The Hiaki word omtiteam can be broken up into two parts: omti-, meaning “angry”, and
team, meaning “names”. So, omtiteam literally translates to “angry names”, but it means something more like “nicknames”. The Hiaki are no strangers to cracking jokes with each other, and omtiteam are one way to go about poking lighthearted fun at your peers. For example, suppose one day you have the misfortune of falling face-first into the snow in front of all your friends. Then, you might be given Sapa Wechia, or “Snow-Fallen” as an omtitea. If the name sticks, your entire family might come to be known as Sapa Wechiam, or “the Snow-Fallens”. Or perhaps there’s a family known for always buying old, run-down cars. They might be given the name Karo Moeram, or “Old Cars”. A famous omtitea belonged to José María Leyva, better known as the Hiaki general Cajeme, or Kaa He’eme, meaning “one who doesn’t drink”. For a time, José María Leyva had a ranch near Ciudad Obregón, but there was never enough water for him and his animals to drink, so he was given Kaa He’eme as an omtitea, reflecting his fortitude and strength in enduring thirst well. Thus he became known as Cajeme to non-Hiaki speakers.

Omtiteam aren’t meant to truly hurt someone’s feelings, but if an omtitea is really bothering somebody, you might hear the phrase Kia hekapo aa simtuane, which means “just let it go in the wind”.


The Hiaki word me’etai refers to a type of dove that unfortunately no longer exists in the Hiaki homeland. Me’etaim were very similar in appearance to other kinds of doves, though a bit bigger; they were roughly the same size as a city pigeon. They were a solid grayish color, toloko, and they could be found all over the place. However, what set me’etaim apart from other doves is their call or song, which is rendered in Hiaki as Luiiis, pocho’oku week, pocho’oku week, or, “Luiiis, is standing in the brush, standing in the brush”. Of course, me’etaim would sing this regardless of whether Luis was actually standing in the brush or whether there was even somebody named Luis around. Me’etaim used to live in the Hiaki homeland in Sonora along Hiak Vatwe, the Hiaki River, but they haven’t been seen or heard for many years. It’s possible this is because water has become much scarcer with the damming of Hiak Vatwe.


The Hiaki phrase for “bee” is mumu yoeria, but just like with ants, there are different kinds of bees that warrant their own names. One such bee is viko. Vikom are normally about the size of houseflies, but otherwise they are very similar to other mumu yoeriam; they have the same coloring, they live in hives, they can sting, and they make honey, which is just as sweet as normal honey. Vikom do not exist here in Tucson, but they do exist in the Hiaki homeland in Sonora. This may be because vikom prefer to make their hives in trees called sita’avaum, which are also not found here. They have been known to make their hives in mesquite trees with lighter-colored bark, though even so, they simply do not exist in this area. When they do make their hives, called toosam, they begin by burrowing under the bark so that the end result looks like a ball sticking out of the tree.


Chovepo Elesikile

The Hiaki phrase chovepo elesikile means something like “(his) butt is itchy”, however, the phrase is used to communicate a slightly different message. Chove means “butt”, -po specifies the location, and elesikile is “itchy”, so the phrase translates to something like “(He’s) itchy on the rear”, but when someone says chovepo elesikile, what they really mean is that it’s going to rain. This is because, to the Hiaki, the sight of someone scratching their rear end is a sign that it will soon rain. So, if you see someone scratching their rear, all you really need to say is Yukvae!, which means “it’s going to rain”. If somebody who didn’t see what you saw is standing nearby and hears you say Yukvae!, they could ask Haisa empo hu’unea?, which means “how do you know?”. Then, you could simply say Hunu’u chovepo elesikile, which means “that one has an itchy butt”. You could also reply with Hunu’u chovepo au wo’oke, meaning “S/he’s scratching his/her butt”, though either response would convey the same message.

Seeing structures: ko’okosi a aula’apo

Sometimes you look at a Hiaki word in the dictionary and just know there has to be more going on than the English translation reveals, but you’re not sure what. After getting familiar with the way Hiaki words are put together, though, you start to recognize some of the parts, and sooner or later, you can look at a complex word or phrase and see all its inner structure and how it conveys so much more. I just had an experience like that and I got so excited I felt like I had to tell you all about it.

The Molina/Shaul dictionary gives the phrase ko’okosi a aula’apo the translation ‘wound’. It’s more than just one word, though, so this is not a literal translation. Some parts are clearly related to the meaning of hurt or pain– ko’okosi, for example, is an adverb meaning ‘painfully’. But what about the rest?

The phrase has a bunch of parts which we can each see used independently.

Let’s first take the base verb phrase. Ko’okosi aane, literally ‘painfully do’, is one way Hiaki expresses the idea of getting hurt. A mother might say Kat ee ko’okosi aane! to a child going out. This is equivalent to the English Don’t hurt yourself! or Don’t get hurt! but it literally translates to ‘Don’t (kat) you (ee) painfully (ko’okosi) do (aane)!’

The verb aane has a stem form when certain suffixes are attached, which is au-. For example, if you wanted to warn someone against doing something dangerous, you could say Empo ko’okosi aune!, “You will get hurt!”, where the verb aane is combined with the future suffix -ne, ‘will’, and uses its special stem form, au-.  So in our phrase above,  ko’okosi … au-  is ‘painfully .. do-‘, that is, ‘get hurt’.

The au- form is combined with a suffix -la, which is like a present perfect marker. It says that the subject of the sentence has done the activity in the past. For example, in English, if I was talking about different places a musician has performed during his career, I might use the present perfect and say, “Yes, he has played there!” It’s not about a specific event of playing, but rather about the fact that he has performed in that location at some time in the past. In Hiaki, I would use the -la suffix to express this: A’apo ala aman hipponla! “He (a’apo) certainly (ala) has played (hippon-la) there (aman)!”

So in our expression ko’okosi a aula’apo, the ko’okosi .. au-la- part is like ‘has got hurt’.

What about the final –‘apo? The -po suffix by itself means ‘at’ or ‘in’, when it’s attached to a noun. For example, Tucsonpo means ‘in Tucson’. But here it’s attached to a verb, and it has the extra vowel ‘a in front of it. This extra vowel appears when -po is attached to a verb, and it makes the verb phrase into a relative clause meaning ‘where’ or ‘the place that’. A lot of Hiaki place names end in -‘apo and describe a characteristic event or happening at that location.  For example, yee mahtawa’apo means “where (‘apo) people (yeeare taught (mahtawa-)” and is often used to refer to schools.  So adding the -‘apo to ko’okosi .. au-la- means, ‘where X has got hurt’.

The last part is the a, in between ko’okosi and aula’apo.  This usually would mean ‘him’, as in Inepo aa vichak, ‘I saw him’, or ‘his’, as in aa malawa, ‘his mother’. In relative clauses, the subject of the relative clause usually appears as a possessive, like ‘his’, so I think this a is the subject, and refers to the one who has gotten hurt.  If I’m right, the phrase ko’okosi a aula’apo is equivalent to the English phrase “where he has got hurt”.

Ko’okosi    a       au-  la-       ‘apo 
painfully  he   do-  perf-  where
“where he has got hurt.”
(Literally, “Where he has done painfully”)

Now, of course that idea could be expressed by something like ‘his wound’. But it’s really saying so much more than that!

This report is just preliminary — just a quick first pass, based on how these parts fit together in other expressions — and needs to be checked and refined. Please send me corrections or clarifications if you have any! But I just wanted to share it, because it’s so wonderful seeing how the beautiful Hiaki grammar creates words and expressions!

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!”.