TOHONO O’ODHAM SLAP STICK IS A COMPETITIVE BATTLE IN SELLS, NOT FOR THE WEAK-KNEED, NOR FOR THE FAIR WEATHER VISITOR…
Playing the Tohono Oodham women’s stick game, Toka, is not for the weak at heart. The Lacrosse-style game involves teams of 5-12 members played without pads and battling it out with sticks cut from the desert mesquite tree. Getting slapped around in the heat of battle is part of the experience for contestants who range in age from early youth to late middle age.The recent tournament played during the TO’s Nation’s annual Rodeo and Fair brought out ten teams and almost 125 participants who took on various villages for the honor of being the best or toughest of the bunch. Starting at the civilized hour of noon, rivals “back-in-the-day tournaments which often began before sunrise and then moved into mid-day, stopping only as the heat of day forced folks into the shade. Today’s Toka Tournaments, since 1990 have been organized into tribal tournaments encouraging women of all ages to come out and fight for the “honor of their village” and this year celebrating the 25th anniversary of the “revival of Toka” has seen frequent tournaments pop up around the reservation and causing moreand more teams to surface particularly during the cooler months. The next tournament will be hosted by the San Xavier District and many of teams have eyed that trophy. While Toka was played differently in the 1970’s taking over large fields with no specific out of bounds, today’s tournaments are fenced in providing some barriers to those battling for the Toka puck, two pieces of wood, held together by a piece of rawhide string, to win-the victory goes to the first team to get two goals. Spectators should not get to comfortable sitting on the sidelines because like the days of old, any spot within the fence is in play and a snoozing fan would not be the first to get slapped around and chased from their chairs-if not run over and flattened. I personally took a dirt bath when photographing my first tournament as the play moved toward my stance on the sidelines, expecting things to cease on the sidelines, was surprised to hide myself and camera in play. So I wasn’t surprised to find out, men are not allowed on the Toka field, probably because they aren’t tough enough to take the beating. Chatting with a former Santa Rosa player what she found the most challenging about Toka, she emphasized how much it hurt getting wacked on the ankle by a mesquite branch and further it was pointed out while the game might be about earning the honor for their village–secretly it was pointed out a few well-placed wacks on your competitors ankle–slows them down a bit and schools them on the finer points of competition. May the best team win ! This year’s Tohono O’odham’s Rodeo and Fair was hammered by desert rains, beginning on Friday with the Nation’s Junior Rodeo and continuing into the weekend. Saturday the day started out with a drizzle for the annual parade and then it opened up and poured on the mid-way and fair, making the rodeo grounds a muddy mess, adding new action for the wild horse races, bareback and saddle broncs competition, presided over by rough stock, who didn’t really need the help but got it anyway. Some events didn’t register a good time all day taking all the prize money into a much drier Sunday performance. Still attendance was good, fantastic for weekend of rough weather, almost 800 people turned on Saturday and braved the downpours, some wrapped their feet in plastic shopping bags, to wander around the midway to enjoy the rides and corn dog alley. Sunday the sun came out, as did the mud-graders, who pushed the “chocolate pudding” aside, to make way for die-hard participants who danced the “Chicken Scratch” to a battle of bands honoring the Tohono Oodham way of dance. On the road side graders piled up mud 18 inches deep, reminding me of the mid-west winters, when snow would be pushed off the roadways and stack up there until Spring, in Sells, the mud was all gone by noon.
MORE PHOTOS FROM THE 2015 TOHONO OODHAM RODEO, FAIR AND TOKA TOURNAMENT CLICK HERE….
<a href=” SPANISH TRANSLATIONS:CLICK HERE
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