Making a Gourd Doll Ornament with a Mini Cape


Editor’s Note: This article contains the Piipaash words and phrases in parentheses.

On September 17 and 19, the O’odham Piipaash Language Program (OPLP) held two sessions demonstrating how to make a gourd (xnaaly) doll ornament and a mini cape, blending contemporary gourd art with traditional Piipaash/Yuman cape making and beadwork techniques.

Participants used different techniques and acrylic paint (thshnyoy) colors to make their own unique ornaments out of mini bottle gourds that came from Wuertz Gourd Farm in Casa Grande.

According to Ron Carlos, curriculum specialist for the Cultural Resources Department of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, beadwork has always been a part of Piipaash tradition. About 20 years ago, Carlos was asked to teach beaded cape making to the tribal membership, so it became one of the traditional art classes for the OPLP.

“When we started teaching the gourd doll classes, we added a little more flair to the dolls by adding beaded jewelry,” said Carlos.

First, participants took a pencil or marker (nymanyor) to the gourd and traced out their designs. Then, it was time to paint the gourds. After the gourds were painted, they were hung to dry.

For the cape, two colors of beads (xvshuu) were chosen by each participant, and they were added to a piece of string (uukwov) with a needle at one end. The process for creating a cape can take anywhere from a couple of hours, if you are an expert, to a few days or weeks for a beginner.

“Like all crafts, traditional or modern, it takes time and commitment. You get out of it … what you put into it,” said Carlos. “There is no easy way to teach patience. It’s something you have to learn on your own. Learning a craft or learning to play a musical instrument takes practice and effort.”

Piipaash education specialist Sierra Ward walked around the class, extending her knowledge to participants with their beadwork.

“The beaded cape is a Maricopa necklace that other Yuman tribes such as the Mohave and Quechan also create. I learned from Ron Carlos,” said Ward. “[He] is the most knowledgeable person I know regarding Xalychidom Piipaash and O’odham gourd work, rattles, pottery and beading. If anyone is interested in learning about these things, I recommend Ron.”

Once the paint on the gourds was dry, Carlos added a glossy finish over the paint. When completed, the cape goes around the neck of the gourd doll.

For more upcoming language classes and sessions, head to

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