Pima (pēˈmə) [key], Native North American tribe of S Arizona. They speak the Pima language of the Uto-Aztecan branch of the Aztec-Tanoan linguistic family (see Native American languages). There are two divisions, the Lower Pima and the Upper Pima. Before the mission period, the Pima and the Tohono O'Odham, who spoke variations of the same language, called themselves the People—River People (Akimel O'Odham, the Pima) and Desert People (Tohono O'Odham). Archaeological evidence shows their probable ancestors to have been the Hohokam, who built a network of irrigation canals for farming. Many of the ruined pueblos in the Pima territory have been attributed to an ancient Pueblo tribe. Tradition further states that increased population caused the Pima to spread over a larger territory, but invading hostile tribes (probably Apache) forced them to consolidate. Thus in 1697, when visited by Father Eusebio Kino, the Pima were living on the Gila River in S central Arizona.
Although the Pima were warlike toward the Apache, they were friendly to the Spanish and later to the pioneers from the E United States; the Pima villages were a stopping place for pioneers who took the southern route to California. The Pima were sedentary farmers of the Southwest area; they farmed corn, squash, beans, cotton, and wheat (introduced by the Spanish). They lived in dome-shaped huts built of poles and covered with mud and brush. Women performed much of the labor, including basket making; their baskets are noted for their beauty. The Pima were expert with the bow and arrow and had war clubs and rawhide shields. The Pima numbered some 2,500 in 1775, but their population was increased when the Maricopa joined them in the early 19th cent. The Pima now live, together with the Maricopa, on the Gila River and Salt River reservations and, with the Tohono O'Odham, on the Ak-Chin reservation, all in Arizona. They earn their income from agriculture, crafts, and leasing land for mineral development. In 1990 there were over 15,000 Pima in the United States.
See P. H. Ezell, The Hispanic Acculturation of the Gila River Pimas (1961).