The European countries and later the United States were guilty of enormous sins when they waged wars on indigenous peoples around the world. Will they ever be brought to justice for those crimes? It is highly unlikely. At least so long as they continue to be powerful. Nothing cleanses sins more effectively than power. The genocide against indigenous peoples has been the largest and most profound in the history of the world. Yet it is rarely acknowledged as genocide. It is unlikely to be acknowledged as such so long as those countries and their successors wield power.
Western powers like Britain, France, Holland, Spain, and the United States don’t want their abysmal records of the mistreatment of indigenous peoples around the world to come back to haunt them.
Andrew Woolford, an acknowledged expert on genocide, and the author of Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America makes a powerful argument that the treatment of indigenous peoples in North America by European invaders was genocide. Adam Muller makes the same assertion in his book on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Really it is difficult to come to any other conclusion.
If I am right that this was genocide, what is the significance of that? What is the significance of it going unacknowledged by the successors to the perpetration of the genocide? What kind of a civilization can be built on such a foundation? I think these are interesting questions.
The Spaniards who came to the New World to bring salvation and extract gold were not Sunday School Teachers. Historian Alvin M. Josephy Jr. painted a clear picture of these “missionaries”:
“As the pre-Columbian world disappeared, the fires of Eurocentrism burned on, now attempting to erase the history, cultures, and achievements of that world from memory. In the Yucatán, the Spaniards burned or destroyed almost every Mayan book in their efforts to convert those Indians to Christianity. In the flames, posterity lost, until recently, the ability to read Maya’s radiant pre-Columbian civilization.
In New England, after the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay had come to view the powerful Pequot Indians as “children of Satan,” they tried with fire and sword to blot out every sign that these Indians ever existed. Making holy war on them in 1637, they massacred Pequots by the hundreds parceling out the relatively few survivors among other tribes with the vain hope that even the name Pequot would vanish. Across both continents, only a small number Europeans thought it worthwhile to pass on to future generations records of the “curious” societies they were destroying.”
Of course these attitudes were passed on to their successors the European settlers, such as Canadians and Americans. As a consequence these attitudes formed the basis–the fundamental basis–of Canada and the United States. Not a great foundation for noble societies.
Europe was not as civilized as we have been taught. Not all Europeans were blinded by a sense of superiority, but many were. There are always sharper minds. Take Montaigne for example. In this book On Cannibals, he described what happened when Europeans kidnapped 3 Tupinamba natives from Brazil and brought them to “civilized” Europe so that they could see what “savages” were like. They were brought to France so that the boy-king Charles IX could see them in 1562 and this is what Montaigne said:
“The King talked with them for some time; they were shown our way of living, our magnificence, and the sights of a fine city. [I] asked them what they thought about all this, and what they had found most remarkable. [They said] they had noticed among us some men gorged to the full with things of every sort while their other halves were beggars at their doors, emaciated with hunger and poverty. They found it strange that these poverty stricken halves should suffer such injustice, and that they did not take the others by the throat or set fire to their houses.”
The “savages” of Tupinamba knew the truth about European civilization. They saw it was a corrupt shell. Actually, it reminds me a lot of what seems to be happening in the world now (both east and west) with its incredible widening inequality where Jeff Bezos earns $1million dollars every 50 minutes while his employees earning minimum wages are not allowed to take bathroom breaks. Some of them have to wear adult diapers to work on the job. In our own society we also have to ask who are the savages? As Ronald Wright said, “The Tupinamba saw through Europe’s alien splendor to the flaws of society. The answer to their question, as they perhaps knew only too well, was that the poor of Europe were cutting throats and burning houses in America.”
What is the greatest human culture ever created? Most westerners would likely say European civilization. What would you say?
Wade Davis, Canada’s preeminent anthropologist believes that the greatest contribution to culture was produced in Polynesia. I was shocked when I heard that. Davis has studied many societies. I had never thought of Polynesia with that much respect. I was wrong. I am not saying Davis was right. It really doesn’t matter; they all have great achievements. What does matter is that we respect them all.
