Walapai - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Historically, the Walapai economy was based primarily on hunting and gathering seasonally available wild resources. Moving frequently, the camps visited locations where resources were known to be abundant. This annual round focused on several key plant foods. In the spring, agave or mescal was gathered in canyons and foothills. When baked for several days in an earth oven, the plant's inner core was eaten immediately while the outer layers were crushed into pulp, dried, and stored for future consumption. Following the mescal harvest, the camps or Individual families moved down to the valley and basin floors to collect stick-leaf and abundant and protein-rich wild seed. By midsummer, fruits of several cactus species ripened, and in late summer, attention shifted to nut gathering in mountain groves. Few vegetal resources were available during the winter months, but the Walapai survived on wild game and the stored products of the spring and summer. As settlers moved into Walapai territory in the nineteenth century to graze cattle, cut trees for mine timbers, and exploit wild game, this adaptive hunting and gathering economy changed. Walapais, of necessity, turned increasingly to farming the land around springs and the few perennial streams in the region. Walapais constructed diversion dams to irrigate gardens of squash, maize, beans, watermelons, and wheat. But, once again, this response proved to be short-lived. Restricted to the high grasslands of the reservation after 1883, Walapais in the twentieth century have come to rely on cattle (four thousand head in the 1980s), wage employment in tribal and federal agencies, a successful doll factory, and recently, the development of recreational facilities along the Grand Canyon, bordering the reservation. Nonetheless, over 40 percent of Reservation residents remain unemployed. The horses and cattle introduced by Europeans were viewed, until the reservation period, as food on the hoof.

Industrial Arts. Walapai basketry came to be highly valued in the trade network and afforded women a major outlet for artistic expression. Most baskets were functional containers such as large firewood and burden baskets, conical seedgathering baskets, flat trays for parching and winnowing seeds, and water bottles sealed with pitch from the piñon tree. Walapai pottery, another aboriginal art, did not survive the influx of metal utensils during the postcontact period.

Trade. The Walapai actively traded the products of hunting and gathering pursuits to their agricultural neighbors during aboriginal and postcontact times. When at peace with the Mohave, they bartered meat for the beans, maize, and pumpkins cultivated along the river's floodplain. Cultivated foods were also obtained from the Havasupai in return for deer and the skins of mountain sheep. Trade linkages extended well beyond adjacent groups, however. Walapai introduced distinctive products—dried mescal, red hematite pigment, and the prized basketry—into an exchange network which linked Indians of the Pacific Coast to the Pueblos of New Mexico.

Division of Labor. In the traditional hunting and gathering economy, women bore primary responsibility for collecting and processing plant resources, and men hunted. Farming activities were carried out by all members of the family.

Land Tenure. Prior to the establishment of a reservation, land tenure took the form of a "customary range," an area of habitat diversity within which the bands gathered and hunted wild resources. The boundaries of these ranges were not Precisely demarcated, but there was common consent among the Walapai that the various ranges were the primary subsistence grounds of the bands inhabiting them.

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