Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Migration 14: Grand Canyon Peoples as the Paradigm

In mulling over my reading about the origins and spread of humanity during the past 100 millennia, I was struck by a big difference with the Grand Canyon peoplescape before the arrival of whitefolk. 

Writing about early homo sapiens speaks largely as if people then were much like each other; the talk is in generalities. I suppose this is because there is very little information about individual societies or cultures 50 millennia ago. We know that there must have been differences; but they mostly left no discoverable traces. We also know, though, that differences in physical appearance have developed, though overall we deny that these are significant indicators of capability. There might be differences in hair texture or color or body build, but these are no longer considered the markers of "racial quality" that they used to be. Recently, some anthropological work has suggested some contribution to the current human genome from Neanderthal, Denisovian, and potentially other hominids we met up with as we moved around. In general, though, detecting differences between human groups is either too difficult or too speculative or too much a fantasy of prejudice.

How different for a group of wandering students of human nature who had taken a journey around the Grand Canyon and its immediate region half a millennium ago. Here is a very, very approximate map, courtesy of Googlemaps, of the region and its people then:

Coming from the Pacific south of California's big mountains, north of the Canyon our students might have climbed the Grand Wash Cliffs and met up with various families and groups of Shivwits, Uinkarets, and Kaibab Southern Paiutes. Knowledgeable about the land and its resources, they would have shared the information about how they lived and used various part of the plateaus. They seem to have been willing to accommodate and share; violence was not part of their reaction to others (though there is that scurrilous accusation that they killed the three Separationists from Powell's first trip).

Passing on, it would have been a trifle early to have met with the mounted, aggressive Utes who later on would have come after the Paiute, kidnapping and enslaving them. East of the Canyon, the Navajo too would become mounted and raiders; they were settling in from their migration from way off to the northeast, becoming dedicated pastoralists; dedicated too to a way of life that saw them settle and occupy land that had once belonged exculsively to the Puebloans, the Anasazi as the Diné called them. Now the old Hopi villages were the only reminders, with their dry farming and culture deeply connected into the land. The Hopi did not  practice war, and if the Navajo were aggressive, it did not seem to extend to genocide of those they encountered as they sought more territory. Of course, the other Puebloan settlements, Zuñi, Acoma, and many others were farther to the east and bore the earliest brunt of Spanish adventurism, a militaristic culture very obvious in the usual depiction of the conquistadores.

Continuing on, however, around the Canyon, our students would come across the Havasupai, a people who combined a settlement deep in Cataract/Havasu Canyon, and a freer mode of life up on the plateaus, all the way east to the Hopi. They hunted, foraged, farmed. They possibly did a bit of fighting, but they may have preferred to accommodate as the Paiute did, or perhaps depend on their remote fastness to keep away from raiders.

Farther south, beyond the Canyon's reach, the Yavapai did seem more interested in raiding, particularly southward, and maybe offered an example from the more pugnacious end of the violence spectrum. There even seems history of hostility with the northern Pai -- the Havasupai and the Hualapai. The Navajo might have been raiders, slavers, warriors, though not of an extreme sort. However, the Hualapai were the only Canyon peoples to have a war named in their honor, as they resisted whitefolk prospectors and cattlemen who, along with the railroad, coveted and covered their lands from the plateaus above the Canyon down to mid-Arizona. Otherwise, like the Paiute and the Havasupai, the Hualapai seem to have been formed from several bands of peoples with well-known ranges where they could forage, hunt, and farm some. And I should mention, all of these people traded goods over networks that extended far beyond their own homes.

And so in the second millennium after Christ, this medium-size area, about 1500 sq. mi., provided those enterprising students views of more than half a dozen different cultures/societies of human beings. Cultures that most likely had quite different languages, too Therefore, It seems logical that with even more enterprise, such students going back 30 millennia, and wandering Africa and Eurasia, would have obviously found dozens, hundreds, who knows how many, different groups, cultures, languages. As it was in more recent times, so it was much earlier in our migration out all over the world.

In the Grand Canyon region, they were not all at perpetual war with each other, sneaky raids or otherwise. Some of the time, some were, some were not; they formed a sub-spectrum of what humanity could do. To lump them all together and generalize about our behavior seems to me only an effort to prove a prejudice. Difference was a prime constituent of even adjoining societies; alternative ways of dealing with the world, even in similar environments, is the major signifier of human nature.

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