- When It Rains: Papago and Pima Poetry/mak hekid o ju, o'odham, ha-cegĭtodag ed. by Ofelia Zepeda
At a time when it seemed as if anthologies were being issued rather over-excessively—c. 1970–early 1980s—When It Rains made its entrance in such a unique way so as to create a whole new—and much needed—category and format: the bilingual presentation of work honoring individual [End Page 233] tribal areas, rather than those works in English only. At the time, most anthologies were the big New York press offerings of generally the same poets and very few prose writers, and the same reprinting of their work. (I am somewhat guilty of this myself when considering my anthology, The Remembered Earth, where I reprinted some of the then contemporary Native poets, but hopefully, it will be remembered that in my book there is much new work of theirs that was new then, as well as a great deal of prose, plus a great number of "first-timers-in-print.") When It Rains features Papago and Pima poetry, in first the native languages, and then in English translation. The result is a work that electrifies the reader, while immediately situating them in the tribal milieus. Ofelia Zepeda, well on her way to becoming a renowned academic and poet at the time the first version of the book was published, was eminently qualified for the task at hand—being a fluent speaker and writer in not only her native O'odham (Papago) language but also in the neighboring one of Pima.
When It Rains features the poems/songs of seventeen fluent speakers of their languages, including Zepeda herself, and also the late Ken Hale, a non-Native scholar well-known for his scholarly work in the two languages, as well as in a number of other Native languages. Now, thirty-seven years later, When It Rains reappears in a second edition. Many changes have occurred in the teaching of Native languages, as Professor Zepeda points out: "Today, many tribes must necessarily move the teaching of their languages outside the schools and into the community." And that is what we have in When It Rains.
As the title points out, the essential binding and defining image of O'odham and Pima people—rain—in their poetic and religious outpourings is highlighted in a number of the poems here. Water is ever holy to desert people. An extremely short, but greatly vibrant statement of this can be seen in "Olla," by Helen J. Ramon, which greatly exemplifies this. The poem is a vital pronouncement on the extremely necessary deifying of this totally essential element of life. Ramon only needs four words to justify water's dynamism.
Ofelia Zepeda has devoted more than four decades toward the preserving of the Papago and Pima languages. In addition to her teaching at the University of Arizona, she is also deeply devoted to her community's needful work. As well, in 1999, she received a MacArthur Fellowship award for her work. At present, she is the former director of [End Page 234] the American Indian Studies Department at the University of Arizona and also the senior editor of the Sun Tracks Series with the University of Arizona Press. She is also recognized by many of her contemporary Native writers as one of the major figures in the field.
geary hobson is a retired professor of English at the University of Oklahoma. His areas of teaching and scholarship are Native American literature, American literature and American Studies, and creative writing. He taught at the University of Oklahoma from 1988 to 2016. He is the author of the novel The Last of the Ofos (2000) and a book of poetry, Deer Hunting and Other Poems (1990); editor of the anthology The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature (1979); and coeditor of The People Who Stayed: Southeastern...