Wings in the Desert
A Folk Ornithology of the Northern Pimans
There is a common but often unspoken arrogance on the part of outside observers that folk science and traditional knowledge—the type developed by Native communities and tribal groups—is inferior to the “formal science” practiced by Westerners. In this lucidly written and humanistic account of the O’odham tribes of Arizona and Northwest Mexico, ethnobiologist Amadeo M. Rea exposes the limitations of this assumption by exploring the rich ornithology that these tribes have generated about the birds that are native to their region. He shows how these peoples’ observational knowledge provides insights into the behaviors, mating habits, migratory patterns, and distribution of local bird species, and he uncovers the various ways that this knowledge is incorporated into the communities’ traditions and esoteric belief systems. Drawing on more than four decades of field and textual research along with hundreds of interviews with tribe members, Rea identifies how birds are incorporated, both symbolically and practically, into Piman legends, songs, art, religion, and ceremonies. Through highly detailed descriptions and accounts loaded with Native voice, this book is the definitive study of folk ornithology. It also provides valuable data for scholars of linguistics and North American Native studies, and it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how humans make sense of their world. It will be of interest to historians of science, anthropologists, and scholars of indigenous cultures and folk taxonomy.
"This is more than a book about birds; it describes the birds through Piman eyes, illustrating the importance of each bird to everyday life in the community." —Arizona Daily Star