Member of an American Indian people who lived along the Gila and Salt river valleys in southern Arizona. They are related to the Tohono O'odham, with whom they share Uto-Aztecan language origins, a language family of Central America and western North America, and possible descendancy from the prehistoric Hohokam. The Maricopa joined them in about 1840. The Pima were successful farmers who traded their surplus, but white settlement and irrigation projects diverted their river waters, and first the Gila, and then the Salt, began to dry up. They now live on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Reservation, and number some 8,500 (2000). In the late 20th century they petitioned for the restoration of their water supplies.
Traditionally the Pima lived in villages of domed brush roundhouses. They grew maize (corn), beans, squash, melons, tobacco, and cotton on the rich floodplains of the Gila. Wheat and livestock were introduced by the Spanish. Pima women produced cotton fabric and made intricately-woven watertight basketry, patterned with black and white. A council of elders and hereditary chief governed village affairs by consensus, and land was farmed cooperatively. Much of the Pima's traditional culture and way of life has now been lost. Most Pima have been Catholic since the 18th century. They have been governed under a constitution and elected president since the 1940s.
The Spanish made contact with the Pima in the 17th century; their name is a corruption of the Pima word for ‘no’, mistaken as a proper name. The Jesuit missionary Eusebio Kino introduced Christianity and European agricultural techniques from 1687. In the early 19th century the Maricopa migrated from the Colorado River region and eventually sought refuge with the Pima, with whom they established an alliance against the Apache and Yuman and served as scouts for the US cavalry.
By 1871 white settlement upstream of the Pima had caused the Gila River to run dry, and the Pima concentrated their farms on the Salt River, where a joint reservation was established with the Maricopa in 1879. The Pima's cooperative farming methods were upset by the creation of individual family allotments under the Dawes General Allotment Act (1887), and their irrigation techniques were made inoperable by the construction of dams on the Salt and Verde rivers from 1902. With the loss of their traditional agriculture, the Pima became more reliant on a Western diet. The incidence of diabetes among the Pima rose by 50% in the 20th century.