about table of contents home

CHAPTER III:
DETERIORATION OF NORTHERN PIMAN SOCIETY FROM 1520 TO 1729

Introduction

13Just five years more than two centuries after the fall of the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan to the Spaniards, the first direct Spanish recording of the existence of the northern Piman settlement at Tchoowaka occurred. Father Joseph Agustín de Campos, Jesuit missionary at the Mission of St. Ignatius at Caburica some seventy miles to the south, wrote in 1726 that he had baptized a nursing infant at Tubaca on April 16 during a visit to the unmissionized north country (Libro de Bautismos de San Ignacio de Caburica p. 60).

By the 1720's the life of the northern Piman Indians had been considerably changed from the life-way of the 1520's. Full documentation of the scale of change does not exist, but important and illuminating hints do turn up scattered in early Spanish records. For example, when Father Phelipe Segesser undertook to visit the Tchoowaka Pimans from his new mission station of St. Francis Xavier at Bac where he had arrived in 1732, he found them only with difficulty. For the Tchoow aka Indians had fled their ranchería, leaving it partly burned, and Segesser's Indian companions had difficulty finding the new location of Tchoowaka in the thorny desert brush.

14The reason the Tchoowaka people set fire to their houses and fled was that one of their leaders had died (Treutlein 1945:158). This sort of behavior would not have been possible had the Tchoowaka people been possible living in substantial and relatively fire-proof puddled adobe houses, nor even had they resided in a walled community built on the kindred compound plan.  Puddled adobe houses represented a tremendous investment in labor, probably communal in nature, as the compound-style villages certainly were. Neither was compatible with a cultural trait of house-burning and abandonment because of the death of a resident. Most strikingly, massive sun-dried mud-walled settlements quite clearly could not have been abandoned wholesale by the entire population upon the death of one leader. Had the earlier northern Pimans behaved in such a manner, great adobe ruins would litter the southern Arizona landscape. Common sense tells one that the energy investment in one of the big sun-dried mud-walled settlements would have prohibited its inhabitants from burning and abandoning them because of the death of one individual, no matter how important, as a regular practice. As a matter of fact, the houses the Pimans were burning and fleeing in the 1730's were no longer houses requiring great investments of energy for construction. They were quite simple and quickly constructed tree-branch frames tied together with stout yucca leaves and covered with woven mats or grass thatch (DiPeso 1956:132) and lacked even the vestigial puddled-adobe entryway in all likelihood.

15During a period of two centuries the culture of the northern Piman Indians had undergone some very extensive modifications. The house type changed from complex structures requiring a large investment of human energy to a simpler, quickly built type which afforded less efficient protection from the elements. Moreover, the entire settlement pattern was altering from a large, sedentary and fixed location village to a smaller only semi-sedentary and impermanently fixed ranchería (DiPeso 1953:133). The social ties of much of northern Piman community life were considerably looser in the early 1700's than they had been two centuries earlier.

The key to these changes apparently lies in the reason for the behavior of the Tchoowaka Pimans in the 1700's-the death of a leader from disease. By the 1730's the northern Pimans had acquired a fear of death, a pattern of behavior when threatened with disease which they had not had in the early 1500's before the coming of the white man. In the prehistoric villages, death was not a spectre to the northern Pimans such that they fled from it. They cremated the corpses of their dead within their village compounds and buried the ashes there (DiPeso 1951:195-205) in neighborly association with yet-living relatives. Just as clearly, in the 1700 period death was a haunting spectre frightening the northern Pimans into flight from the vicinity of disease-riddled bodies and the places where those bodies had lived.

Northern Piman life-ways had radically altered during the two hundred years since the coming of the white man to 16North America, and altered for the worse. Life in the early 1700's was simpler but less satisfying, it was frightening and less secure both from direct threats such as disease and food shortages, and cumulative indirect threats resulting from the loss and deterioration of the aboriginal cultural equipment with which to meet and master the environment.

Causes of the deterioration of northern Piman culture and society during the two centuries after 1520 are not difficult to identify. Two major causes of northern Piman cultural changes following 1520 were the radical alternation of the disease-environment due to introduction of infectious organisms by Europeans, and the total destruction of the centres of native Indian cultural development, innovation and indoctrination by Spanish conquerors.

CONTINUE
TABLE OF CONTENTS