Emo Ii’aame Bwiapo Rehteme – The Mean Ones Who Walk the Earth

Kiichul is the Hiaki word for “cricket”. Kichulim are well known for chirping loudly through the night, but what you may not know about them is that they eat clothes! If you find little holes are mysteriously appearing in your t-shirts, it could be that kichulim have found their way into your closet. To complain about such a problem, you could say Ume kichulim si haiti taho’ota bwabwa’e, which means “Crickets very annoyingly eat clothing”.

Maachil means “scorpion”, one of the meaner creepy crawlies, well known and feared for its sting. If you get stung by maachil, you should take one clove of garlic and chew on it for a while, and then take another one and tie it to the wound. Kovatarao is the Hiaki word for the “short-tailed scorpion” or “mata venado” in Spanish. Kovataraom look quite different from Machilim, but they still have a nasty sting and they move very quickly.

Waka wo’ochi
Waka wo’ochi is a Hiaki phrase meaning “locust”. Waka comes from the word waka’ate or waka’anama, which means “crawling around”, and wo’ochi refers to “hopping”. Some Hiakis will simply call locusts and all other types of grasshoppers wo’ochi.

Eye’ekoe is a Hiaki word meaning “millipede”. During the time of year when saguaro fruits are ripening and falling to the ground (June & July), you’ll always find eye’ekoem crawling around near the saguaros, as they enjoy their fruit just like people do. As frightening as they look, eye’ekoem typically won’t bite you. To describe how eye’ekoem crawl around on the ground, you could say something like Uu eye’ekoe chukui trentavena, which means “the millipede looks like a black train”.

Huva China’i

© Roberta Gibson, 2010

Huva china’i is the Hiaki way to say “stink bug”. Huuva is the word meaning “stink”, and china’i refers to something’s rear end being up in the air. These bugs are described this way because they will raise their anteriors and put their heads toward the ground when preparing to spray you. Normally, huva china’im will leave you alone so long as you do not disturb them. However, if you touch them, step on them, or even accidentally bother them, they’ll let you know. The scent from their spray isn’t quite as bad as a skunk’s, and it’s easier to remove, but it’s still very unpleasant and smells like overly strong, burnt coffee. Skunks are said to enjoy eating huva china’im, which might explain why skunks smell so awful.

In the Hiaki story Uu Wo’i intok uu Huva China’i, wo’i (coyote) finds huva china’i with his rear end up in the air and exclaims that he’s going to eat huva china’i. However, huva china’i says he’s listening to what’s being said underground about how wo’i will be killed for leaving his droppings all over the road, and so he tricks wo’i into leaving him alone.



Choa is the Hiaki word for the cholla plant. Choam will sometimes produce a sticky, sap-like substance that builds up under the plant’s skin and then slowly leaks and drips out of what look like sores after a few weeks. This is called choa voram, and it was once a source of food for the Hiaki. Choa voram is completely clear when it first comes out, but eventually it will turn brown or black from sun exposure, harden, and fall to the ground. The ideal time to collect choa voram is when it’s fresh and clear. You can still use it while it’s brown if you must, but once it turns black it’s inedible. After collecting choa voram, you would dry it and grind it into a rough, grainy flour which would then be cooked in water to yield a porridge-like beverage. This beverage has a fragrance that closely resembles the earthy, refreshing smell of rain in the desert.

However, there is more to choa than just choa voram. For example, the phrase choa taakam refers to cholla buds, which were not typically eaten by the Hiaki, but were eaten by certain animals like desert tortoises and deer if they fell to the ground. Choa wicham are the infamously difficult to remove stickers of the plant, and choa seewam are the plant’s flowers.


Echo is the Hiaki word for the cardon cactus, an enormous cactus that grows in the Baja California Peninsula and in Sonora. The Mayo, who live nearby the Hiaki in Sonora and who speak a closely related language, have a village called Echo hoa or Echo hoa’ara, which means “cardon home”. While this cactus and its parts could be used for all sorts of things, the Hiaki used to use the fruit of echo to make combs, called echo hichikiam. The fruits are all covered in stickers, but in order to grip one like a comb or hair brush you would remove some of them by trimming them off and partially burning them to make the surface more holdable. Echo fruits are also very fragile, so brushing your hair would require more than one to get the job done. If Hiaki women were travelling to another village with the intention of staying overnight for a ceremony or festival, they might consider bringing about ten each, as Hiaki women would usually have very long hair.

