Aridoamérica: Characteristics, Climate, Flora, Fauna, Relief

Aridoamérica is a cultural region that is located between the north-central zone of Mexico and the southern United States. This term was coined to denote the cultural region existing before European colonization in these territories. It limits to the south with Mesoamerica and to the north with Oasisamérica .

Aridoamérica is characterized by an arid and dry climate, with little ecological diversity, since the conditions are harsh. Water is scarce and is located in small streams and underground sources.

aridoamerica region

It has a latitude close to the Tropic of Cancer, so it has a very hot climate that can reach extreme temperatures. For this reason, the vegetation is scarce, with the majority of cacti plants and small shrubs.

It is an extensive territory with a rugged orography, counting on several mountain ranges that cross it, such as the Sierra Madre Oriental and western mountain ranges, as well as Sierra Nevada.

Main characteristics of Aridoamérica

Location

Aridoamérica comprises the northern territories of Mexico and the southern part of the United States. Specifically, it includes the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Sonora, Coahuila, Baja California Norte, Baja California Sur, Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Durango and parts of the states of Zacatecas, Nayarit, and San Luis Potosí.

In the part that corresponds to the United States, Aridoamérica is found in the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and part of the states of Kansas, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon.

In the northeast of Mexico we find the Sierra de Tamaulipas, one of the most inhabited areas of occupation in Aridoamérica over the years.

In this territory, archaeologists found traces of cultures dating from the early years of the Christian era and one of the oldest forms of agriculture in America was located.

The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest desert in North America, with an area that reaches 300,000 km². Within this desert climate the Cuatro Ciénagas area stands out, which stands out for the location of about 200 ponds and oases and its own ecosystem .

The rest of the desert is practically uninhabitable, since the characteristics prevent the development of flora and fauna, with no other sources of water than the oases in the Cuatro Ciénagas area.

Weather 

The climate of Aridoamérica is desert and semi-desert. Being in the latitude corresponding to the Tropic of Cancer, it has high temperatures throughout the year.

The variations in temperature are extreme, reaching 40ºC throughout the day, then dropping to 10º below zero at night.

These climatic conditions make many of the parts of Aridoamérica desert and semi-desert, care very harsh conditions for the habitability of living beings. In desert areas, sudden winds can arise that move large amounts of dust.

Being such an arid and dry area, when the torrential rain season occurs, it can flood some areas, which are formed of limestone rock, causing greater erosion and soil wear.

Commerce

Due to the characteristics of the terrain, in order for the inhabitants of Aridoamérica to survive, they had to trade with their neighbors in Mesoamerica and Oasisamérica.

They established commercial ties with the civilizations that surrounded them and, in addition to the products, they benefited from the culture and advances of the great civilizations. They traded and acquired things like skins, pearls, and fish from their neighbors.

By developing a culture of subsistence, many engaged in warfare among themselves, thus stealing food from neighboring towns to survive. They normally came into conflict with their Mesoamerican neighbors, who referred to them generically as “Chichimecas.”

When the cultures of Mesoamerica were losing power, many of these Chichimecas, instead of attacking them, joined them causing a miscegenation of cultures.

Relief

Chihuahuan Desert

The relief of Aridoamérica stands out for its extensive plains, mostly arid or semi-arid. 

It is crossed by the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range and the Sierra Madre Occidental, which causes it to be a fairly isolated and isolated region.

This results in the presence of humid winds coming from the coast being infrequent and, therefore, its characteristic desert landscapes are generated.

Flora

Biznaga

The biznaga is a plant that still remains today as a representative element of current Mexico. It is characterized by being a type of cactus that grows in semi-arid and arid areas; For this reason it was one of the main plants in Aridoamérica

These plants are round and can store a considerable amount of water within themselves, which they maintain in their structure through their tissues. In addition, they are characterized by having large flowers, with bright colors and strong smells; With these they attract the attention of other organisms, which allows them to carry out the pollination process.

The biznagas are characterized by having a slow growth, especially during their early stages. The cultures of Aridoamérica greatly appreciated the biznaga, since it is a plant that can be fully exploited; the inhabitants of this territory consumed its flower, the stem, the fruits and even the seeds.

On the other hand, some authors indicate that the Aridoamericans attributed special characteristics to the fruits of the biznaga, since they considered them delicacies.

Agave

Also known as maguey, it is believed that this plant held a special meaning for the inhabitants of Aridoamerica.

Research has shown that the agave plant was perceived as a representation of the goddess Mayahuel, associated with fertility. This goddess was depicted as a mother with 400 breasts, from which her 400 offspring fed.

As a result of this interpretation, it is considered that the agave was seen as a provider of food and well-being.

In fact, all parts of the plant were used efficiently; for example, the sap was used to heal wounds and it was also the basis for obtaining fibers, with which fabrics were made that were used in the creation of different clothing or even ropes and saucepans.

On the other hand, with the thorns of the maguey they made nails, needles and punches; and the leaves of the plant were used as a complement for the roofs and even to heat the interior of the homes through combustion.

