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A blessing and a nuisance: Native American views of the annual monsoon

Some tribes view monsoon rains as life-sustaining; others, destructive.
Beliefs can vary within any one group, ASU prof says.
July 13, 2017

Tribes from around Arizona share how they view the summer rainy season

The annual summer monsoon: torrential thunderstorms, heavy rain, damaged roofs, uprooted trees, dusty vehicles and repeated trips to the car wash.

Many Arizonans approach it with a sense of dread, panic or annoyance.

They’re not indigenous peoples of Arizona.

“Moisture in any form — whether it’s flowing water, lakes, ponds, winter storms and monsoon season — is the sustenance that helps the Hopi people to survive,” said Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office in northeastern Arizona.

“Rain is the ultimate blessing to our people and answer to our prayers.”

Given the varying degrees of beliefs among Arizona tribes, indigenous people within the same tribe often hold different perspectives about rain and water, said Tennille Marley, an assistant professor in Arizona State University’s American Indian Studies program.

“There are many different beliefs about how people view or feel about the rain, from some who don’t think about the rain to those who believe it’s sacred and necessary for life,” said Marley, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe near Show Low, Arizona.

Kuwanwisiwma said when the Hopi clans originally migrated from northern America to Arizona, water became a valued part of their survival in the harsh climate. As a result, they learned to plant and rotate their crops around the monsoon, considered their New Year.

He says the Hopis traditionally plant their crops — corn, beans and watermelon — in May and continue throughout the summer. Kuwanwisiwma said they’re able to harvest those crops without irrigation and on about 12 inches of annual rainfall.

“It’s really a reflection of how the seeds have adapted and are proudly among the most drought-resistant in the world,” he said.

He added that when the Hopi people hear the first thunder of the season, “it’s a great feeling that rain is going to come.”

The Ak-Chin Indian Community, about an hour south of Phoenix, also has great reverence for rain and monsoon season, said Jeremy Johns, a museum technician for the tribe.

“The first monsoon is considered our January 1st, and we refer to it as Saguaro Fruit Month,” Johns said. “It’s an important time for us culturally and agriculturally, and we look at it as a new start, a renewal, a refreshing.”

Johns said his ancestors grew their crops in flooded washes on the 22,000-acre reservation and monsoon rains were a way for them to harness water and grow their crops. When it didn’t rain, Johns said his ancestors starved and were forced to supplement their diets by hunting and gathering.

He said that today the reservation still uses a flood-based irrigation system to grow corn, tepary beans, watermelon, O’odham squash and Devil’s Claw, a wild plant used for basketry.

Johns said because Ak-Chin is one of the smaller tribes in Arizona, they often harvest their crops with other O’odham tribesThe sister tribes are: Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Gila River Indian Community, Ak-Chin Indian Community and the Tohono O’odham Nation. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community includes the Piipaash. to build their food supply and stay connected.

“It’s a way to keep those cultural ties strong amongst us and work with each other as much as possible,” Johns said.

For the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, whose land sits along the Colorado River and straddles the Arizona/California border, the monsoon is no longer as important as it once was.

“Our ancestors were once dependent on monsoon season and rotated their crops around it, but we’re not really doing that anymore,” said John Algots, director of the Fort Mojave Physical Resources Department. “Monsoon season is more of a nuisance than anything else.”

That’s because the tribe commercially farms thousands of acres of cotton, and monsoon weather can cost them millions.

“The heat combined with the humidity sterilizes the cotton,” Algots explained. “Monsoons also cause some local flooding, though we don’t really get strong ones like you do in central Arizona.”

Like the Ak-Chin Indian Community, the Fort Mojave tribe used the same flooded-wash method to grow crops, specifically corn and squash. However, since becoming a commercial farming enterprise focusing on cotton, alfalfa hay, Bermuda seed and fiber, rain is not culturally or agriculturally significant.

“Our water source comes from the Colorado River, and we have the same vegetation and the same ability to grow crops whether it rains or not,” Algots said.

That same attitude toward the monsoon is also held by Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, but they view water as sacred, said Albert Nelson, acting manager for the tribe’s Cultural Development department.

“Agriculturally, we don’t really plant here and we don’t have any superstitions about the monsoons or the rains, nor do we have any stories about monsoons or rain,” Nelson said. “But we do look at water as being sacred because that’s how our people were created.”

Nelson said the tribe believes their origins traced to Montezuma Well in the Verde Valley, about 95 miles north of Phoenix.

“At that time the well was actually dried and then a flood happened underneath the earth,” Nelson said. “Our people then climbed out of the well, and then the water rose up to the present-day level.”

