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Mayo Ethnobotany

Land, History, and Traditional Knowledge in Northwest Mexico

David Yetman

Publication Year: 2002

The Mayos, an indigenous people of northwestern Mexico, live in small towns spread over southern Sonora and northern Sinaloa, lands of remarkable biological diversity. Traditional Mayo knowledge is quickly being lost as this culture becomes absorbed into modern Mexico. Moreover, as big agriculture spreads into the region, the natural biodiversity of these lands is also rapidly disappearing. This engaging and accessible ethnobotany, based on hundreds of interviews with the Mayos and illustrated with the authors' strikingly beautiful photographs, helps preserve our knowledge of both an indigenous culture and an endangered environment.

This book contains a comprehensive description of northwest Mexico's tropical deciduous forests and thornscrub on the traditional Mayo lands reaching from the Sea of Cortés to the foothills of the Sierra Madre. The first half of the book is a highly readable account of the climate, geology, and vegetation of the region. The authors also provide a valuable history of the people, their language, culture, festival traditions, and plant use. The second half of the book is an annotated list of plants presenting the authors' detailed findings on plant use in Mayo culture.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xii

...Tom and I happened into the Río Mayo region independently and explored the land for several years unbeknownst to each other. We became caught in the same intellectual maelstrom, undertook this project, and have emerged deeply changed by the work we can never fully complete. This study occupied us for six years, and our studies continue. During that time we developed strong new ties to the land, to the people who live...

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pp. xiii-xiv

...Many individuals and organizations provided assistance in the preparation of this manuscript. Agnese Nelms Haury, Native & Nature, the University of Arizona–University of Sonora Collaborative Grants, and the Jacobs Research Funds gave major financial support. The Southwest Center of the University of Arizona also provided funding, and the director, Joseph Wilder, o¤ered ongoing encouragement as well. A grant from the Provost’s Author Support Fund of the University of Arizona helped cover publication...


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1. The People and the Land

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pp. 3-15

...In 1980 one of the most popular major league baseball players was a Mexican named Fernando Valenzuela. On the nights he pitched his legendary screwball for the Los Angeles Dodgers, management could count on as many as ten thousand additional admissions. For five years bleacher seats were sold out for every home game in which Valenzuela...

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2. A Brief Ethnography of the Mayos

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pp. 16-29

...Almada’s historical pronouncement may be fact or fancy but is intriguing. We will confine ourselves to documented history and hope that Almada was right. At the time of first contact with Spaniards, Mayos were settled enough to be more or less constantly at war with the Yaquis, their neighbors to the north (with whom they share a common Cáhita language). They also were involved in periodic skirmishes with other...

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3. Historical and Contemporary Mayos

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pp. 30-61

...While the focus of this work is primarily ethnobotanical—the plants used by Mayos—we present the following history in an attempt to clarify the historic and present land tenure in the region in a way that is sympathetic to the Mayos. The fact that most Mayos live today in scattered small villages over a large region and are familiar with a variety of habitats can be attributed to historical forces that impelled or drew them in one direction...

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4. Plant and Animal Life

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pp. 62-78

...The plant communities found in the lands inhabited by Mayos are varied and complex, more so than in the lands of any other groups indigenous to northwest Mexico. In keeping with Martin et al. (1998) we have adopted the following categories for classifying vegetation: coastal vegetation, coastal thornscrub, foothills thornscrub, tropical deciduous forest, and oak woodland. The last category is represented only marginally...

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5. Eight Plants That Make Mayos Mayos

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pp. 79-106

...The plants described below have key roles in the life of Mayos, so much so that we suppose that without them the Mayo way of life would be quite di¤erent. We selected these species because of their variety of uses and the Mayos’ general familiarity with them. They are presented in no particular order. While none of them is endemic to Mayo lands (the jito is endemic to the Cáhita region), their wide use indicates their importance...


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6. Plant Uses

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pp. 109-126

...A traditional Mayo house constitutes a remarkable primer for initiating an ethnobotanical study. As the annotated plant list in chapter 7 indicates, a host of native plants are to be found in every such Mayo house, used for everything from building materials and home implements to foods and livestock management materials. Medicinal plants are stored between the vigas (beams) and latas (narrow poles laid side by side) of the ceiling...

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7. An Annotated List of Plants

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pp. 127-272

...In gathering the following data on the Mayos’ knowledge and use of plants, we visited the region and consulted with Mayos for nearly ten years, beginning in the early 1990s and concluding in 2000. We also familiarized ourselves to the maximum possible extent with Mayo history, the geography and geology of the region, the region’s fauna and flora, and the state of contemporary Mayo culture. We have doubtless omitted important data and considerations, but we hope that others will complement...

Appendix A. Mayo Region Place Names and Their Meanings

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pp. 273-275

Appendix B. Yoreme Consultants

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pp. 276-280

Appendix C. Gazetteer of the Mayo Region

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pp. 281-292

Appendix D. Mayo Plants Listed by Spanish Name

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pp. 293-302

Appendix E. Mayo Plants Listed by Mayo Name

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pp. 303-312

Appendix F. Glossary of Mayo and Spanish Terms

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pp. 313-318


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pp. 319-330

Works Cited

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pp. 331-336


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pp. 337-359

Production Notes

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p. 360-360

E-ISBN-13: 9780520926356
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520227217

Page Count: 372
Publication Year: 2002