Facts About the Mojave Indians

by Nathalie Alonso

The Mojave are River-Yuman speakers whose traditional territory was centered in the Mojave Valley, and encompassed parts of California, Arizona and Mexico. The Colorado River was the lifeline of the tribe, also known as Aha Macav -- "people who live along the water."

Life is But a Dream

The Mojave believe a spirit named Mastamho created the Colorado River and everything in it, planted the first crops, and taught the tribe's ancestors how to count, build fires and perform various crafts. Mojave spirituality revolved around dreams, which the people considered glimpses into the past and revelations from their ancestors. The Mojave believed dreams had the potential to endow people with special abilities, such as curing diseases. The Mojave gathered to perform song cycles for various occasions, including curing, funerals and entertainment. They cremated the dead, along with their personal belongings, which they believed the deceased took with them to the spirit realm.

A Diverse Diet

The Mojave were an agricultural people who relied on annual flooding to deposit fertile soil along the banks of the Colorado. Half of the Mojave diet consisted of the pumpkins, corn and beans they cultivated. The Mojave supplemented their diet with wild plants, most importantly mesquite beans. They also fished with nets and traps and hunted game animals like rabbit and beaver.

External Affairs

While the Mojave lived in small settlements or bands, tribal identity came to the fore in times of war. A willingness to defend themselves from enemy tribes gave the Mojave a reputation for being fierce, according to A Native American Encyclopedia. Mojave warriors specialized in one of three main weapons: arch, club and stick. Not all contact with other tribes was hostile, however; the Mojave traveled great distances on foot to exchange their crops with Pacific Coast tribes for shells and other commodities.

Builders, Artists and Crafters

The Mojave lived in summer dwellings with flat roofs and open sides for ventilation. In the winter, they lived in homes with thatched roofs and topped with earth for insulation; rabbit hides became blankets for warmth. Using clay from the river banks, the Mojave created pots, dishes and other coiled pottery that acquired a reddish tint when heated in an open fire. Women also used clay and human hair to make dolls for children. Body art was also important and common among Mojave men and women, who tattooed line and dot patterns on their faces.

Cultures Collide

Spanish priest Francisco Garces is considered the first non-native to have interacted with the Mojave, says the National Park Service. In the 1820s, violence erupted between the Mojave and passing fur trappers. Subsequent Mojave attacks on Anglo-Americans during the Gold Rush prompted the U.S. government to build Fort Mojave in 1859. The tribe split in two in 1865, when several hundred members relocated to the newly created Colorado Indian Reservation, where Mojaves still live today. Sizable Mojave communities also live on the Fort Mojave Reservation, established in 1870, and on the Fort McDowell Reservation.

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