Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair(s)

Barre Toelken


Barre Toelken


Tom Lyon


David Lewis


The historical and ecological relationships between the Tohono O'odham and the Sonoran desert landscape are expressed in the stories they tell. The Tohono O'odham have lived in the deserts of southwestern Arizona and northern Mexico for centuries, interacting with their environment and gaining intimate knowledge of desert botanical communities. Many of these interactions are dramatized in their traditional oral narratives. I have characterized those traditional oral narratives that illustrate and articulate Tohoro O'odham interrelationships with Sonoran desert botanical communities as "plant emergence narratives." These stories embody and express the reciprocal relationsihp between the Tohono O'odham and the plants they cultivate or harvest from the wild. In examining these narratives, I discuss some of the many levels on which they operate, specifically the intersection of cultural worldview with scientific data, or what I term "cultivation lore."

This discussion focuses on an exploration of the stories of corn emergence to the Tohono O'odham, with comparative analysis of stories that dramatize wild plant emergence. The significance of these narratives to the Tohono O'odham and to others is discussed in the context of history, folklore, and ecology, specifically the current crisis in loss of biological diversity. By exploring the cultural value and ecological content of these plant emergence narratives, I suggest that we may discover solutions to the question of how we may live with awareness and conviction to both our human and ecological landscapes.