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CHAPTER II
ABORIGINAL PIMAN SOCIETY

4Approximately four and one-half centuries ago, the numerous Indian societies in North America came to the end of long millennia of cultural evolution independent of influences outside the Western Hemisphere. Spaniards based on the Caribbean islands were knocking at the approaches of North America within a generation after Columbus' landfall in 1492. By 1519 Hernando Cortes had landed on Northern American soil and undertaken to conquer the Aztec Empire. By 1535 Jacques Cartier had sailed up the St. Lawrence River as far as Montreal following the navigation of Breton and Portuguese fishermen to the Newfoundland Banks. Never since have the Indians of North America been free from the effects of European encroachment, and their history since 1500 is one of accommodation to changes wrought by the advance of the invaders.

There exists as yet no direct evidence as to the nature of life at the northern Piman settlement known as Tchoowaka at the end of the period of independent Indian development. Specific statements about Tchoowaka at that time cannot be made until excavation of undisturbed remains of Indian occupation there. Much can be said, how-ever, about the general 5pattern of Indian life in the upper (southern) Santa Cruz River Valley around 1500 A.D. based on archaeological discoveries by Dr. Charles C. DiPeso of the Amerind Foundation and other excavated evidence.

Tchoowaka was about 1500 merely one of a number of northern Piman Indian settlements scattered up and down the banks of the Santa Cruz River and the points of the terraces adjacent to its flood plain. Evidence of Indian occupation along this stream is, in fact, so abundant as to give an initial impression of solid occupation. Actually, the remains seen today represent a large number of local settlements shifting through relatively long periods of time. At any one time only a portion of the valley was inhabited. Around 1500 the population of the valley probably reached its all-time peak in numbers and density prior to about 1950. Settlements strung out along the valley with some distance between them, even at peak density.

Northern Piman society was fairly complex around 1500 and its complexity was reflected in a diversity of settlement patterns. The more urbanized centres characteristically boasted an exterior wall-not necessarily a defensive sort of wall either-and houses clustered around compounds. At the largest of these villages close to Tchoowaka which has been excavated, the non-defensive exterior wall was built of stone to encompass several compound units housing independent kingroups separated from each other by interior division walls. 6Every compound had an entryway to its plaza surrounded as a rule by a dozen houses (DiPeso 1956:266). The people living around each compound shared their own burial plot and trash area (ibid., p. 226).

The northern Pimans most commonly built houses of poles covered with grass thatch. First a pit was dug into the ground, and uprights set into this artificial floor in the shape of a rectangle. These posts were joined together by horizontal braces at regular intervals (ibid., p. 131). Heavy posts set in the centre of the house carried a ridge pole, and roof beams were laid from the walls to this stringer, and similarly braced with horizontal members. This entire framework was then thatched with grass cut from the valley flats (ibid., p. 132).

Perhaps the most striking feature of the houses of the large village a few miles southwest of Tchoowaka was the puddled adobe entryway to the domestic dwellings. This entryway opened on the compound from the long axis of the house (ibid., p. 133) and the puddled adobe walls were roofed with timbers laid from wall to wall and covered with more puddled adobe. Those who passed through such an entryway walked on an adobe floor several inches thick (ibid., p. 134), and the heavy entryway was a striking contrast to the light, swiftly constructed house itself.

Puddled adobe houses were actually the most common form of northern Piman shelter in some villages at some times. 7The people at Babocomari Village between the Santa Cruz and San Pedro Rivers lived in thick-walled puddled adobe houses in clusters around a circular plaza (DiPeso 1951:21). Tres Alamos and Baicatcan were puddled adobe compound-type settlements on the San Pedro River to the east (DiPeso 1953:138).

Even at the peak of urbanization among the northern Pimans, not all those Indians resided in the large villages in all likelihood. Farmers probably lived near their fields scattered along the Santa Cruz River in extended family farmsteads. Some if not all lived in puddled adobe houses (Wright & Gerald 1950:13) in rancherías such as made up one compound unit in a large village.

Very likely some farmers who preferred village life always built grass-thatched pole-framework summer homes at their fields and spent the active farming and harvest season there. Such houses leave so little trace as to be rarely excavated by archaeologists.

The riverain Indians in the Santa Cruz Valley maintained close contacts with one another and with their Piman-speaking relatives on the San Pedro River to the east and in the more arid desert to the west. All these northern Pimans lived a peasant style of life, raising their own food by irrigation along the river margins or on fields flooded by summer storms on the desert (DiPeso 1956:457). What the northern Pimans could not grow in their cultivated fields they gathered from wild plants (ibid., p. 449-50) or hunted, making heavy 8inroads on the rabbit, deer and antelope herds near their settlements (ibid., p. 443).

The northern Piman peasants cooked and ate with baked earthenware utensils (ibid., p. 271-298), and processed much of their food to more edible form on stone mortars with heavy pestles by pounding (ibid., p. 451-452)or by crunching end grinding with handstones on flat nether mill stones (ibid.). Their life was a good one in that it provided not only an adequate living but also a surplus for indulging in what these aborigines regarded as finer things of life: religious endeavors, personal adornment, decorative arts, and such like.