To my surprise Davis, in a talk on CBC Radio, called Polynesia “the greatest culture sphere ever to be brought into being by the human imagination.” When he talked about the ethnospherehe described it this way in his glorious book, The Wayfarers:
“Together the myriad of cultures makes up an intellectual and spiritual web of life that envelopes the planet and is every bit as important to the well being of the planet as the biological web of life that we know as the biosphere. You might think of this social web of life as an ethnosphere.”
I learned a lot from Davis’s radio talks as well as from his book The Wayfarers. Polynesia, he said, consists of “tens of thousands of islands flung like jewels upon the southern sea.” Davis learned a lot from the Polynesian voyaging society that set out on a voyage on the vast Pacific Ocean in a sacred canoe known as a hokule’a. This vessel has been used to circumnavigate the world. This was a catamaran modeled on the drawings of Joseph Banks who had drawn sketches of these canoes based on his voyages with Cook in the 18th century. Even today these Polynesians sailors can name 350 stars in the southern sky.
As Davis said, “They can sense the presence of distant atoll islands beyond the visible horizon simply by watching the reverberation of waves across the hull of the canoe knowing full well that every island group in the Pacific has its own unique refractive pattern that can be read with the same perspicacity with which a forensic scientist would read a finger print. These are sailors who in the hull in the darkness can sense 5 different sea swells moving through the canoe at any one point in time, distinguishing those caused by local weather disturbances and from the deep currents that pulsate across the ocean and can be followed with the same ease with which a terrestrial explorer would follow a river to the sea. Indeed if you took all of the genius that allowed us to put a man on the moon and applied it to an understanding of the ocean what you would get is Polynesia.”
What right to we have to feel superior to such a culture? As Davis said,
“The most astonishing thing about this tradition is that it is based on dead reckoning. And dead reckoning means that you only know where you are by remembering precisely how you got there. And what this implied was that in a tradition that lacked the written word every shift of the wind, every change of course, every sign of the star, the sun, the moon, and the ocean itself embraced over the course of a multi-week voyage had to be remembered and calibrated in the mind of the wayfinder.”
The practitioners of this art based their advice on where they had come from, not from where they were going. Societies that did not have this skill resorted to hugging the shores of continents, until the British solved the problem of longitude with the invention of the chronometer in the 18th century.
Yet 10 centuries before Christ an ancient civilization called Lapita on the shores of Caledonia and New Guinea, the ancestors of the Polynesians set sail into the rising son. In a thousand years they reached Tonga and Samoa and Fiji but then mysteriously stopped for 10 centuries before resuming their quest. They travelled a further 4,000 km. across the Pacific Ocean until they reached the Marquesas. Eventually they discovered many of the islands in the South Pacific.
During this time they lost their written word, but the Wayfinder who could be a man or a woman, and who sat Monk-like at the stern of the vessel for a journey of several weeks had to remember every shift of the wind, every sign of the moon, every sign of the stars, every sign of the sun, plus a plethora of other indicators of location and weather. If the knowledge of the chronology was broken the journey could easily end in disaster.
According to the Polynesian myths the vessel does not move. Rather the imagination of the Wayfinder pulls the island out of the sea towards the vessel. To reach Rap Nui the vessel had to travel 9,000 km. (6,000 mi.) across the doldrums, tacking in the wind for about 3500 km. to reach an island less than 25 km. across. This was less than 1º on the compass but of course they had no compass. But they sure had traditional skills and knowledge, knowledge that westerners did not appreciate.
These techniques were used to colonize the greatest thing on the planet—the Pacific Ocean. As Davis pointed out, “Five centuries before Columbus, the Polynesians had over the course of only 80 generations settled virtually every island group in the Pacific , establishing a single sphere of cultural life encompassing some 25 million square kilometers of the earth’s surface.” That is surely one of the greatest achievements of Homo sapiens, 500 years before Columbus “discovered” the western hemisphere! And they did this all without a compass or any physical instruments of navigation. Of course this amazing achievement was never recognized by the Europeans who assumed no one was better than them at navigation.
