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Mohave people

Henry Welshe (Mojave), tribal chairman of Colorado River Indian Reservation council, ca. 1944–6
Total population
2,000 (Golla, 2007)[1]–967 (1990)[2]
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( Arizona)
Mojave, English[1]
traditional tribal religion, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Maricopa, Walapai, Havasupai, and Yavapai[1]

Mohave or Mojave (Mojave: 'Aha Makhav) are a Native American people indigenous to the Colorado River in the Mojave Desert. The Fort Mojave Indian Reservation includes territory within the borders of California, Arizona, and Nevada. The Colorado River Indian Reservation includes parts of California and Arizona and is shared by members of the Chemehuevi, Hopi, and Navajo peoples.

The original Colorado River and Fort Mojave reservations were established in 1865 and 1870, respectively. Both reservations include substantial senior water rights in the Colorado River; water is drawn for use in irrigated farming. Though the four combined tribes sharing the Colorado River Indian Reservation function today as one geo-political unit known as the federally recognized Colorado River Indian Tribes, each continues to maintain and observe its individual traditions, distinct religions, and culturally unique identities.

The tribal headquarters, library and museum are in Parker, Arizona, about 40 miles (64 km) north of I-10. The National Indian Days Celebration is held annually in Parker, from Thursday through Sunday during the last week of September. The All-Indian Rodeo is also celebrated annually, on the first weekend in December. RV facilities are available along the Colorado River.


  • Culture 1
    • Language 1.1
    • Religion 1.2
  • History 2
    • Ancestral lands 2.1
    • 19th–20th centuries 2.2
  • Population 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


Mojave ceramic figurine with red slip and earrings, pre-1912, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology

In the 1930s, Georges Devereux, a Hungarian-French anthropologist, did fieldwork and lived among the Mohave for an extended period of study. He published extensively about their culture and incorporated psychoanalytic thinking in his interpretation of their culture.


The Mojave language belongs to the River Yuman branch of the Yuman language family. In 1994 approximately 75 people in total on the Colorado River and Fort Mojave reservations spoke the language according to Leanne Hinton. The tribe has published language materials, and there are new efforts to teach the language to their children.[1]


The Mohave creator is Matevilya, who gave them their names and their commandments. His son is Mastamho, who gave them the River and taught them how to plant. Historically this was an agrarian culture; they planted in the fertile floodplain of the untamed river, following the age-old customs of the Aha macave. They have traditionally used Datura in a religious sacrament. A Mohave who is coming of age must consume the plant in a rite of passage, in order to enter a new state of consciousness.


Much of early Mojave history remains unwritten, since the Mojave language was not written in precolonial times. They depended on oral communication to transmit their history and culture from one generation to the next. The disruption of disease, outside cultures and encroachment on their territory disrupted their social organization. Together with having to adapt to a majority culture of another language, this resulted in interrupting the Mojave transmission of their stories and songs to the following generations.

The tribal name has been spelled in Spanish and English transliteration in more than 50 variations, such as Hamock avi, Amacava, A-mac-ha ves, A-moc-ha-ve, Jamajabs, and Hamakhav. This has led to misinterpretations of the tribal name, also partly traced to a translation error in Frederick W. Hodge's 1917 Handbook of the American Indians North of Mexico (1917). This incorrectly defined the name Mohave as being derived from hamock, (three), and avi,' (mountain). According to this source, the name refers to the mountain peaks known as The Needles in English, located near the Colorado River. (The city of Needles, California is located a few miles north from here). But, the Mojave call these peaks Huqueamp avi, which means "where the battle took place," referring to the battle in which the God-son, Mastamho, slew the sea serpent.

Ancestral lands

Charley-Arri-Wa-Wa (Mohave), 1872

The Mojave held lands along the river that stretched from Black Canyon, where the tall pillars of First House of Mutavilya loomed above the river, past Avi kwame or Spirit Mountain, the center of spiritual things, to the Quechan Valley, where the lands of other tribes began. Translated into present landmarks, their lands began in the north at Hoover Dam and ended about one hundred miles below Parker Dam on the Colorado River, or aha kwahwat in Mojave.

