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Hopi Mottled Lima Beans

Phaseolus lunatus

Undoubtedly the most delicious Lima beans in North America, these heirloom varieties came into the Southwest around 1000 AD. Although known in farming literature since the 1930’s as the Hopi lima beans, these were once cultivated by at least eight Southwestern cultures, including Pimas and Anglos from the 1930s through the 1980s. Other than being grown by some heirloom seed gardeners on a small scale, these beans are now farmed almost exclusively on the Hopi reservation. The beans are eaten ceremonially as sprouts in underground kivas by initiated clan members, or the dried seeds are boiled and baked.

The broad, flat beans are mottled and come in various colors, including:

Hopi gray, Masi hatiko. The light beige beans can be plain or mottled with black. The seeds are brought by katsinas from their sacred peaks, sprouted in kivas, and eaten in soups as a fast-breaking meal by Hopi clansmen. They are resistant to Mexican bean beetle and nematodes. Vulnerable.

Hopi red, Pala hatiko. Selected by the late Hope artist Fred Kabotie, these limas are prolific indeterminate viners. Tasty and meaty, the beans are either a solid red, or streaked with black. The beans taste creamy and fruity with a hint of chocolate. Endangered.

Hopi yellow, Sikya hatiko. Varying in color from deep yellow to dark orange with black mottling, this bean is less common among the Hopi than its gray counterpart. During spring ceremonies, the beans are sprouted, then attached to katsina dolls, rattles, and bows to be given to children. As with gray limas, the sprouts are chopped, boiled and then added to light soup broths as a fasting-breaking delicacy. These beans are flavorful with a nutty taste. Endangered.

Pima beige, mottled lima, hawul. The light-colored beans are smaller than Hopi limas, and can be plain beige, orange-tinged, or mottled with black. They vine prolifically in the high heat of late summer in the Sonoran Desert. Through the 1980s, they were grown commercially along with Hopi limas in the Santan-Sacaton area of the Gila River Indian Community. Now endangered.

The bean was once cultivated by the Tewa, Havasupai, Southern Tiwa, Gila River Pima, Yuma and Navajo Ramah tribes. The Hopi and Tewa are the last to grow it on any scale larger than garden plots. Because Hopi and Tewa production is under traditional dry farming conditions that use rainfall or runoff but not pumped groundwater, they are sustainably grown even now. Even though they are important for the Bean Dance (powamu) ceremony of the Hopi, surveys show that fewer and fewer Hopi are farming since a drought began 11 years ago, and that nearly half of all heirloom vegetable varieties have been lost from Hopi fields and gardens since the Dust Bowl. The area in cultivation of these beans appears to be in decline in the fields of some 75 Hopi families interviewed this decade.

These heirloom beans have drought and heat resistance, and so are well adapted to arid climates and tolerant of salt and alkaline soils, Their resistance to root knot nematodes historically saved the southern California lima bean industry from dying due to this pest. They are well adapted to sustainable production with a minimum of spring water, or dry-farmed using rainfall and runoff in sand dune fields. All the surviving heirlooms listed above are at least threatened and several merit endangered status.

The late Hopi tribal chairman, Ferrell Secakuku, spent the last years of his life promoting the revival of these beans among his own people before his untimely death in the summer of 2007. These beans have been boarded to the US Ark of Taste in memory of Ferrell Secakuku, that it may inspire younger Hopi to safeguard and renew Lima bean production among their clans.

Hopi, Tewa and Pima farmers may raise these varieties for ceremonial and home use. Pima growers, including the Perry DeLo family are mostly located around Sacaton, Arizona.

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