe, or dried in the sun, or boiled to a jam and sealed away in earthern jars. They also fermented it by mixing with water, and made their famous tis-win or whiskey from it. They had "big drunks" at this time, in which all the tribe joined in a general spree.
A sort of large worm (larva) was also gathered in large quantities, boiled and eaten with salt.
The confusion in the Pima thought on religious matters is well revealed in this tale, in which Ee-ee-toy, who may be regarded as a god, frankly admits that in some matters an old woman may be wiser and more powerful than he. Nothing appears to have been very clearly defined in their faith except that a mahkai might be or do almost anything.