To talk about combing hair with echo, you could say

Si’ime echo hichikiamake emo chiken
si’ime  echo                hichikia-make             emo                 chike-n
all        cardon             comb-with                   themselves      comb-past

which means something like “everyone combed themselves with cardon combs”.

Photo credit: Deborah Small, 2009

Ants! Eeyem, eesuukim, moochom, intok ho’ovoem!

Unlike in many other languages, there is no single word in Hiaki that translates to “ant” or “ants”. In Hiaki, each different ant species is distinct enough to merit its own name, so if you want to talk about ants in Hiaki, you’ll have to know the right word for the type of ant.

Eeyem – Red ants
These ants are known for their large anteriors and hostile temperament. Whereas some ants will only bite you if you provoke them, eeyem will bite you on sight.

Eesuukim – Sugar ants
These very tiny ants are known for getting into people’s houses and scavenging for food sources like crumbs. They won’t bite you or cause you any trouble, unless you’re troubled by having single-file lines of ants crawling all over your house.

Moochom – Leaf-cutter ants
These black ants do their work at night. They collect leaves and leaf clippings to bring back to their nest, and they sometimes can be a problem for gardeners. If you notice that your plants start to shrivel up for no apparent reason, you may be dealing with moochom. They’ll sometimes attack and eat the roots of plants, and by doing this they can kill an entire tree within a month. Interestingly enough, moochom is an irregular plural, as its singular form is mochomo and not *moocho.

Ho’ovo’em – Red and black ants
These small ants come in two colors: red and black. While they’re not as aggressive as eeye, they’ll still bite you under certain circumstances. They’re known to crawl up people’s feet and legs, so if they make it halfway up your leg and then get stuck or lost, they’ll start to bite. Like eesuukim, ho’ovo’e will sometimes crawl into your house and look for food scraps to carry back to their colony.

While there isn’t a single word that just translates to “ant”, all ants are respected by the Hiaki. Some Hiakis will intentionally leave crumbs on the floor and then sweep them in the direction of the doorway so that ants can crawl in at night and take them back to their homes. Ants are also analogized to the Hiaki and Surem (the ancestors of the Hiaki) because they are very hardworking and are constantly trying to provide for their families, so killing ants is frowned upon. If you’re caught in the act, you might hear someone yell “don’t kill them, they’re Hiakis!”.

Wah Kuu’u

The Hiaki phrase wah kuu’u refers to cultivated agave. Wah kuu’u is a plant that is used extensively by many cultures throughout the Southwest for many different purposes, so there are lots of words related to the parts of wah kuu’u and its uses that are worth discussing. Here are some examples:

Kuu’u vi’am is the ridge down the middle of an agave heart, though the word vi’am usually only refers to the nape of the neck.

The word sana’im normally just means “ribs”, but when discussing agave, sana’im refers to the ribs that come off of kuu’u vi’am.

Ma’ikoam refers to the edible, outer parts of a roasted kuu’u vi’am. These parts are left over from the cutting and harvesting of wah kuu’u, and after roasting, you can just pull them off the heart and eat them.

The many different uses of wah kuu’u include rope making. From the leaves of wah kuu’u, you can make a thick type of rope called wikia, which is used for things like lassoing animals. The middle parts of the plant can be used to make Ihkle which is a thin, string-like rope.

When harvesting wah kuu’u, the parts of the plant that are harvested are put into large cloth sacks. Eventually, when these sacks become full, they need to be sewed shut so that their contents don’t all fall out. This can be done with a hi’ikiam. Hi’ikiam literally translates to “needle”, but in the context of agave harvesting, it means a large, flat metal needle used for this specific purpose.


The Hiaki word tekuuku refers to a tornado or dust devil. In Hiaki lore, the occurrence of a destructive tornado is more than just a coincidence; they happen as a result of serious wrongdoings such as child abuse and other major crimes. There are many stories among the Hiaki about the homes of people rumored to abuse their own family being destroyed in a tornado while everyone else’s homes are left completely untouched. This is also known to happen to buildings that are a haven for prostitution and substance abuse. Because tornadoes are so common in areas like Texas, some Hiakis speak of Texas as a place where sin is everywhere and people have forgotten God. If you wanted to talk about tornadoes and where they hit, you could use a sentence like.