Perhaps one of the best known uses of agave, for which this plant has transcended, is to be the base for the preparation of the famous tequila, a traditional Mexican drink. From the central part of this plant, the inhabitants of Aridoamérica obtained a substance known as mead, which had intoxicating properties.

Nopal cactus

This plant was called nopalli by the inhabitants of Aridoamérica. It is a cactus of which there are references from about 25,000 years ago, and which is currently extremely widespread in Mexico.

It is estimated that the nopal was one of the primary resources used by the men and women of Aridoamerica for their sustenance and survival; It is believed that this plant was key when they settled.

The nopal was eaten accompanied by meat from hunted animals, as well as tomatoes, avocados, chili peppers and chelites, among others.

In addition, a red dye was extracted from the cactus; this was generated thanks to the action of a parasite of this plant, which was called cochineal grana. This dye was used in your fabrics, in their paintings and in their temples.

Another use given to nopal was medicinal: with this plant they treated swelling, tonsillitis, burns and it is even thought that it favored fertility.

Fauna

Snakes

Snakes are characteristic of dry spaces and in Aridoamérica these reptiles were abundant. Among the most common specimens in this desert area is the Mojave snake (Crotalus scutulatus), whose venom is considered highly dangerous.

It usually lives near cactus and has a color that ranges from light green to dark brown; this tone varies according to the area where the snake is found. The extension of this snake varies from 50 to about 90 centimeters long.

It has white strips that widen when they reach the tail, as well as diamonds that can be seen along its entire length and fade as they approach its tail.

Arachnids

There are many species of arachnids and the vast majority of these are common inhabitants in arid areas. In Aridoamérica you can find several representatives, but perhaps the most emblematic are the scorpions.

Right in the Aridoamerica area there is a specimen called the giant hairy scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis). It bears this name because it can measure about 14 centimeters long, much more than other species of arachnids.

This scorpion is capable of feeding on lizards and even snakes, and its body is made up of brown hairs that cover its legs and serve to identify some type of vibration that the ground experiences.

They live in burrows dug by themselves, which are usually about 2 meters deep. They are nocturnal hunters and, in general, their most active dynamic takes place at night.

Lizards

Given the dry characteristics of the environment, lizards are also considered common representatives in Aridoamerica. One of the most emblematic lizards is the Mexican spotted lizard, whose main characteristic is that it is poisonous.

This lizard, also called a chaquirado lizard, is genetically related to the Gila monster and can measure up to 90 centimeters, reaching a significant size. Its maximum weight can reach up to 4 kilograms and is characterized by having orange and yellow colors throughout.

Its poisonous capacity is such that it generates a poisonous substance even from birth, so it can be very dangerous. Despite being extremely lethal, it has been linked to cures for some types of diabetes, as well as even treating Parkinson’s disease.

Cultures

Due to its extreme climate, the Aridoamerica area is characterized by few human settlements.  The cultures that followed one another in this area over the years were semi-nomadic, they had fixed locations depending on the time of year.

These lived in a tribal way developing their own characteristics, such as language, culture or religion. They lived on the basis of hunting and gathering, and lived in non-permanent constructions, the tipies, made with sticks and animal skins.

Unlike their southern neighbors, such as the Mayans or Aztecs, these peoples did not develop writing or urban centers, although they developed their own pottery and craft techniques.

Among the cultures that we find in this area, we highlight the Anasazi and Hohokam, which were one of the few sedentary cultures in the Aridoamerica area. In the Stone Age they formed their settlements with rock and created networks of canals for irrigation of crops.

Some cultures of Aridoamérica are:

Acaxee

The acaxee tribe existed in Aridoamérica during the arrival of the Spanish. They were located east of Sinaloa, west of the Sierra Madre and in the northwest of the current Mexican state of Durango.

They were characterized by living in large family groups, which functioned independently of each other. They only supported each other when military strategies were involved.

They boasted a sedentary life and an agricultural economic system located in the mountainous area they inhabited.

Due to the geographic conditions of the area, the harvests of the crops were not sufficient, so the acaxee also depended on fishing, hunting and gathering fruits.

They practiced religious rituals linked to planting, fishing, hunting and war. In general, they were seen as a belligerent people.

Even the chroniclers of the colony narrated that the acaxee practiced cannibalism, feeding on the bodies of enemies who lost their lives in battle.

The acaxee inhabited the same region as the tribe of the xiximes, with whom they were in a permanent state of war.

This belligerent condition allowed them to be one of the few tribes that resisted the conquest of the Spanish colonizers. However, what led to their extinction were the diseases brought by the Spanish to America.

Caxcán or Cazcanes

The Cazcanes were a sedentary indigenous group derived from the Utoaztecs. These belonged to the Chichimecas, an alliance of various indigenous tribes that stopped the advance of the Spanish in what is now known as the Mexican state of Zacatecas.

The chronicler of the conquest, Fray Antonio Tello, pointed out that the Cazcanes were one of the peoples that had left Aztlán (the legendary place where the Aztecs came from) with the Mexicas, therefore, they shared a common language with this tribe, but less refined . The cults of the Cazcanes were also similar to those of the Mexicas, but with some slight differences.