19th–20th centuries

Mosa (Mojave girl), 1903, photograph by Edward Curtis

In mid-April 1859, United States troops of the Expedition of the Colorado, led by Lieutenant Colonel William Hoffman, moved upriver into Mojave country with the well-publicized objective of establishing a military post. It was intended to protect east-west European-American emigrants from attack by the Mojave. By that time, white immigrants and settlers had begun to encroach on Mojave lands. In competition for scarce resources in the desert, they sometimes got into violent conflict with the indigenous people, who were trying to protect their territory. Hoffman sent couriers among the tribes, warning that the post would be gained by force if they or their allies chose to resist. Instead, the army occupied the site without armed conflict.

Two Mojave Indians girls standing in front of a small dwelling with a thatched roof, 1900

The Mojave warriors withdrew as Hoffman's formidable armada approached, and the expedition posted camp near the future Fort Mojave. Hoffman ordered the Mojave men to assemble at the armed stockade adjacent to his headquarters; two days later, on April 23, 1859, clan chiefs came as ordered to hear Hoffman's terms of peace. Hoffman gave them the choice of submission or extermination. They chose peace. At that time, the Mojave had a traditional culture that had existed for centuries, unchanged by the few parties of white men who had traveled through their country. Among a Mojave population estimated to be about 4,000 in total, they had 22 clans identified by totems.

During most of the period of military occupation, the Mojave were technically under the jurisdiction of the Office of Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior. Legally they belonged on the Colorado River Reservation after it was established in 1865. But when many Mojave refused to leave their ancestral homes in the Mojave Valley, the War Department declined to try to force them onto the reservation. The US Indian Agent could not supervise them at a distance. As long as Fort Mojave was garrisoned by the War Department, the Mojave in that area were relatively free to follow their tribal ways. In the midsummer of 1890, the War Department withdrew its troops, after the end of the period of migration and Indian Wars. The post was transferred to the Department of the Interior and its Office of Indian Affairs.

Beginning in August 1890, Indian Affairs began an intensive program of assimilation; federal policy was based on the belief that this was the only way the peoples could survive. The US Indian agent forced the Mohave and other native children living on reservations into schools to learn to speak, write, and read English. Fort Mojave was converted into an boarding school for Fort Mojave and other "non-reservation" Indians. Until 1931, forty-one years later, all Fort Mojave boys and girls between the ages of six and eighteen were compelled to live at this school or to attend an advanced Indian boarding school remote from Fort Mojave.

Two Mojave Indian women playing a game (fortune-telling with bones?), ca.1900

In this period, the federal government was trying to assimilate Indians to European-American culture by breaking up tribal culture and governments. The schools taught American culture, customs and English, and insisted that Indian children follow the patterns of the majority culture. At the school the students were required to cut their hair and use European-American hairstyles, clothing, habits of eating, sleeping, toiletry, manners, industry, and language. They were forbidden to use their own language and customs. These were punished when observed. Five lashes of the whip was the penalty for the first offense of speaking in their native tongue. Such corporal punishment of children scandalized the Mojave, who did not discipline their children this way.

The administrators of the reservations' school systems assigned English names to the children. They were registered with the Department of the Interior as members of two tribes, the Mojave Tribe on the Colorado River Reservation and the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation. These divisions did not reflect the traditional Mojave clan and kinship system. By the late 1960s, 18 of the traditional clans survived.


Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. The Franciscan missionary-explorer Francisco Garcés estimated the Mohave population in 1776 as approximately 3,000 Mojave Indians (Garcés 1900(2):450). Alfred L. Kroeber (1925:883) also put the 1770 population of the Mohave at 3,000.