Davis asked a profound question:
“How can you not be bedazzled by the achievements of humanity when you discover what actually lies beneath the veneer of culture throughout the world. You know, Polynesian navigators who can sense the presence of distant atolls of islands beyond the horizon simply by watching the reverberation of waves across the hull of a vessel. Whenever I go somewhere I try to think of a phrase that kind of distils everything and when I did work with the hokule’a and the Polynesian voyaging society the phrase that came to mind was that if you took all of the genius that allowed us to put a man on the moon and applied it to the understanding of the ocean what you would get is Polynesia.”
The real point of all this is not to brag about one society. The real point to avoid unnecessary feelings of superiority. There is nothing more ignorant than feelings of superiority. There is nothing more wise than humility.
I am still thinking about civilization and whether or Europeans who arrived in the Americas had a monopoly on it, as many of them thought, and as many of their descendants still think.
A few years ago some good friends of ours lived on a Hopi Reservation for about a year. They invited us down to visit but I am sorry to say we did not go. That was a big mistake. We could have learned a lot. The Hopi, like so many Indigenous peoples of North America have a lot to teach us. Chris and I went on our own a couple of years ago, but frankly learned very little.
I did learn a bit about Hopi culture from watching a television series this winter on PBS called Native America.
In my last post on this subject, I mentioned how Chaco in northern New Mexico was connected with the Indigenous People of the Amazon Rainforest. Now I want to mention that the Hopi, many of whom now live in Northern Arizona, make pilgrimages to Chaco in northern New Mexico because they want to maintain their connection to places like Yupköyvi (Chaco in the Hopi language). As a result, there may be a connection to the ancient ceremonies of the Hopi back in Chaco and they are in turn connected too with the Amazon Rainforest To the Indigenous people, the Americas was a small world.
Chaco was built in northeast New Mexico between 900 and 1150 and it covered an area roughly the size of modern San Francisco. That is a pretty big city. And of course at that time people had no buses to get around as they do in San Francisco.
There were 12 great houses in the center of Chaco. They were 5 stories high and contained up to 800 rooms. “These were the biggest buildings in what will be the United States until the 1800s.” They also built cave like gathering places throughout the city. At one time they were covered but those roofs have long since collapsed. They are called kivas. The Hopis still use them in Arizona for special ceremonies conducted by men and women.
1,000-year old Kivasare very important to the Hopi. The rituals inside kivas centered on rainmaking, healing, hunting, all to ensure the continuation of life.” All of these were vitally important to the Hopi people. They often smoked pipes as part of the ceremonies. Like Indigenous people of the Canadian prairies, smoking, to the Hopis is a form of prayer. They meditate while smoking. They pray for rain, long life and abundance. Not that different from Christian prayers when you think of it. People pray to get stuff. But Leigh Kuwandwisiwma, a Hopi, said it is more than that. “We pray to the environment,” he says. And they are part of that environment. “We take the time to contemplate the power around us, the bird world, the reptilian world, the animal world, the insect world, are all part of who we are the Hopi People,” he says. It is a very different attitude to nature.
To Pueblo people of the American Southwest and Hopi people some of their modern corn is also sacred. It is their life-blood. Offering it to earth is a sacred offering. As the smoke carries prayers to the winds Leigh sprinkled cornmeal into the fire and it rose as part of the smoke. “It is a ritual that connects the Hopi to their origin story.”
Many North American Native people believe that they emerged from the earth. I accept these stories with respect. I do not accept them as literal reports of what happened, any more than I accept the story of Noah’s ark carrying two of all species on earth in his ark as a literal rendering of what happened. For example, I don’t think there were 2 blue whales on that ark, or 2 mammoths or 2 tigers. The story of Noah’s ark, like the creation stories of North American Native people are important however. They speak a profound truth. It is just not a literal truth. Sometimes those stories are difficult to interpret. That does not mean we should discard them. That just means we should work harder to interpret them.
