This valuable contribution to the ethnohistory of northwest Mexico brings together geographical, ethnographical, and historical data on the Pima Bajo, an important agricultural people of a region heretofore not intensely studied. The author has combined extensive field work with careful reading of historical sources, both archival and published, to produce a fully researched ethnology of the Lower Pima of Sonora, covering historical background and present-day cultural practices basic to their survival as a group: agriculture, hunting, gathering, fishing, animal husbandry, building dwellings, and use of medicinal plants and ceremonial. The appendix, which tabulates documentary evidence on the Jesuit missionaries who served in the Pima Bajo pueblos, is a useful historical device.
The present study was preceded by volume two: Vocabulario en la lengua Nevome (1979), a scholarly editing of a seventeenth-century Jesuit vocabulary pertaining to the Pima language (Nevome) of central Sonora. Pennington’s thorough analysis of that document provided part of the historical and linguistic bases for volume one.
The introductory chapters do raise some questions of omission. The section on population includes no attempt to relate the Pima Bajo zone to the general literature on historical demography for Mexico. Pennington does not employ the concept of protohistory, nor does he distinguish between the aboriginal and contact populations in his estimates of early demographic levels. He criticizes his own figures for the aboriginal Nevome as low, compared with Sauer and others, without fully explaining the discrepancy (p. 36). While Pennington counters historical evidence with his own observations on the agricultural capacity of the region, he is not explicit in the importance assigned to epidemic disease as a determining factor in the size of contact populations first recorded by Europeans. Likewise, the author’s coverage of the post-Jesuit colonial regime makes no reference to recent analytical interpretations of economic transformations in the Pima Alta missions, which relate as well to the Pimería Baja.
In general, the present volume offers a wealth of economic and cultural data, treated with sensitivity and favored by an interdisciplinary approach. The author’s overall argument is convincing regarding the process of acculturation: it becomes clear that the relative presence of native and European or mestizo populations in any one area is a determining factor for the survival of the Indian community and culture. In central Sonora, only the Mountain Pima, who inhabit the most isolated area, have maintained relatively high numbers in comparison with the estimated contact population.