Ume bweere tekuukum wam vicha Tehauvicha hivayu kom hohote ta imi’i kaa tua kom hohote.

“Tornadoes occur in Texas a lot but they don’t really happen here.”

Dust devils, while usually not as destructive, are still considered very dangerous. If you see one you should avoid going anywhere near it, especially its center. There are elements within it that can enter your body and cause all sorts of problems.

Photo credit: Jim Reed, 2008

Waehma / Wovusan Semaanam

In Hiaki, the words Waehma and Wovusan Semaanam refer to Lent. Waehma is a borrowing from the Spanish word cuaresma, and Wovusan Semaanam literally means “seven weeks”. This time of year is the most important for Hiakis, and there are regular ceremonies with pahkolam and musicians, though the matachinam are absent except on Holy Saturday. On the last Saturday before Palm Sunday, a deer dancer will make an appearance. The celebrations may be carried out a little bit differently or at different times depending on the village, but the meanings of the ceremonies are the same.

The beginning of Waehma marks a period of mourning among the Hiakis as it represents the impending execution of Christ. Because of this, there are certain behaviors expected of people. For example, brightly colored clothing and flowers are frowned upon and all flowers are removed from the churches. Furthermore, it’s inappropriate to go out and treat yourself to something fun, like a movie, though it would be appropriate to rent a movie and watch it at home. During Waehma, many ceremonies such as weddings, baptisms, and coming of age celebrations are forbidden and must be postponed until after it ends. A family is expected to plan such things around Waehma. However, if someone passes away, funerary ceremonies are allowed to proceed normally.

For the Hiakis, Waehma ends on Holy Cross Day, but the end of Waehma also marks the beginning of spring, when the trees are said to put on their fine clothing and the little yellow mesquite flowers known as chunahkam appear. A sentence that you might hear quite a bit during Waehma is Wovusan semaanam lauti simsune, which means “Seven weeks will pass quickly”, that is, “Lent will be over soon”.

Emo Chupak – They Got Married

In Hiaki culture, when two people get married, the bride moves to live with the groom in a house close to his family. So, much of the wedding ceremony includes activities centered around the couple’s new home. The bride is expected to cook for herself and her husband, so she is given cooking supplies and utensils as wedding gifts and she is shown the kitchen of their new home. At the couple’s new house are two pahkola dancers who portray the bride and the groom in a lighthearted and comedic performance. The dancer portraying the bride will wail and complain as if the bride is being wed against her will. He’ll say things like “but I don’t want to marry him; he’s poor and ugly!” or “I wish I could marry this other man instead! He has land and he’s better looking!” Some of the people watching might chime in and say similar things about the groom, but it’s all in jest.

Much of the community is involved in the ceremonies as well. Before the couple is married, the parents of the groom will go to the bride’s house and test her to see if she can do all of the tasks expected of her, like cooking and sewing. They might instruct her in how to prepare the groom’s favorite food, for example. The groom and those close to him, like the best man or his godparents, are fed a meal at the home of the bride, but they must be careful not to eat too much, because the next stop is the groom’s house, where they are fed again. The whole wedding party helps the bride’s family take the wedding gift of food and cooking supplies in large baskets to their new home. Many people in the community are involved in moving the newlyweds and all of their belongings into their new home; even the dogs might run alongside!

Emo means ‘each other’ and chupak means ‘completed, finished’, so this expression that mean s They got married could literally be translated as They completed each other.

Bwia woho’oria

The phrase bwia woho’oria refers to holes or burrows in the earth. Bwia literally means “earth” and woho’oria is the part meaning “hole”. Many creatures are known to inhabit these holes in the ground, and it is said that the Surem, the predecessors of the Hiakis, called bwia woho’oriam their homes because they were very small in size. Some example sentences for talking about holes in the earth include:

Bwia woho’oriata ne bweiria.

“Dig me a hole”.

Bwia woho’oriaku ne kom wechek.

“I fell into a hole”.

Bwia woho’oria wam katek.

“The hole is over there”.