Climate of rebellion: The relationship between climate variability and indigenous uprisings in mid-eighteenth-century Sonora

TitleClimate of rebellion: The relationship between climate variability and indigenous uprisings in mid-eighteenth-century Sonora
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsBrenneman, D
Academic DepartmentAnthropology
UniversityUniversity of Arizona
Keywordsclimate, Eighteenth century, Indigenous, Rebellion, Sonora, Uprisings

A series of indigenous rebellions took place in mid-eighteenth-century Sonora that caused Spain to alter its colonial policies, depending less on the Jesuit mission system and more on a professional military force for pacifying and controlling the region. The rebellions coincided with a shift toward a drought-dominant climate pattern that began in the late 1720s. This study explores the relationship between that climatic shift and the rebellions by narrowing the focus to several disturbances and insurrections among the Seris, Pimas Bajos, and Yaquis during the period of 1725-1742. Research centers on climate variability, the relationship between climate patterns and indigenous subsistence practices, and whether Spanish colonial policies and institutions rendered these practices more or less vulnerable to environmental perturbations. Because the same environmental factors shaping indigenous subsistence strategies also affected Spanish decision-making, the development of Spanish colonization in Sonora is reviewed within an ecological framework as well, recognizing the interaction among the environment and political, economic, and demographic factors.

This study adopts a multidisciplinary approach integrating paleoclimatic, ethnohistorical, ethnographic, and archaeological sources of data to establish patterns of precipitation and reconstruct indigenous subsistence systems within their local environments, both before and after Spanish colonial rule. The research presents evaluations and English translations of numerous Spanish texts that include description of local environments; indigenous land use, reliance on crops versus wild resources, scheduling, harvest, and/or storage; significant climatic events such as droughts or floods; and the events of specific insurrections.

The research also considers Spanish policies and institutions as they developed in Sonora, and changes they engendered in indigenous subsistence organization and the environment. This study assesses the effectiveness of those changes in the face of climate fluctuations, and scrutinizes Seri, Pima Bajo, and Yaqui disturbances and insurrections as responses to Spanish-induced subsistence changes under escalating colonial pressures and climate-related environmental stresses. On a broader level, this research demonstrates the potential of the documentary record, when combined with advances in climate research, for increasing our understanding of human vulnerability to climate change, human responses and coping strategies, and the impacts of human behavior on climate.