Rain House and Saguaro Wine Festival

Painting done by Michael Chiago (Tohono O'odham)
© 1993 Mike Chiago

Mike Chiago describes the ceremony depicted in his painting in this way:

In late June when the fruit of the giant saguaro ripens, the O'odham conduct a wine festival, a ceremony taught them by I'itoi. In the old days... the saguaro provided them with fresh fruit, syrup and a cake made from the seeds.

The syrup-making process produces a juice which ferments for three days in the "rain house" under the care of the "Keeper of the Smoke," the village headman and ceremonial leader. Rain songs are sung, and men and women dance at night.

At noon of the third day, the headmen gather to recite poems over the baskets of wine. The men of the village sit in a circle and pass the baskets until they are drained. The planting of crops takes place after the wine festival to make use of the rains that are bound to follow.

Today many families still prepare the saguaro wine for their own use, and the custom to "cover the wine with song" continues; anyone who accepts a drink of the wine recites a poem which invariably relates to clouds or rain.

From the Heard Museum announcement for the Rain exhibit.

You may also read a Tucson Weekly story on the O'odham saguaro harvest.

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