By: Reem Barakat
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
This article aims to shed some light on the similarities between two indigenous cultures, in which the first was colonized in the 1800s by Euro-Americans, and the second has been under the Israeli occupation since 69 years and is still facing brutal attempts of ethnic cleansing. It is an ongoing fight over land and land resources that are considered to be basic needs of human survival. These two indigenous societies are living in two similar climatic environments and ecosystems despite being in different parts of the world.
The first are the Native Californian Indians who lived in the Central Valley area, between the pacific coast and the Sierra Nevada, and that area lies under the Mediterranean climate category (George, n,d). The second are the Palestinians and similarly, Palestine has a mediterranean climate due to it’s location between the subtropical aridity characteristic of Egypt, and the subtropical humidity of the eastern mediterranean area (FAO 2016). The climatic characteristics of these regions vary between dry, tropical and temperate zones, with cold wet winters and warm hot summers, and this unique climate resulted in the formation of the mediterranean ecosystem (Spano et al. 2003). These climatic similarities deserve further research in order to explore the similarities and/or differences between the Palestinians and American Indians in the ecological lifestyle they have adapted being affected by similar environmental characteristics.
A brief comparison will be made between Native Palestinians and American Indians in terms of their attachment to the land, some of their ecological practices and the nature of their lifestyles. And to briefly show the effects that colonization and modernity had on their lifestyles.
Attachment to the land
Both societies have strong connections to their land, despite many trials of land theft and ethnic cleansing. Palestinians were mostly farmers cultivating their lands, and American Indians had many spiritual relations with their land resembled by their rituals and the enormous knowledge they had regarding its fauna and flora.
Palestine is mainly considered to be an agricultural land, as two thirds of its population used to work in the agricultural sector before 1948. According to a study made by Laura Adwan (2011), ِthe Palestinian economy before the Israeli occupation in the west bank and gaza was mostly agricultural, encompassing about 40% of the total workforce.
It is falsely claimed by the Israelis that Palestine was a barren meadow before their arrival of which when the desert bloomed, as an outcome of their superior technology. In fact, Palestinians were highly seduced to sell their properties before the occupation, but because of their strong connection to the land, the majority refused to give up their ownership rights for any price. When Britain was occupying Palestine between 1917 and 1948, aside to bringing their military forces and savagery; they brought scholars whose main jobs were to collect and produce information about the land they occupied. And those would go back in volumes of books to Britain to justify their government’s imperial projects abroad. According to Palestine remembered website (2002), one of the surveys under the name “A Survey of Palestine” (which was prepared by the British Mandate for UN in 1946) reveals that the majority of agricultural crops were cultivated by the Palestinians. Thus, 92% of the country’s grains, 86% of its grapes, 99% of its olives, 60% of its bananas, 77% of its vegetables, 95% of its melons and more than 99% of its tobacco were produced by Palestinians. This is in a period when the Jewish population was a minority, which refutes their claims in taking the credit behind the blooming of the desert (Sheety 2015).
There is not much difference between those false claims and what happened with the American Indians. Terms like “Hunter- gatherer” or “Forager” were used to describe these tribes, to imply that American Indians never stayed long enough in one place to leave environmental human imprints. This is in an attempt to abolish the environmental and biological impact these natives left on that land before the arrival of the Euro- Americans. Those terms were also used to erase the fact that land was flourishing due to the existence of those tribes and their practices. Additionally, European scholars were also documenting and reporting back their observations of American Indians, their lifestyle and their interaction with nature (Anderson 2005).
Land management practices
- Land cultivation:
The Palestinian and Native Californian Indian food dependency strategies before their colonizations were somewhat different from each other. The Palestinians were very dependant on cultivating their land for food, while American Indians were dependant on the vegetation that naturally grew in their environment, as main part of their diet.
In a study made by Laura Odwan (2011), one Palestinian farmer explained that farmers used to divide crops according to the suitability of each crop with the landscape characteristics. Mountains or hilly landscapes for example were allotted for trees, and flat lands for vegetables. Furthermore, he explained that in the past agriculture was rain-fed and crops such as tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers used to grow without the need of irrigation like nowadays.
On the other hand, depending on the land’s wild vegetation for food meant that American Indians enjoyed diverse and rich nutrition. California’s nature was and still is very diverse due to its various climates, topographies and soils. This allows the growing of different vegetation types through valleys and mountains from the north to the south. The coast is moist, the desert is arid and gets rain showers for example, and this affects the type of vegetation and plant communities that covers each area (Anderson 2005).
Although not similar in their food dependency strategies, their surrounding environments were very similar and enabled them to enjoy the richness and nutritional values of diversified vegetation.
Plowing was a common land management practice for both societies, although for different purposes.
Plowing was part of the traditional Palestinian farming techniques, that was important for land preparation. “Shaqqa Farkha” was the dominant style of plowing, and it means opening the soil in trenches and then covering it up again in another line. This technique allowed the right temperatures to stay in certain areas for planting, while conserving the soil’s moisture in the gardens. The soil was ploughed two to six times a year, by donkeys and mules or ox. The mules ploughed the open ridges and the broaders valleys, whereas the donkeys ploughed the narrow terraces under the low branches of the orchard trees (Obrender 2015).
For American Indians in California, plowing was applied for the harvesting of underground perennial plant organs such as roots, tubers and bulbs. These plant parts were very important for the American Indians and were used for food, dye, basketries, medicine and ceremonies. This soil disturbance was made using digging sticks and helped to aerate the soil, decrease weed competition and cut the small bulblets in order to give them a better chance for growing. American Indians always left some plants behind and limited this gathering of plant parts in order to leave seeds for guaranteeing reproduction (Anderson 2005).
