Ch'ol - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. There is considerable diversity to the economy of Ch'ol settlements, although there is a strong component of subsistence agriculture based on maize, beans, and squashes, with the addition of manioc, chili peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables, as well as tropical fruits. Cacao was produced in early colonial times but was replaced by coffee. Nineteenthand early twentieth-century plantations also produced cattle, mahogany and other tropical hardwoods, rubber, and vanilla.

The economy of the ejidos varies widely, as each settlement struggles independently to develop its own locale. Some ejidos are strictly limited to subsistence; others have developed a variety of cash crops, including not only coffee but cacao and fruit trees. Farming of produce for local markets is poorly developed. Government support of cattle production often results in lands cleared for farming being converted to pasturage.

Industrial Arts. The Ch'ol are overwhelmingly agricultural, with little development of other industries. Weaving and embroidery, once essential crafts for women, have now disappeared almost entirely, replaced by sewing. Western-style dresses of brightly decorated satinlike cloth, worn with rows of beads and numerous hair clips, are a hallmark of ejido Ch'ol women.

Trade. The major regional product for outside trade is coffee, produced both on large commercial plantations and by family enterprise on smaller plots.

Division of Labor. Males do most of the agricultural work, women perform domestic chores (i.e., men produce food, and women process it, as in other Mayan communities).

Land Tenure. Most land is held through the ejido system, as prescribed by law: groups of heads of households petition for use of unoccupied lands (or lands held in excess of legal limits) and are granted an ejido. Shares can neither be bought nor sold, and are inherited by only one son. Other sons traditionally emigrate to form other ejidos—the process by which the lowland rain forest has been repopulated since about 1960.


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