While the northern Pimans produced or collected their own foodstuffs and processed them, these peasant cultivator-collectors imported from farther south the really important material objects of life.

If a man or a woman-and men wore most of the jewelry among the northern Pimans-desired a bracelet, armlet, or a necklace, he or she thought first and most longingly of the expensive shell pieces imported from the south. Possibly the upper Santa Cruz River Valley Indians sent shell-hunting expeditions southwest to the Gulf of California (ibid., p. 83) just as they may have sent expeditions to the gulfshore salines to gather the most precious condiment of a maize-eating people, salt. On the other hand, they probably traded for both shells and salt (Underhill 1946:211-212).

9Whether the Indians in the vicinity of Tchoowaka went to the Gulf in person or traded for their sea shells and sea salt, the former commodities certainly passed through the shell-mart of northern Piman territory, now known as the La Playa site on the Magdalena River in northern Sonora. There Glycimeris shells from the Gulf were rough-processed, the rims being cut from the bulk of the valve to produce blanks for finishing into armlets and bracelets (Sauer and Brand 1931:94). This greatly lightened the burden of the peripatetic trader or shell-collector, and the labor involved in separating blanks from discarded cores greatly increased the value of the blanks. The upper Santa Cruz River valley Indians seem tohave performed little rough shell work at home, either doing it at La Playa or bartering blanks from more southerly Indians (DiPeso 1956:83).

Compared to their Piman-speaking friends and relatives inhabiting the semi-arid desert to the west, the Indians of the Santa Cruz River valley lived in opulence. Their irrigated fields yielded them sufficient maize, beans, squash and cotton to reduce their gathering needs to a minimum dictated by taste rather than hunger. They were able to barter part of their field produce to the ever-hungry "country people" to the west for a variety of tasty items. The very large maize production of the eastern riverain northern Pimans is attested by their trading it to hungry Spaniards from New Mexico as late as a century and a half after 1500 10when the New Mexicans took manufactured items such as cloth, clothing, blankets, knives and hatchets for barter prior to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (Bolton 1948:II:257). At the head of the list of items the country people traded to the riverain urbanites was the salt the desert Pimans collected from Gulf coast salt pans, but the list extended through seeds of the giant cactus, dried fruits of the cholla cactus, dried roasted mescal, little wild peppers to spice up the monotonous maize dishes, acorns, syrup made from cactus fruits, dried venison and mountain sheep tallow. These were all items which the resource-poor desert Indians could produce with their labor, so that they were in essence bartering their labor to the better-endowed riverain people. Besides foodstuffs, they turned their hands to processing baskets and sleeping mats, cordage, and mining ceremonial and cosmetic pigments. These things have been bartered to the Gila River Pimas by the desert Papagos within recent times (Russell 1904:93-94) under parallel circumstances, and there is no reason to suppose that the riverain Pimans of the upper Santa Cruz River Valley were any worse off than the Gila River people around 1500 A.D. They were rather plutocratic peasants, in a word, exploiting the poverty of their importunate desert trading partners.

Yet the northern Pimans of Tchoowaka and vicinity were still rustic boors alongside the civilized Indians of central Mexico, and manufactured goods imported from the genuinely 11urbanized centres cost the upper Santa Cruz Valley people dearly. The Tarascan Indians of Michoacan on the borders of the Aztec Empire managed to preserve some measure of political and economic independence from the ever-sacrifice-hungry Empire right up until their conquest by the Spaniards (Sauer 1948:6). Therefore they were able to manufacture lost-wax cast copper bells or tinklers not only for their own use, but also for export to the less sophisticated but eagerly acquisitive rustics to the north. Probably somewhere north of the Tarascans lived other Indians intermediate in civilization between the central Mexicans and the northern Piman peasants who manufactured less artistic imitations of the Tarascan tinklers for export in the northern trade. Somewhere on the northern borders of the Aztec Empire, at any rate, tinklers were made which eventually reached northern Piman country (Root 1937:276). Once in a very great while one of these tremendously desirable and frightfully expensive metal objects found its way into the channels of trade of the upper Santa Cruz Valley. Unfortunately for the Tchoowaka people, there were many larger and richer settlements which could afford to amass the quantity and quality of trade goods necessary to purchase a precious tinkler, so few if any remained in the upper Santa Cruz Valley drainage.

Less expensive than tinklers, but still very dear, were the tropical macaw and parrot plumes de rigeur for the communal weather-control ceremonies the northern Pimans had learned from their more civilized southern mentors and were 12probably still learning in 1500 A.D. The price of macaw feathers was so prohibitive that the northern Pimans saved up to purchase live birds which they kept caged and bred in captivity to raise more macaws with more gaudy feathers for ceremonial usage (Bolton 1948:I:292).

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