“Many Native American people share a belief that they emerged from the earth. Hopi and ‘Pueblo traditions say that the place of emergence is beneath America’s best known natural wonder, the Grand Canyon. 5 million people visit each year, they come to connect with its natural beauty, but Pueblo people have an even deeper connection. This is their birth place.”
I like that story. Imagine emerging from the Grand Canyon. That would be pretty spectacular. It certainly does not seem any less civilized than the creation story in the Bible.
I like fine dining as much as anyone. Even though I am considered a cheap Mennonite. It doesn’t’ get much cheaper. But I also like plain simple good food. The most reliable place in Winnipeg to get that is The Dairi-Whip, on Marion Street, or as we aficionados call it, “The Greeks.” The food simple but effective, the service impeccable, and the ambiance modest.
I have been dining here for more than 40 years. I don’t know if the menu has ever changed. If ain’t broke don’t fix it. Pretty good advice. The menu is small. Basically burgers and fries, with or without chili. Hot dogs if you insist. Great milk shakes. Try the lime shake. I kid you not. Food does not get much better. My brother-in-law lives in Gatineau Quebec. He is a little whacky. Whenever he comes to Winnipeg he heads straight for the Greeks. Whenever his brother comes to visit him from Winnipeg, the brother brings a box of fries and a burger. This is not crazy. It is wise!
The ambiance has always consisted of an old faded print of John and Robert F. Kennedy. Nothing else. Because nothing else is needed. It is perfect. Old clean picnic tables. Nothing else. Nothing else needed.
For years the restaurant was famous for the fact that the man who took the orders would listen patiently and quietly for the orders. He could take an improbable number of orders at the same time with everyone’s idiosyncratic preferences. No pickle. Relish. No onions. Gravy. Inside or outside. Rarely, he would ask for clarification. Then the orders would be relayed to the 2 cooks in back. Those orders were never repeated. And they were never wrong. Never.
The only errors ever were miscommunications between customer and front line server. And these are extremely rare. This happened today. I thought the server got it wrong. He thought I wanted Fries withChili. I thought I had ordered no chili. I suspect I might have fouled it up. Chris was convinced I fouled it up. No surprise there. I got fries with chili. As soon as the server noticed I was slightly unhappy he asked, “What was the problem?” When I asked for fries without chili he immediately brought them. “No charge,” he said. I replied, “No I should pay. I probably got it wrong.” “No, no charge,” he repeated. End of conversation.
I remember once years ago when the Senior cook saw me scraping relish off my burger he asked “What’s wrong?” “I forgot to say no relish,” I replied. My fault. There was no question. The burger was replaced with one without relish. Again “No charge.” Right then my undying loyalty was purchased.
Everyone has to leave this small Chip and Burger stand satisfied. Satisfaction guaranteed. Yes, this is the best restaurant in Winnipeg.
I spent about 45 minutes listening to a French philosopher courtesy of the CBC radio app. The philosopher was Bernard-Henri Lévy. I had downloaded an interview with him by Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current. I had also heard him recently on Real Time with Bill Maher.
Lévy is a is a French public intellectual, philosopher, media personality and author. In Europe many just call him BHL because he is so well known. In France philosophers and artists can be rock stars. I love France! Lévy was one of the leaders of the a group started in 1976 known as “Nouveaux Philosophes” no doubt after the famous wines. According to The Boston Globe he is “perhaps the most prominent intellectual in France today.” Famously he also said, “I am more afraid of Puritans than those who admit the weakness of the flesh.”
Sometimes we just need a French philosopher to set things right. For me, basking in the hot sun, listening to CBC radio all the way from Arizona, was one of those days. He is currently flogging his book The Empire and the 5 Kings. Based on this interview I think it would be worth a read. Being a cheap Mennonite I will wait for the paperback of course.
