The Gift of Good Land:
Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural
In response to their meager land, the Papago developed a culture that was one of the grand human achievements.
[I]n these almost impossible circumstances, the Papago achieved what Bowden accurately calls a “society of abundance.” The poverty of our own “affluent society” never existed among them. …”Having little,” Bowden says, “they shared all.”
Contact with white people brought many changes, of which the most radical may have been wells drilled into the aquifers that underlay the desert. But this was a part of a government program that also included livestock production and education. Bowden notes the irony in this effort, which proposed to bring self-sufficiency to a people already marvelously self-sufficient. The opposite happened: “Education divided the tribe between those who had seen the tractor and those who had not. Stimulation of the cattle industry resulted in the ruin of the rangelands. The wells…cut the ground from underneath the ancient mutual dependence and sharing. A half century after the commissioners’ optimistic forecast, the Papago are not respected by their white neighbors and are not self-supporting. They now have a groundwater problem, an overgrazing problem, and an economic problem. The society of abundance is gone.”
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