For the past two decades a major scholarly effort has been under way to review the current knowledge of native peoples in North America. The results are being published in the monumental Handbook of North American Indians, a multivolume encyclopedic inventory of ten major geographic-cultural areas, complemented by several topical volumes. The first tomes were published in 1978; the present publication is the fifth part to appear and the second on the Southwest, the only area to be treated in two volumes. Volume 10 covers the whole of the greater Southwest, including northern Mexico and the northern fringe of Mesoamerica, but excluding the Pueblo peoples of New Mexico and Arizona (dealt with in volume 9).
Preceding the preface is a map that illustrates the area and tribal groups covered. This is followed by a brief presentation on the technical alphabet, nontechnical equivalents, and related English pronunciations. Treatment of tribal groups begins with the Yuman-speaking peoples in the northwest and proceeds counterclockwise in an expanding spiral through southern Arizona, northwest Mexico, north central and northeast Mexico, southern Texas, and New Mexico and eastern Arizona. Each tribal summary is ten to twenty pages in length and briefly discusses linguistic affiliation, environment and territorial distribution, prehistory, archaeology and tribal origins, the historical record, a cultural résumé, names known to be synonymous for that group, and a review of the most important sources. The last two topics will be particularly useful for scholars and students wishing to pursue more intensive research. Most of the cultural summaries provide quite satisfactory information on subsistence practices, and there are brief discussions of material culture (including such topics as technology, shelter, clothing, transport, and settlement pattern). Religion, ceremonialism, shamanism, and mythology are often treated nearly as fully as subsistence. The most variable aspect of the cultural summaries has to do with social and political organization. In some instances the discussion is brief, superficial, and not very informative. In others, separate chapters are devoted to the topic (as, e.g., Donald M. Bahr on the Pima and Papago, William L. Merrill on the Tarahumara, and Gary Witherspoon on the Navajo). Another feature included in most summaries is a review of recent tribal history and an assessment of the current status of the group as of the 1970s or 1980s. I find this topic to be one of the best aspects of each discussion. Not only is it informative and relevant, but it gives a realistic picture of culture change, sometime exploitation, social and political marginality, and ethnic survival. Some of the papers detail current economic and social pressures that must be dealt with by each Native American group, and in a few instances there are heartening prospects for successful economic development.
Among the worst of the ethnographic summaries is that by Campbell W. Pennington on the Tarahumara. It is old-fashioned, descriptive, and makes no attempt to go beyond the bare empirical facts. Among the best are those by William B. Griffen and the late Tom Hinton, both of whom manage to present informative, well-developed analyses of the peoples of the southern periphery, in spite of a relative paucity of empirical data. Specialized chapters deal with the major language families (Yuman, by Martha B. Kendall; Uto-Aztecan, by Wick R. Miller; Apachean by Robert W. Young), history (Bernard Fontana on the Papago, Paul Ezell on the Pima, David Brugge and Robert Roessel on the Navajo). Five concluding papers attempt to present a summary, comparison, and generalizations about various aspects of the native cultures of the greater Southwest, including the Pueblo groups.
The Southwest in general is an arid region with seasonally abundant moisture, varying somewhat depending on latitude and altitude, but always rather unpredictable. Vegetation is generally xerophytic, although sparse to lush woodlands and forests may occur on higher mountain slopes. There are considerable differences among the aboriginal cultures of this region, yet almost all share certain fundamental characteristics. Wherever possible, agriculture is practiced, although its contribution to the diet may range from 75 percent among Pima, Yaqui, and Mayo to less than 25 percent among Papago and Apache. Access to water was a critical determinant of settlement pattern and cultural development. In a few instances where permanent rivers provided abundant water (as among the Pima, Yaqui, and Mayo), larger and more permanent settlements were possible. All groups relied on hunting and gathering to provide a portion of their subsistence needs. A few, such as the No Village Pima, Seri, Coahuiltecans, and Karankawa depended almost entirely upon hunting and gathering. It is worth noting that among hunting and gathering tribes all but the Pima occupied relatively productive coastal zones. Throughout the region social organization was simple, generally based on the nuclear or small extended family. Division of labor was based on distinctions of sex and age. Several families combined to form a band. Leadership, which was based on individual prestige and ability, was generally weak. Shamans, on the other hand, played an important role in curing and religion. Ceremonialism was important, and related to the annual round, agriculture, hunting, warfare, curing, or rites of passage. Masked impersonations were a common feature of southwestern ceremonialism.
