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Long after a nuclear war wiped out most of the people on earth, civilization has been knocked of its feet. The San Diegoans, a small tribe from San Diego, were unremarkable to say the least. A small band of 40 some odd nomads who scratch out a living on the coast fishing, and are constantly under attack form bigger tribes, like the Tigres form the far south lands.

But one day, a wise person from the civilized lands, the knowledge giver, who was actually a missionary from a catholic mission, helps them out a bit. He learns their language and befriends them, and, seeing potential in them, gives them survival skills that will help them build into a mighty nation.

My question is: What knowledge of the old towns could he give them that would address the following problems?

  1. Food
    They don’t know much about farming, and the plants they do grow aren’t suited to the arid climate.

  2. Water
    They have only a few sources of fresh water reserves and those are slowly being taken over by the other tribes in the area.

  3. Defense
    There aren’t a lot of trees, so building a wall out of wood is impossible. Most metal has been scavenged away, so metal weapons aren’t a possibility. They need some other material

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  • $\begingroup$ Is the help limited to information, or this wise person can give crop seeds, for example? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    May 11 '18 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander: Yes, he has crop seeds and what have you $\endgroup$
    – Talos5
    May 11 '18 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ 40 people is a very small number to grow into a nation. Do you want this tribe to stay exclusive, or to attract members from outside (via religion, for example), so it can grow faster? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    May 11 '18 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander: The tribe often practices bride raiding, like most other in the area, so they can grow faster $\endgroup$
    – Talos5
    May 11 '18 at 21:31
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For 40-odd people to grow into a mighty nation over any relatively short timescale (i.e. not multiple generations) is basically going to require conquest. And for that they're going to need a significant military advantage over their adversaries. If they can dominate on the battlefield, all other resources can be plundered or extracted as tribute.

I suggest metallurgy. Perhaps large chunks are metals are scarce, but there is significant metal content in the soil. If you're the only one with metal weapons, that's the kind of advantage we're looking for.

Another option would be war mounts, such as horses. A bit harder for the Wise One to bring a genetically viable population with him though, and harder to scale up since large animals don't multiply quickly. Maybe knowledge of taming existing beasts is sufficient, though its harder to explain why others wouldn't be able to do it once they see it being done (thus negating the advantage.)

Lastly, maybe this missionary is Post Apocalyptic Sun Tzu, and tactics is enough to carry the day. I find this the least convincing from a realism standpoint, but it does offer more story opportunities then simply overpowering the enemy with superior technology.

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1: Food. They don’t know much about farming, and the plants they do grow aren’t suited to the arid climate.

2: Water. They have only a few sources of fresh water reserves and those are slowly being taken over by the other tribes in the area.

The answer for 1 and 2 is the same. They need to be more efficient on water usage. The wise one might teach them to build Qanats, so that they can dig until they reach the water table, and they can manage to both extract the water on higher areas, and irrigate lower ones.

A qanat

3: Defense. There aren’t a lot of trees, so building a wall out of wood is impossible. They need some other material.

If the wise one can teach them how to forge steel, they might be good. After all, this is the post-apocalypse. Metal shouldn't be scarce.

If metals are out of question, remember that the first ever weapons built by humans were sharpened stones. Time to go back to the basics.

And if all else fails... There is a way to slay people at a distance just by uttering some words in a very specific tone and order. Just beware that the risk of killing oneself or one's own allies is very high.

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San Diego area is a bad place to start a nation

Apart from the immediate coastal area, the region is very arid. Hills and mountains do not allow agriculture to grow significantly. Important mineral deposits, like iron and coal, are somewhat distant and not significant.

So, the tribe has to move. But first, it should grow up in strength. For food and water management, they should get a basic understanding of agriculture and irrigation. Small (40 members) tribe can grow more than enough food in the area, and if provided with appropriate seeds and instructions, they can put food concerns away (for time being). Next important thing would be food preservation - at a bare minimum, this tribe should learn how build a granary and keep enough food in it to survive a bad year. at this size, the tribe does not need to know anything more about water management than simple irrigation techniques.

For defense and military advancements, the tribe needs to learn metallurgy. I don't know how much metal can be recovered or recycled from pre-apocalyptic times, but there are some deposits of iron ore and coal inland, in the areas not likely to be occupied. The tribe can make an expedition there and bring back what's necessary to forge a crude steel. The tribe can also build a stone/clay fort that would protect them from enemy raids.

After basic security and food supply are established, the tribe can grow its influence around. It must attract other people in order to grow, and not just brides. I suggest it would use a religion (Catholicism?) as a tool to attract and convert other people.

Gradually, the tribe will grow in number, until San Diego River valley would become too small for it. By this time, it will have more than 10,000 members and should outstrip all neighboring tribes in power. The tribe would have to move to another place that would allow it to grow bigger. I would suggest up north to San Joaquin Valley, but other options exist too.

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    $\begingroup$ So, the tribe has to move. Technically, that's outside the scope of the OP's question. Further, history is replete with communities and nations building in inhospitable locations. Machu Piccu and any location related to the word "Bedouin" come to mind. Difficult to live in areas are are (a) undesirable to your competitors and (b) usually quite simple to defend (you have a serious home-court advantage). $\endgroup$ May 11 '18 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I think San Diego and Tijuana river valleys can not support more than 20,000 people (with preindustrial agricultural methods). Lack of mineral resources would net permit this settlement to get to industrial level either. Thus, I don't really think this can fit the definition of a "mighty nation". $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    May 12 '18 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ I can't speak to the Tijuana area, but San Diego has a sizable aquifer. Teach them to dig wells. You may be right about the minerals, though. I don't know much about that. $\endgroup$ May 12 '18 at 13:05
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You don't tell us the tech level of the missionary.

Low Tech Solution

  • Food knowledge: boats, fishing tackle, food preservation & storage, herbal medicine, soil preparation (fertilizers, composts, etc.), seed storage, sheep.

  • Water: Irrigation, basic purification.

  • Defense: Basic metalurgy, forging, arrow and spear manufacture (it's more complex than you think), ditch digging (a dry moat is almost as formidible as a wet moat).

Medium Tech Solution

  • Food knowledge: hybridization, cattle and poultry, penicillin, crop rotation.

  • Water: well digging, desalination, aquaducts (structural engineering).

  • Defense: Roman concrete, catapults and trebuchet, strategy & tactics, optics (aka, telescopes).

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