A.L. Kroeber estimated the population of the Mohave in 1910 as 1,050.[3] Lorraine M. Sherer's research revealed that by 1963, the population of Fort Mojave was 438 and that of the Colorado River Reservation approximately 550.[4]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Mohave." Ethnologue. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
  2. ^ Pritzker 47
  3. ^ Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
  4. ^ Sherer 1965

Further reading

  • Devereux, George. 1935. "Sexual Life of the Mohave Indians", unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of California.
  • Devereux, George. 1937. "Institutionalized Homosexuality of the Mohave Indians". Human Biology 9:498-527.
  • Devereux, George. 1939. "Mohave Soul Concepts," American Anthropologist 39:417-422.
  • Devereux, George. 1939. "Mohave Culture and Personality". Character and Personality 8:91-109, 1939.
  • Devereux, George. 1938. "L'envoûtement chez les Indiens Mohave. Journal de la Société des Americanistes de Paris 29:405-412.
  • Devereux, George. 1939. "The Social and Cultural Implications of Incest among the Mohave Indians". Psychoanalytic Quarterly 8:510-533.
  • Devereux, George. 1941. "Mohave Beliefs Concerning Twins". American Anthropologist 43:573-592.
  • Devereux, George. 1942. "Primitive Psychiatry (Part II)". Bulletin of the History of Medicine 11:522-542.
  • Devereux, George. 1947. "Mohave Orality". Psychoanalytic Quarterly 16:519-546.
  • Devereux, George. 1948. The Mohave Indian Kamalo:y. Journal of Clinical Psychopathology.
  • Devereux, George. 1950. "Heterosexual Behavior of the Mohave Indians". Psychoanalysis and the Social Sciences 2(1):85-128.
  • Devereux, George. 1948. "Mohave Pregnancy". Acta Americana 6:89-116.
  • Fathauer, George, H.. 1951. "Religion in Mohave Social Structure", The Ohio Journal of Science, 51(5), September 1951, pp. 273–276.
  • Forde, C. Daryll. 1931. "Ethnography of the Yuma Indians". University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 28:83-278.
  • Garcés, Francisco. 1900. On the Trail of a Spanish Pioneer: The Diary and Itinerary of Francisco Garcés. Edited by Elliott Coues. 2 vols. Harper, New York. (on-line)
  • Hall, S. H. 1903. "The Burning of a Mohave Chief," Out West 18:60-65.
  • Hodge, Frederick W. (ed.) Handbook of the American Indians North of Mexico (2 vols., Washington, D.C., 1917), I, 919
  • Ives, Lt. Joseph C. 1861. Report Upon the Colorado River of the West, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., Senate Exec. Doc. Pt. I, 71. Washington, D.C.
  • Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
  • Sherer, Lorraine M. 1966. "Great Chieftains of the Mohave Indians". Southern California Quarterly 48(1):1-35. Los Angeles, California.
  • Sherer, Lorraine M. 1967. "The Name Mojave, Mohave: A History of its Origin and Meaning". Southern California Quarterly 49(4):1-36. Los Angeles, California.
  • Sherer, Lorraine M. and Frances Stillman. 1994. Bitterness Road: The Mojave, 1604-1860, Menlo Park, California: Ballena Press.
  • Stewart, Kenneth M. 1947. "An Account of the Mohave Mourning Ceremony". American Anthropologist 49:146-148.
  • Whipple, Lt. Amiel Weeks. 1854. "Corps of Topographical Engineers Report". Pt. I, 114.
  • White, Helen C. 1947. Dust on the King's Highway. Macmillan, New York.
  • Report of the Secretary of the Interior, 1890–1891, II, vi
  • Reports of the Secretary of the Interior, 1891–1930, containing the annual reports of the superintendents of the Fort Mojave School from 1891 through 1930.
  • Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1.
  • Sherer, Lorraine Miller. 1965. "The Clan System of the Fort Mojave Indians: A Contemporary Survey." Southern California Quarterly 47(1):1-72. Los Angeles, California.

External links

  • Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, official website
  • Colorado River Indian Tribes, official website
  • Colorado River Indian Tribes Public Library/Archive
  • National Park Service: History & Culture
  • "Creation Songs of the Mohave people", NPR audio documentary
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