All groups in the Southwest have been affected over the past 400 years by Spanish intrusions from the south and Anglo and Apache intrusions from the north. What is most striking is the way in which the dominant national cultures north and south of the international border have affected the aboriginal societies within each sphere of influence. In spite of tribal differences, there is a certain cultural coherence among the groups living in the southwestern United States (though it is probably possible to differentiate the Pueblos from the non-Pueblo societies). As a Latin American scholar, I am struck by how much, south of the border, the native societies exhibit characteristics shared with surviving native groups in highland Mesoamerica, such as the importance of folk Catholic ceremonialism and a hierarchical ordering of local officials. Recent political reorganization in the southwestern United States has produced democratically elected tribal councils, tribal corporations, and other business ventures. On both sides of the border the rise of corporate farming in recent decades may have the most profound impact of all, as it has displaced traditional economic patterns, attracted an influx of non-Indian laborers and entrepreneurs, introduced sophisticated and capital-intensive agricultural technology, and tied the welfare of the region to the vagaries of the international market.
Coverage of the various cultural groups is extremely unbalanced. In my view, inordinate attention is paid to the Apache and Navajo (120 and 290 pages, respectively), while tribes occupying the vast north Mexican region are given relatively short shrift with only 130 pages, 55 of which are devoted to only three of the many groups (Yaqui, Mayo, and Tarahumara). The Yumans of Arizona and the Pima-Papago are allocated a reasonable amount of space (112 and 118 pages, respectively). The five concluding papers attempt to present a comparative summary, synthesis, and analysis of various aspects of southwestern culture. While the Pueblos are included in these discussions, the Mexican groups are ignored completely (with the exception of the paper on “Kachinas and Masking” by James S. Griffith) with the plea that there is inadequate information for satisfactory comparison. While this may be true for some groups, it is clear, merely from examining the papers in this volume on the Yaqui, Mayo, and Tarahumara, that these groups have been at least as well studied as most of the Yuman tribes. There is no excuse for not including them, other than the artificial myopia among scholars of the North American Indian who do not look beyond the imaginary boundary of the international border, whereas Mesoamericanists rarely cast their vision north of that same imaginary boundary (and often cut their investigations short at the “northern limit of Mesoamerica”).
Joseph Jorgensen’s analysis of “Comparative Traditional Economics and Ecology is an interesting attempt to quantify and evaluate the relevant variables, but it becomes overly immersed in the methodology, and the argument may appear arcane to the nonspecialist. Besides, one cannot avoid the impression that his conclusions are more the artifact of his procedure than they are representative of on-the-ground reality in economy and ecology. The other papers on exchange by Richard Ford, social organization by Fred Eggan, and ceremonialism by Louise Lamphere are valuable in drawing together disparate data and delineating the broader cultural relationships of the Southwest. Sometimes valuable insights emerge from these discussions, but, as indicated above, they suffer from neglect of the Mexican data.
Not only are the various groups and areas treated unevenly, but as in any large collection of papers, some are already out of date. Few present any information later than 1980 or 1981, and some provide no data later than the early 1970s. In spite of these problems, and the varying quality of the individual contributions, this volume represents a major accomplishment in scholarship on the Southwest. It will undoubtedly serve as the major reference and starting source for students and scholars with other specialties wishing to expand their knowledge on this region. As any good survey should, it identifies what is known, what may never be known, and especially what remains to be discovered. Many areas and problems where future research needs to be concentrated are identified. Let us hope that within another generation the advances made through such research will necessitate an updated handbook on the Southwest.