How Native Americans transformed the world Essay Example

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Indian Givers—How Native Americans transformed the world


This paper critiques Jack Weatherford’s Indian Givers by examining chapter four ‘The Food Revolution.’ Generally, this chapter is concerned with the gradual development of agriculture. The author succinctly indicates that it is through these advances in food production that made countries such as United States become strong challengers in the global market. However, unfolding of events in Machu Picchu creates obscurity. Secondly, how did the food revolution attributed to migrants when Incas were forced to build city and line them with mountain terraces where there were very little soil? This chapter is complete with some unfounded assumptions and facts. On the other hand, the whole issue of food revolution as it has been explained in this chapter is a complete exploration of Native America gifts to the World. This information is given credence which might have happened though reported inaccurately by Euro-centric scholars instead of giving Indians the credit they deserve. This paper critiques chapter four of Jack Weatherford’s Indian Givers by ascertaining the assumptions and facts as they may have happened.

This chapter begins by indicating that Incas built significant number of terraces that culminated into the development of agriculture. It is not clear how these terraces aided revolution of food when the author succinctly indicates that they were quite small for what can be termed as meaningful or extensive agriculture. This is not only unfounded fact but also rules out the possibility that the Incas had the ability of building small terraces that went up on the facing peak of Huayna Piccu. In fact, such account of events has little sense than if the current Americans decide to establish farming the face of Mount Rushmore with plots as big as large flower boxes. While it can be assumed from the author’s statement that with the indigenous people mining the silver and gold capitalism was made a reality, it is difficult to believe how the constructions of terraces aided ‘the food revolution’

What this chapter brings is that with indigenous people engaging in the plantations with African slaves, working in the mines and mints, food revolution was made possible. As a matter of fact, these engagements made it possible for the group to supply rubber, cotton, dyes and other forms of agricultural products which to larger extend, fed the new system of production. The chapter also argues that this was the period when the Indians developed and domesticated different species of potatoes, corn, peanuts and cassava that ensured food security. But what is not clear about the author’s assessment of agricultural activities as practiced by Incas is the relationship between their effort to revolutionize food and their other activities in the region. Why did they decide to build the city at that point? Was the place prolific for food production or they were mainly concerned with trading of coca? These are some of the question the author fails to conceptualise when he explains his journey to the ruined city accompanied by Charles Laughlin. In my opinion, what the author explains to have been discovered during their visit is an indication that by nature, Incas were not agriculturalist but suddenly turned Machu Picchu as agricultural centre so that they could have something to present to their god, particularly life-giving Pachamama and the Inti.

Chapter four creates a scenario where readers are likely to be left wondering why those food crops only originated from the said community or why did they changed people’s lifestyle to that extent. Why for instance, did potato transform people’s life to a level that it resulted to atomic plant? If surely Incas revolutionised food as the author claims then why does it seem as if most foods described in chapter four are native to the Americas? What is clear though is that ancient Peruvians who the author gives little attention in the chapter were indeed the world’s leading agriculturists. As a matter of fact, the author agrees that these people ‘constructed different experimental bases where agricultural could be practiced’ (p. 80). This uncertainty brings two concerns; first, that the author is not sure what Machu Picchu really served and secondly, whether or not Machu Picchu served as ancient region for agricultural experiments stations. Indians of the Andes cannot be argued to have done more plant experiments that could revolutionise food and even If that was the cases, this chapter is not clear whether they did it more than any other people or any other place in the world.

What this chapter brings out clearly is that several thousand years before the arrival of Incas, the natives produced ‘extremely high yields of potatoes from small plots of land’ (81). The author makes this look as though it was agricultural experiments that transformed agricultural production and revolutionize food production in different parts of the country while in the real essence this was far from the truth. It is true that the success of these early experiments remains visible when a critical look on how the author presents Urubamba Valley and Cuzco in chapter four. But again, there is clear sight of Indians ruins with absence of agricultural artifacts that can indicate their earlier experiments on agriculture was indeed a transformation on how food production could be improved. It is not clear why the author is avoiding these questions and instead, he has designed chapter four to give the then food stability to Indians. This is not to argue that what Weatherford found were totally incorrect but the way he presents his arguments is too much on the Indians side of the scale.

Contrariwise, this assessment is not wholly concerned with what Weatherford gets wrong. Instead, there are insightful arguments that direct us to where ‘the food revolution’ started. This chapter explicitly supports previous chapters that had indicated that agriculture, silver and gold from the Americas was actually the main source of trade expansion and economic development in Europe. The chapter clearly indicates how population of different countries boomed as a result of potato spreading from Indians. However, potato alone cannot claim responsibility of Indian’s efforts to revolutionize food productions. The author provides evidence to show that Indians gave the world three-fifth of the crops currently grown. In my opinion, chapter four does not only summarise previous chapters but corrects already existing oversight from historians regarding contributions made by Indians in the revolution of food in as much as conclusions made by the author in the chapter are tenuous. The weakness of the conclusion appears on page 95 where there is an argument that European farmers learned to grow corn, but most of them did not learn to eat it. This point labours more on the topic of agricultural revolution but makes a convincing case for Indian Givers.

Conclusion—personal reflection

Conclusively, this essay opines that the agricultural practices and experiments that are believed to have been practiced by Indians have history that stretches beyond what chapter four explains. In as much as the chapter argues that Indians loaned or donated their agricultural knowledge to the world which later transformed Old World culture, it is unfair for the chapter to pillage and sack native America to the extent it did. Generally, the chapter has a far-reaching scope by integrating interesting theory on the role played by Machu Picchu. By researching on how food production changed through contributions made by Indians, the chapter creates a greater appreciation of the Indians of America. These levels appreciation will continue to grow provided their predecessors will continue to expand the range or agricultural products Weatherford attribute to Indians.


Weatherford, J. (2010). Indian givers: How the Indians of the Americas transformed the world. Ballantine Books. Pages 77-101. ISBN 978 0 307 717153