AuthorNabhan, Gary Paul
Agricultural ecology -- Arizona.
Arid regions agriculture -- Arizona.
Ethnobotany -- Arizona.
Tohono O'odham Indians -- Ethnobotany.
Committee ChairVan Asdall, Willard
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractPapago Indian fields located in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico are examples of a food production strategy that was developed within the constraints of a water-limited environment. Although only a small percentage of the fields cultivated at the turn of the century remain in cultivation, extant fields are vestiges of an agricultural tradition that has persisted in arid lands for centuries. An examination of the documentary history of non-Indian observations of Papago agriculture and water control from 1697 to 1934 reveals numerous practices and features that are no longer apparent within or around remaining fields. Yet by learning from oral historical accounts of elderly Papago, and analyzing O'odham lexemes (native Papago terms) which guide farmers' management of fields, it is possible to gain a sense of folk science which Papago developed to successfully farm without permanent surface water reserves. Selected concepts from the folk science of the Papago are used as a point of departure in understanding the ecological processes which function within their fields. Standard field ecology methods were adapted to empirically test certain hypotheses relating to these ecological processes. Results include confirmation that Papago fields are situated in a variety of physiographic positions, and that ‘ak-ciñ arroyo mouth' farming is a misnomer. Papago crops exhibit many of the same drought-escaping adaptations as wild summer desert ephemerals for seed production during the brief summer rainy season, which varies from year to year in the date of its initiation. These adaptations greatly contribute to crop success. There are no significant differences in the diversity of herbaceous plants found in Papago fields compared to the diversity found in adjacent, uncultivated environments. Of the many nutrients analyzed in cultivated and uncultivated floodplain soils, only potassium was significantly richer in fields than in uncultivated floodplains; other differences were statistically insignificant. Floodwashed organic detritus, rather than the floodwaters themselves, appear to play the major role in renewing field soil fertility in certain localities. It is concluded that indigenous concepts which have long guided the management of traditional agricultural systems are of heuristic value in understanding how these farming systems function ecologically.
Degree NamePh. D.
Degree ProgramArid Lands Resources Sciences