TOHONO O’ODHAM TOKA TOURNAMENT IS A TOAST TO THE PAST AND REVIVAL OF OLD SOCIAL GAMES …
The Tohono Oodham have resided on their land since time began. Before history was written, these people are known as the Hohokam, around 1100ad, ballcourts hosted games involved the first rubber ball, players wore pads for protection, but losers are thought to have lost their heads as well as their wager. Things have changed, the Tohono Oodham today are reviving their Toka Tournaments, very popular in the 1800’s, it is a women’s game and the “Toka field” is off limits to men. It begins with a gathering of all the women who with their mesquite sticks stand in the circle and sing their cultural song sung only by women, only for the Toka. Then Toka takes a turn toward hockey or lacrosse, two eight women teams, face off and the referee drops a puck-like two wood cylinders tyed together, which allows the sticks to hook it and fling it down field toward goal. GOAL…player picks up puck after goal
Two things you need to know now, the dust can be blinding, and there are no sidelines…which means if you are watching, you are in-play. Blinded by the dust, you may be between the players and the goal, and I saw many spectators chased. I stepped in a gopher hole and took a dirt bath, the safe place was behind the goal. The “Strong Women” team (light blue) says they are just a bunch of friends from all parts of the Nation and they banded together as a team, the other team was mostly San Xavier players, so it varies whether teams reflect regions rather than dream teams. Before the contest, each team approaches the shrine where they leave their traditional wager, shell beads or Gatoraide which the winner picks up after the contest. Throughout the morning the teams battled up and down the field, trading off victories and women enjoying the coming together and the competition. The Topawa Cultural Museum Toka Tournament was the 8th since December. Game prep had placed fencing around saguaros and trees so important and dangerous desert obstacles were averted from play.
Editors Note: When I arrived there was a sign which said, “No Photography or Videography”, no teams had yet arrived so I asked the referee and organizer whether that was standard procedure ( is this sacred? ) No, she said, they had not been able to get signed releases from the participants so they put up the sign. (They hadn’t ask) So I said, when the teams arrive do you mind if I ask the teams and their coaches whether they mind if pictures are taken. So as folks arrived, I asked, got permission and no one minded. In fact, a few liked the fact the pictures would be on the internet, so they could see them. I relayed that info to the referee and she said she was going to take down her sign, since permission was given. Mid-morning a fella crossed (no-man’s land) to approach me and tell me he needed to confiscate my camera. Oh yeah, why? He said there was a sign up saying no photography. I took the high road and pointed out I had permission from the coaches, players and organizers, pointing out the referee who okayed my photography. He then got rude, said, “just listen, there is no photography” he said, “that is what the museum is all about” he concluded. I’m not sure what he meant, but since I had all the photos I needed, I left. Remember, there is always some guy like that who is puffed up with his own self-importance, so never surrender your camera, hang on to your flash card also. It is always good to talk with your subject and respect traditions and get their permissions so when pointless stuff like this happens, you know it is his problem and not yours. Lessons learned ? If photographing on the reservation it often helps to call ahead and ask if photography is allowed, regardless of what you are told, situations may vary and in all cases just respect individual rights.
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January 5, 2014 at 5:34 PM