Apparently the 5 kings of the title of the book are 5 countries that he calls “totalitarian,” namely, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, and Turkey. I think the “empire” he refers to is the United States, since Lévy lamented the fact that the US was pulling out of Europe, leaving the way open, he believes, for the 5 dictators. He admitted that the US as an empire was far from perfect, but it was much better than the 5 kings that will inevitably take its place. He may have a point.
Lévy said that the 5 Kings (I would add Trump here) have declared war on truth. He reminded us what Joseph Goebbels the Nazi Minister of Propaganda said, “I will decide who is a Jew. I will decide what is truth.” This is not unlike Donald Rumsfeld’s famous remark when he talked about the War in Iraq. Rumsfeld was George W. Bush’s Mininster of Defence who said, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” This is the madness of some political political leaders and Lévy wants to expose it.
Lévy is also critical of the Internet. He once said, “There is no better instrument for incubating idiocy than the Internet. Nowhere is this more clear than in the United States.
In the interview Lévy passionately set out his critique of contemporary political life and his philosophy: “There is a battle between wisdom and idiocy; between the courage of moderation and the cowardice of extremism, between the respect of art, and beauty, and intelligence and the idea that all these values have to be torn to pieces.” Bernard-Henri Lévy also said, “Populism is a new word for fascism. Lévy said that when he was young, in 1968, he and his friends were fighting for all the people to have access to beauty, wisdom, and truth and now the populists, or fascists, want to destroy that. When they want to eradicate the elites, they also want to rid the world of truth and beauty. That is what he is fighting against, and that is why I like him so much.
Ken Burns has produced some magnificent television documentaries for Public Broadcasting in the US. Burns likes the traditional Latin motto of the United States E pluribus unum, which means “Out of many, one.” I like it too. It appears on the Great Seal of the United Sates. Arthur Schlesinger complained that the United States suffered from too much pluralism and not enough one. It was adopted in 1782 but since then another motto has been more popular: “In God we Trust.” I don’t like that one quite as much. In 1956 Congress adopted it as the official motto of the country. What ever happened to separation of church and state?
Ken Burns said that too often we think we connected and we are actually disconnected from each other. There are no more town greens. PBS is part of the commons. It is part of the public square. Burns says it is one place where we can have rational discourse in difficult times when the tapestry of the commons is frayed. Times like these. I think that is a pretty good motto.
I have wanted to go to the Tucson Festival of Books for many years. Every year they have some very interesting authors. So this was the year we decided to go. I was unable to secure tickets in advance. This was a mistake. But, I figured, that should not be a problem; after all for each venue they reserved 25% of the tickets for walk in traffic. We would just walk up right? Wrong!
To begin with we were late getting off by about 30 minutes and we missed the first event called “Sizzling Suspense” and featured 3 authors. We only knew one of them. That was J.A Jance as one of the authors. Chris and I had both read at least one of her books and liked them. However when we arrived we had a very difficult time finding parking. We had been told it was Spring break so parking would be easier. Wrong! Maybe it was easier than it was regularly, but it was definitely not easy.
As we were walking in we noticed there were a lot of people here. As we walked beside some enthusiastic attendees we were assured we would have a great time. One said she came very year and loved it. We were getting exciting despite the late start.
First, we were amazed at how many outdoor booths there were. Most were related to books or reading. All kinds for all kinds of readers. Childrens’ books, University of Arizona books, nature books, mystery books, religious books, non-fiction, etc. There were Mormons trying to give away information about tracing our ancestral roots. Maybe they wanted to convert our dead relatives. That’s what people back home say they like to do. How do you convert dead people? There were more traditional religious nuts warning us to repent. You name it there was something there for your taste. The crowds were large. There was a busker in a pedestrian underpass under a street who played wonderful music. The acoustics were astounding where he stood. Even cheap Mennonites tipped! This actually was the highlight of the festival for me. Now you know it did not end well. I also loved some bumper stickers: “He’s not My President.” “Reading is sexy.” ”Keep the Immigrants. Deport the Racists.”
