i n t r o d u c t i o n
Savannas and Deserts: Two Histories of Cultural Landscapes
The climate of this Pimería is temperate, not inclined to extremes of either heat or
cold. . . . The terrain is flat, but interwoven with hills and mountain ranges that make
it beautiful, even if the hills interrupt the roadways, which extend flat and straight
through scrub woodlands of mesquite and other trees and desert matorral [brush].
Along the riverbeds grow cottonwoods, willows, walnuts, and taray [of European
origin, Tamarix gallica]. . . . In the mountains there are good pine timbers for build-
ing churches in the missions that are already established. . . . The land is fertile, in
some areas very abundant, while in others somewhat sterile, more because of the
lack of cultivation than for the quality of the land. Those who live there, called pa-
pabotas [pápagos; tohono o’odham], ‘‘bean eating Pimas,’’ are content with very little
to get by. . . . The other products of this Pimería are maize, the tepari bean, and other
seeds that the Pimas collect as they ripen and save for their sustenance.∞
And since
they have dealt with the Spaniards, and the missionaries have begun to work with
them, they have good wheat harvests, especially in the west, beans of all kinds, lentils,
squashes, and melons. . . . From this we may infer that the fertility of this land is not
at all inferior, and in some ways superior, to parts of New Spain.—Luis Velarde,
Primera relación de la Pimería Alta, 1716
The province we commonly call Chiquitos is . . . for the most part wooded, with
thick forests that are abundant with honey and wax due to the many bees of di√erent
species [found there]. . . . The terrain, itself, is dry, but in the rainy season, which lasts
from December to May, the countryside is flooded so disproportionately that trade
is curtailed, forming rivers and lagoons that fill with many di√erent kinds of fish. . . .
Once winter has passed [May to August] the fields dry out, and the heavy work
of cutting down tree trunks and clearing away under brush is necessary to plant the
hillsides and raised ground with crops that yield good harvests of maize, which is the
wheat of the Indies, rice, cotton, sugar, tobacco, and other native fruits of the land
such as bananas, pineapples, peanuts, and a variety of squash that is better and more
delicious than in Europe.—Juan Patricio Fernández, Relación historial de las
misiones de indios chiquitos, 1726
Two Jesuit missionaries, writing within a decade of each other, but thousands
of miles apart, described the provinces of their calling in terms of the land and
the peoples who inhabited them.≤ Their geographies portrayed sculpted land-
scapes, blessed with wild fruits but made to yield bountiful crops through
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