Nelson said the people who didn’t make it out of the well turned into fish and other water-based creatures, and as a result, his people don’t eat fish.

“We have the belief that things that come out of the water are our relatives,” he said.

Beyond agricultural needs and spiritual beliefs, ASU’s Marley added that water is tied directly to Native American health.

“Because of colonization, water isn’t consumed as a primary beverage and has been replaced by soda and other non-indigenous drinks, which can contribute to health issues,” she said.

Reporter , ASU Now

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Is a biological driver behind our need for self-fulfillment?

ASU study challenges traditional assumptions about self-actualization.
July 14, 2017

ASU study asks what it means for humans to realize their full potential; oftentimes it can be tied to passing genes to next generation

As human beings, what drives us to higher levels of existence? Once we have satisfied the basics — food, shelter, a mate, children — then what? For many it’s the idea of self-actualization, or realizing our full potential.

But what does self-actualization look like? How do we know when we are doing it? When are we trying to realize our highest potential? Self-actualization is a popular idea — in psychology, business, education and the multimillion-dollar self-help industry. Everyone, it seems, wants to realize his or her full potential.

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ASU doctoral student Jaimie Arona Krems

“Despite all of this interest in becoming self-actualized, we still didn’t know what people believed it would mean to realize their full potential,” said Jaimie Arona Krems, a doctoral student in social psychology at Arizona State University, and one of the authors of a new series of studies on what people think it means to be self-actualized. “So we asked them.”

That research, “Individual perceptions of self-actualization: What functional motives are linked to fulfilling one’s full potential?” was published in the early online edition of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Krems and her co-authors, ASU professor of psychology Douglas Kenrick and University of Iowa’s Rebecca Neel, a former ASU doctoral student, drew on ideas from evolutionary biology to challenge some traditional assumptions about what it means to be self-actualized.

“The traditional view of self-actualization saw it as somehow ‘above’ baser physiological and social desires — it sits on top of Abraham Maslow’s famous pyramid of needs,” Kenrick said. “In fact, Maslow’s favorite examples of self-actualizing behaviors were going off to play the guitar or write poetry for your own satisfaction.”

“But if you take an evolutionary perspective on human behavior, it seems unlikely that our ancestors would have evolved to solve all the problems of survival, making friends, gaining status and winning mates, just to go off and entertain themselves,” he added.

From an evolutionary perspective, developing one’s full potential — by becoming an expert musician, scientist or philosopher — might translate into social benefits, such as winning respect and affection from other members of the group, and even winning the attention of potential mates.

So the research team recruited college students and other adults, and asked them what they would be doing if they were realizing their full potential right now. They surveyed more than 1,200 people and had them rate the extent to which their answers reflected several fundamental and evolutionarily relevant social motives (finding friends, seeking status, caring for kin). One of the predictions that the team made was that most people would link pursuing self-actualization to pursuing status (getting all A’s in school, being famous in their fields of endeavor).

Indeed, people do link self-actualization to achieving status and esteem, a motivation that can and often does translate into “fitness,” or the success of passing genes to future generations. The importance of status was unique to self-actualization and did not apply to other forms of self-fulfillment.

When people thought about achieving meaning in life (what psychologists call eudaimonic well-being) and global life satisfaction (subjective well-being), they emphasized spending time with friends and family; when they thought about pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain (hedonic well-being), they placed relatively more emphasis on finding new romantic/sexual partners and staying safe from physical harm.

“Although pursuing status and pursuing self-actualization might feel different,” Krems said, “these pursuits might be rooted in a common motivational system, one that pushes us to go after those biological and social rewards that, in our ancestral past, would have made it more likely that our genes appeared in subsequent generations.”

The team was also able to provide a scientific explanation for what Maslow had long ago mentioned — that different activities lead to self-actualization for different people. In line with modern ideas from evolutionary biology, a person’s life-history features (sex, age, relationship status, parenting status) influenced the goals he or she linked to self-actualization — and in sensible, potentially functional ways. For example, single people emphasized that finding new romantic partners would be a part of their self-actualization, whereas partnered people emphasized that maintaining their existing romantic relationships would be a part of their self-actualization. And parents — especially when they had very young children — emphasized that caring for those children would be a major part of their self-actualization.

By finding mates, keeping mates and caring for children, people might feel self-actualized, and they might also be furthering exactly those biologically relevant outcomes that lead to getting their genes into next generations.

“So, the desire for self-actualization isn’t ‘above’ biological and social needs; people’s drive to achieve their own highest potential is all about achieving critically important social goals,” Kenrick concluded.

Or as Krems explained: “For real people, pursuing self-actualization might further biologically relevant goals.”

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