Eventually we found parking, not that far away from the site but we missed the first event. Still no problem as we took time to review the brochure. We took so much time that we got to it “only” about 15 minutes before it was scheduled to start, but that should be enough time. Right? Wrong! The subject was “Is Democracy in Danger?” I thought that could not be very popular. Wrong once more! I went to the end of the line while Chris sat down near the entrance to the Hall. It was a very long line. I was getting doubtful about this process. About 25 feet from the entrance, after about 20 minutes of standing in line, it was announced that we would not get in. The line had been too long. It sucks to be us.
This was frustrating but we decided to get in line for the 3rd event even earlier so we could get in. This event was called “Lets Get Real” and featured writers from the southern border. Although this was currently a very popular subject of debate, given Trump’s declaration of an emergency on the southern border, I thought there would not be big crowd for this talk. Wrong again! I was not there early enough. Many people support the wall; many do not. Same story. Just before getting to the entrance it was announced we would not get in, even though I had been in line for nearly half an hour. So the day was half over and we had got into zero events. Needless to say I was frustrated with how this worked. I confess I even said a few bad words. I am not a very good Mennonite. Me bad. No. Tucson Festival of Books bad.
I wanted to hear Noam Chomsky, one of my favourite political writers, and the featured speaker, who would be talking in the evening but I feared the same problem. I had been enough line-ups. I told Chris, “We are going home!” Wisely, she said, “no.” Lets go to Madera Canyon so we get something out of our 90-minute drive to Tucson. Good thinking Chris. So we left without seeing 1 single event. We walked around, ate some food, looked at some weirdos and left.
It was not a total waste however. I figured out that there was no purpose in going to this Festival without tickets. Had I bought them I realized I would still have to stand in a lineups, but only for a few minutes. There was a special line-up for ticket holders and provided people were not late they would get in.
The Festival often have some very interesting authors. Here is a very partial list from years past:
2011 – Elmore Leonard
2012 – Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana
2013 – R.L. Stine
2014 – Richard Russo
2015 – Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Sam Barry, Greg Isles, Ridley Pearson, Amy Tan & Scott Turow -The Rock Bottom Remainders
2016 – J.A. Jance
2017 – T.C. Boyle
2018 – Billy Collins (America’s Poet laureate)
That is a pretty impressive list.
I also realized this was an immensely popular festival. The 2010 United States Census put the population of Tucson at 520,116, while the 2015 estimated population of the entire Tucson metropolitan statistical area was 980,263. That is similar to Winnipeg in other words. Yet this festival was huge. Many writers. Thousands of attendees. Everything free! Even parking (after we found it) was free.
What really amazed me though were the thousands of people who showed up. People of all ages. Not just intellectuals. Kids. Moms. Pops, odds and sod, Hundreds of friendly volunteers. How could there be so many people to come to hear about books? I was stunned. Yesterday when we told a friend where we were going today he was perplexed. “Why would you do that?’ he asked. Tucson has many intelligent people that was my conclusion. I hope to try it again when I am wiser.
Our son Stef and his friend Charli came to visit us in Arizona. One fo the things they wanted to see was Sedona. So we headed out one day. Along the way, thanks to Chris’ insight, we stopped at the badly misnamed Montezuma National Monument.
The Monument illustrates wonderfully the life of the southern Sinagua Native Americans who lived here hundreds of years ago. The Monument is located in the Verde Valley. The northern Sinagua people as well as the Hohokam people’s culture heavily influenced the architecture and farming that was developed here.
Ancestors of today’s Puebloan people started building the “castle” in the wall about 700 years ago. No one knows why they built their huge connected homes onto the side of the cliff, but there are various theories that have been proposed. Defence was likely part of the reason. Once the step-ladders would have been withdrawn it would have been difficult, but not impossible for invaders to attack. From the cliff the residents enjoyed a commanding view of the creek, the fields, and surrounding countryside. It was also a place where the occasional flooding of the Beaver Creek would not have cause serious problems. Having homes on a south facing wall would have been very advantageous in winter.