Water and water resources were almost never wasted, and whenever possible, they were wisely directed and managed towards irrigating as much areas as possible in both Palestine and Northern California.
The Palestinian people followed the Roman irrigation system which depends on artificial channels, bridges, pools and wells. This heritage became a famous pattern in every Palestinian countryside that had natural water springs. Battir village represents an important example of this ancient irrigation technique which was considered to be the oldest in Palestine. Two main water springs are existent in Battir and are always flowing with water: Battir spring and Jame’ spring. In addition to those mainsprings, there are other few springs that are less flowing, therefore the water gathers slowly into the small archaeological pools irrigating the surrounding lands. This channel was connecting the spring with the lower valley instead of the earth channels that once existed and therefore provided irrigation water for the whole valley. The valley is usually divided between farmers agricultural lands, therefore the irrigation is also divided throughout the day, whereas each piece of land receives around 15 minutes of water per day for example, depending on the water scarcity in each season of course. This water irrigation system also reaches the lowest and farthest parts of the valley through extending the channels to enable the flowing water to reach the pools, which in return spread the water into the lowest parts of the valley (Batmeh 2012).
Similarly, irrigation was managed through artificial channels dug by the Owens Valley Paiute to direct the water runoff which was coming from the melting snow of the Sierra Nevada into the valley. However, the water wasn’t channeled to irrigate certain areas only but just as in the Palestinian irrigation system, water was managed to be spread into the valley to include the wild vegetation. This water spreading system gave life to the valley, and thus turned it into a lush green space. It is important to note that the valley was divided into Southern and Northern plots, and only one of them received water each year, to make sure that fertility is preserved in the land (Wei, 2016).
Natives and animals
Animals play an important role in keeping the land productive and fertile, and they also have many other functions in which Palestinians and American Indians made use of.
Raising farm animals for Palestinians had two main functions: One is to serve, plow, move and carry things, and the second is the production of meat, milk, eggs, skin and mats. Additionally, each farmer used to raise a group of sheeps and lambs that would suffice their needs of meat, and yogurt in its many forms (Batmeh 2012) .
Similarly, American Indians were very dependant on Buffalos that roamed the Great Plains and provided different services for the natives. These services included: Primary food source, clothing and shelter source, and their bones were used as kitchen tools. Additionally, Buffalos helped in creating an ecological balance due to the mowing they did while grazing. This added fertility to the prairies which they roamed and kept the soil healthy( Roberts 2017).
The lifestyle of American Indians in California was mostly reliant on gathering, fishing, hunting, making fires, and creating tools out of stones. Moreover, their diet was very diverse because of their constant movements which were dependant on the seasonality and availability of plant and animal resources (Anderson 2005).
As for the Palestinians, farming used to depend on the family members as workforce to provide self sufficiency and food sovereignty, and selling was not as common as trading products back then. It was a natural lifestyle where people used to dig, plant, farm, sleep and then do it all over again the next morning. Nowadays, farming is a job that is economically oriented towards market production (Adwan 2011).
The purpose of this article was to shed some light on two indigenous cultures and their approaches towards land management, taking into consideration their climatic and environmental similarities. There is no doubt that these two cultures share similar practices and land management techniques, such as their approaches towards animals, irrigation, ploughing and self sufficiency. Nevertheless, the relationship between these similarities and the climatic similarities still needs to be further researched.
However, these two native populations had strong ties to their lands, and a rich history in which they developed special techniques to manage their surrounding environments, in the aim of providing for their most basic needs. This wisdom is slowly disappearing due to the colonial practices that wish to replace the old with modern, and erase any traces left for these populations that could prove their rightfulness to the land.
Their wisdom and ecological adaptation methods used to provide self sufficiency. Farming for example, used to suffice Palestinians’ needs with blessed food for both humans and the animals. Vegetables were grown without watering, because water was scarce and no pipelines were existent. Weeding was done using hands and scythe with no chemicals like in today’s modern farming. Modern financial responsibilities such as electricity, water and telephone bills were not existent and people did not even know what candy, canned food or saturated yogurts and cheese were (Adwan 2011).
American Indians were also self sufficient in their own lifestyle, to the point that Euro-American scholars were very surprised at how such a big population at the Central Valley managed to survive with no cultivation whatsoever (Anderson 2005).
Nevertheless and despite the continuous trials of ethnic cleansing and despite the land and cultural thefts, American Indians and Palestinians have not given up their struggles, and they are still fighting for their rights. Many liberation movements have been formed, such as Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and American Indian movement as two examples of these movements. They were found to confront the continuous land intrusions, and to recover their stolen lands. (Robideau, 2006). Although these movements play or once played an important role in this ongoing battle, those two native populations deserve the most credit for their strong will and fight for freedom. Their fight for freedom of land and for freedom of humanity is endless, despite the many ups and downs that they continuously go through.
"The white master will not understand the ancient words
here, in the free souls between heaven and trees...
It is free Columbus's right to find India in any sea
and he has the right to call our ghosts Indians,
and he can break the compass of the sea to rectify
the mistakes of the North Wind, but he does not
believe that human beings are equal as the air and
as the water outside the Kingdom of the map!
They are born just as the people in Barcelona are born
but they worship the God of nature in everything, and
do not worship gold…
Free Columbus is looking for a language that he did not
find here, and for gold in the skulls of our good ancestors
and he had what he wanted from the living and the dead
in us, so why does he continue the war of extermination
from his grave, till the end?"
Translated from Mahmoud Darwish's poem "The Red Indian Speech"
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Batmeh, N. 212. Palestine, The Four Seasons. Jerusalem Media Communication Center.
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