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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Influence of Agriculture on Aboriginal Socio-Political Organization in the Lower Colorado River Valley


The Yuman-speaking peoples of the Southwest and California were for the most part non-agricultural in pre-contact times, but the tribes of the lower Colorado River Valley did regularly farm. These tribes were, from north to south, the Mohave, Halchidhoma, Yuma (Cuchan), Kahwan, Halyikwamai, and Cocopa. Castetter and Bell (1951:74) estimated that, on the average, they obtained from 30% to 50% of their food supply from agriculture. These percentages are low—and in many years they must have been much lower—yet River Yuman culture differed from that of the Yuman-speaking peoples of California and upland Arizona in many ways, the most fundamental of which represent, we believe, an adaptation to agriculture and to the distinctive environment in which it was practiced. In this paper, we will suggest that the successful practice of agriculture in the Colorado River Valley necessitated a settlement pattern to which the distinctive River Yuman sib system is an adaptation. This in turn gave rise to a form of chieftainship, a type of warfare, and a supporting ideology that was quite unlike that of the non-agricultural Yuman-speaking peoples of California and Arizona.

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