What is now wrongly called the castle, probably housed about 35 people. Including families in nearby pueblos and rock shelters 150 to 200 people may have lived here. It is a five-story 20-room building that occupies a cliff recess 100 feet above the valley floor. Early European settlers marveled at it and wrongly assumed it was Aztec in origin. That is why they named it after Montezuma. Very close to it was a larger 45-room condominium that has most disappeared. Only the remnants remain. For most of the time it was occupied people found a reliable source of water in the creek below.
The indigenous people who lived here belonged to a network of villages united by kinship, agriculture and cultural traditions that stretched for miles along the nearby Verde River into which Beaver Creek flows.
There were scattered villages in the region ranging in size from about 600 to 1,100 people. By 1200 CE (Common Era) communities extended all along the Verde River and its tributaries, such as Beaver Creek. Around 1300 C.E., they were all part of a complex settlement network that is now largely lost on account of modern residential developments. 40 large villages in eh area. The flood plains below were used to grow crops. They were also used for travelling. About 6,000 people in the valley were connected to much large populations of Native Americans to the north and south.
Originally, Indigenous People roamed the region for thousands of years, hunting and gathering food. The area’s characteristic farming and architecture emerged later influenced by near by Hohokam and the Northern Sinagua.
The first permanent settlement is believed to have been established by Hohokam people between 700 and 900 (CE). These farmers grew corn, beans, squash, and cotton using sophisticated techniques like canal irrigation to draw water from large distances. These people were civilized! I want to emphasize that. This is a them I intend to return to in my blog. They also produced their characteristic red-on-buff pottery and built ballcourts. They had one-room pit houses perched on terraces that overlooked their fields in the bottom-lands.
The people lived mainly by farming but supplemented their staple crops by hunting and gathering. Game included deer, antelope, rabbit, bear, muskrat and duck. Corn was a very important food. They also mined a local salt deposit a few miles away. There is evidence that they traded widely. Likely salt was highly sought by indigenous people throughout the west. They lived a good life, probably a lot better than the Europeans who came to visit (and plunder).
Sinagua craftsmen and artists created stone tools like axes, knives, and hammers. They created manos and mutates for grinding corn. Other crafts included bone awls, needles, woven garments of cotton, and ornaments of shells, turquoise, and local stone (argillite) for personal wear.
Southern Sinagua builders used local materials for their pueblos. The cobble walls Chris and I saw a nearby Tuzigoot a couple of years ago, are very large but poorly balanced. The limestone at Montezuma castle is fairly soft and splits unevenly. Yet Montezuma Castle, protected as it is from the elements, stood for more than 700 years. I don’t think my house will stand that long. It is one of the best-preserved prehistoric sites in the American Southwest.
By the 1950s the “castle” was no longer stable and visitations had to be prohibited. Until then tourists could crawl around the homes. In 1964 the ceiling had to be repaired. Maintenance now is constantly required.
Indigenous groups occupied the cliff dwellings between approximately 1,100 and 1,400 A.D. the area also contain a larger pueblo and many small alcove homes in the cliff face along Beaver Creek.
The buildings they built above ground and often on the cliff face, were masonry dwellings that started appearing in about 1125. At first these were small structures, but later they built pueblos. By 1150 they started building large pueblos often on hilltops or in cliff alcoves. Montezuma Castle and nearby Tuzigoot village, which Chris and I visited a couple of years ago reached their maximum size and population in the 1300s.
Various theories have been offered as to why the site was abandoned in about 1,400 a couple of centuries before the Spanish arrived. The leading theory is prolonged drought caused by climate change. Over population may also have been a factor, as is happening again in the much of the southern US. People tend to flock to nice places! Look at us. Diseases and conflicts between groups may also have influenced the move. Some have speculated that they left for religious reasons. People do strange things for religion. Many southern Sinagua people migrated to the north to pueblo villages. Some likely stayed in the Verde Valley and returned to hunter gathering.
Today we enjoyed a brief but fascinating journey into the land of Native Americans of the region. It was worth the trip. Next I will blog about Sedona.