Some theories indicate that the cazcanes were the survivors of the fall of the Nahua empire, whose capital was located in what is now known as the archaeological excavation of La Quemada.

It is believed that, when leaving Aztlán, the Cazcanes were attacked by the Zacatecas, forcing them to move out of the territory of the Valley of Mexico, towards Aridoamérica.

War, plague, and miscegenation in the region led the cazcanes to extinction. It is believed that today there are no direct descendants of this tribe, but there are some other derived indigenous groups such as the Atolinga, Juchipila, Momax and Apozol.

Cochimí (Baja California)

The Cochimí tribe is a Mexican ethnic group currently located in the state of Baja California Sur. They used to speak a language known as Cochimi Laymon, now extinct.

For more than 300 years this tribe has inhabited the center of the Baja California peninsula. In the beginning they were a nomadic tribe, who did not know writing or practice any agricultural, livestock or craft work.

They were mainly fishermen and gatherers, and they placed great value on the existence of their guamas or sorcerers.

For the Cochimi, the year was divided into six moments. The most representative moment was called mejibó (season of flowers and abundance).

During this time of year the Cochimí celebrated abundance. The mejibó happened during the months of July and August.

Guachichil or Huachil

The huachiles were a nomadic indigenous tribe that inhabited the territory of all the Chichimeca peoples, the current Mexican state of Zacatecas, South of Coahuila and San Luis Potosí. Their language is now extinct and was derived from the Uto-Aztec languages.

They were the most belligerent nomads known in the region. For this reason, they were one of the few indigenous tribes of Aridoamerica that resisted European colonization.

Huichol or Wixárikas

The Huichols are a group located in the Mexican states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Durango and Zacatecas, on the Sierra Madre Occidental.

Among the members of the tribe they call themselves wixárika, which translates “the people” or “the people.” Their language comes from the Corachol group of languages, and is derived from the Uto-Aztecs.

Due to the characteristic sound of their consonants when speaking, the Spanish made the name of the tribe Castilian, degenerating it into the Huicholes.

Currently, the Huichol language is influenced by other Mesoamerican languages, presenting characteristic features of several languages ​​existing in that region.

They are a tribe that preserve their spiritual rituals, so the collection and consumption of peyote as part of their ritual activities is still in force. Peyote comes from a cactus with hallucinogenic and psychoactive properties.

Mayo Town or Yoreme

The Yoreme tribe can be found today in the south of the state of Sonora and the north of the state of Sinaloa, between what is known as the Río Mayo Valley and the Río Fuerte.

It is a tribe made up of approximately 100,000 people, who share different traditions, uses, the same language and customs.

At present, most of the Yoremes practice the Catholic religion, thanks to the evangelization process to which they have been subjected since the time of colonization.

The Yoremes use a democratic system for the election of their authorities. They respect both the civil authorities and Mexican laws as well as the Yoremes themselves. In fact, the word “yoreme” means “one who respects.”

They are a tribe of more than 500 years old that, initially, was dedicated to fishing, hunting and gathering. Over time, they developed agricultural techniques that allowed them to settle in an area.

Currently, the Yoremes are dedicated to agriculture, applying more advanced techniques. They are also fishermen and artisans who live in community.

When the Spanish arrived, the Yoremes belonged to an alliance of various indigenous tribes. This alliance sought to defend the communities, avoid the invasion of their own territory and the cultural exchange between them.

For hundreds of years the Yoreme fought for the preservation of their culture, until finally achieving it in 1867, after the Mexican Revolution took place.

References

  1. KNOCH, Monika Tesch. Aridoamérica and its southern border: archaeological aspects within the middle Potosi zone, nomads and sedentary people in the North of Mexico. Tribute to Beatriz Braniff, ed. Marie-Areti Hers, José Luis Mirafuentes, Marıa de los Dolores Soto, and Miguel Vallebueno (Mexico: National Autonomous University of Mexico, 2000), p. 547-50.
  2. CHÁVEZ, Humberto Domínguez; AGUILAR, Rafael Alfonso Carrillo. The gatherer and hunter peoples of Aridoamérica. 2008.
  3. ZAMARRÓN, José Luis Moctezuma. Invisible Aridoamérica: an ethnographic vision, Rutas de Campo, 2016, no 4-5, p. 112-117.
  4. GARCÍA, Jesús Rojas. Historical evolution in North American cultural development zones: geographical and climatic aspects as a factor of change. TEPEXI Scientific Bulletin of the Tepeji del Rio High School, 2014, vol. 2, no 3.
  5. REYES, JONATHAN RAYMUNDO; GARCIA, VALERIA SINAHI; GAYTAN, JOVANA. PBL: THE FIRST PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CHIHUAHUA.
  6. FONSECA, MC FRANCISCO JAVIER CASTELLÓN; FLORES, MC JUAN CARLOS PLASCENCIA. MEXICO HISTORY.
  7. CISNEROS GUERRERO, Gabriela. Changes in the Chichimeca border in the north-central region of New Spain during the 16th century, Geographical Investigations, 1998, no 36, p. 57-69.

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