Community Business Q&A: Aw-Thum Crafts and Education


Owner: Royce Manuel

Year established: 2006-2007

Services: Workshops and demonstrations on traditional O’odham culture and crafts

Q: What made you want to start your own business, and why did you choose this type of business?

A: In 2006 I had already been leading small cultural workshops for the Community. I was doing the bows and arrows for a long time, demonstrating those and the flute; that’s where the business actually started. What I was doing I thought was important because the tribal history is important. Tribal crafting is respected. And the combination becomes a powerful pride collection, a commodity of things that people want to seek out. I really believe that people want to know more about it. But you know how businesses are; you ask for money. And a lot of people didn’t have the money. But I still do it for free.I believe that the service of education and hands-on crafting could be beneficial to all tribal groups.But I realized that we [O’odham] have a common skill level not all tribes have. 

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?

A: I had to cancel a number of workshops and speaking engagements. Most of the time I make money off of speaking engagements. I do work through the group Arizona Humanities; Debbie [Nez-Manuel] and I are speakers. They send us out to different organizations to speak, and that’s how we make money. But [because of the pandemic] all that stopped.Right off the bat, I lost five engagements.We’re still looking to the future, when everything settles down and we start meeting with people and having discussions. I’m still looking forward to that.

Q: To what do you attribute your success?

A: My grandmother (my dad’s mother) inspired me. When I was younger I used to start baskets for her when her hands got weak. So I knew how to do that crisscross beginning [weave] you would do with the devil’s claw. That kind of got me started. We had a bow we were playing with and we made our own arrows; I’ve been doing that since I was 12 years old. We used to talk about the stories about what the men would have, what they made, what kind of tools, things like that. What was really important to me was when my grandmother told us the story about the burden basket, and the fact that it was the men who made it. And when the men made it, it would actually come to life when it was done. It would walk behind the woman and help her with the gathering and whatnot.

Q: What are your company’s goals?

A: Torevitalize our cultural knowledge through educational presentations, workshops and discussions. 

Q: What is unique about your business?

A: I’m just lucky I grew up next to my grandparents. My grandpa was born in 1883 and my grandma in 1889. So, the knowledge they have was coming from that era. That kind of purity being an Oʼodham in this area. So, that was really good for me because we did things that people only read about. Like poaching the corn or going after spinach, going down to understand this ceremony. There are so many little things that were shown to us as children that are really important. Now we can feel comfortable knowing about Oʼodham history and culture.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting out in business, what would that be? 

A:People need to seek whatever information is available. At one point in time, I had 120 different books in regard to the Oʼodham. The greater understanding can be achieved through self-awareness, understanding your surroundings and yourself. That’s my advice when I talk to young people. Do what you can to find the information you can. We don’t always have to go by what I say. Find out yourself, do your own research and have a discussion with people that you know. Especially older people. 

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