Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians

Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians

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Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians

Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians

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Excerpt

We speak of the functions of certain plant parts; for example, we say the leaf makes food for the plant, the bark has a protective function, the colored petals of a flower attract insects. What are the Indians' ideas of the functions of the parts of plants? It seems that the majority of their ideas arise directly from their observation of life phenomena; they do not arise as the result of thought and deliberation; there is little evidence of philosophizing or of inquiry into the reasons for the existence of things and conditions. They say that the leaves make the plant grow; when the leaves fall off the plant stops growing. The tree in the winter condition is not considered to be dead; they say it does not grow then because it has no leaves; the tree stays just the way it is in the fall until leaves come again. This idea arises purely from their observation of seasonal vegetative events; they have not thought out nor wondered how and why it is that the leaves cause resumption of growth. The leaves fall from the tree because they get ripe like fruit. If you ask them why a cottonwood sheds its leaves and a pine tree does not, they have no answer. They observe the fact, but so far as could be ascertained they have not thought about the reason therefor. We find no folklore connected with the great majority of phenomena relating to plant life. The roots of a tree are the parts upon which the plant sits. The word for root, pu, is the same as that for haunches, buttocks; base, bottom, or foot of inanimate objects. They have not observed that roots take up water, but they say the "roots have to get wet or the plant dies." The bark is considered to be a protectionto the tree; the word for bark, also for skin, is k'owà; the bark is the skin of the tree. Spines, thorns, prickles are not thought to have any protective function. The Tewa appear to have a very vague idea of sex in plants. To corn pollen, which is used so much by them in their religious ceremonies and which is produced by the plant in such great abundance, was ascribed no use; the informants had not observed that it falls on the corn silk and that its presence there is necessary for the development of the ear of corn. It is merely something finely divided and yellow, and holy when used in certain ways. A Tewa once made the statement, however, that one can not get a field of purely white corn because the wind always mixes the colors (see p. 84), but his idea was perhaps vague. The little plant is thought . . .

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