Clear-spirited: Sacred and Everyday Vessels

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Photographs by Bobby Narcho

Pottery, toka sticks, baskets—we consider these things vessels. Artists put their hearts and souls into making them. When you make these things, you have to be clear spirited, you can’t be having bad thoughts. When we make something with a lot of pain then that thing holds all that pain too. That’s a very O’odham mindset.

Toka is a traditional game played by Tohono O’odham girls. They use sticks, usaga, which are cut from mesquite tree branches then roasted and slowly bent to create a hook. It’s a long process from harvesting the stick to cooking it to peeling it to bending it. Sometimes it breaks. Toka is played in the summertime, when it’s very hot. It holds a lot of cultural pride.

During Covid times, the world stopped, and people still needed to eat. People in Ajo gave food bags and canned food to support those in need.  My dad started getting cabin fever; he couldn’t handle being home all the time, so he went out into the desert to find peace.  For the O’odham, the saguaro cacti represent people who aren’t here any more. So he went out to be among all the elders.

Bobby Narcho is a Tohono O’odham visual artist and musician living in Ajo, Arizona.

Toka sticks, usaga, which are cut from mesquite tree branches and girls' legs.

A silhouette of a pregnant person in a dress holding their belly with fluffy clouds behind them.
Two brown clay pots sit in front of budding prickly pear cactus. The larger pot on the left is facing the viewer with its opening, is sitting on a red round pillow, and the statue of an owl sitting in front of it. The smaller pot on the right has black lines in a swirl pattern and is sitting on a brown pillow with flower designs.

A collection of mugs, shot glasses, and cups
A photo of thrift store shelves featuring butter dishes, purses, and dolls.
A silhouette of a person holding up the Tohono O'odham Man in the Maze.
Many packaged pallets of canned Tio Franco beans, wrapped in plastic and in boxes.
A sepia tone photo of three people wearing masks covering their face from their noses to their chins.
A muted toned photo of a desert landscape with many saguaro cacti

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