Huichol - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Huichol economy is based on hunting, gathering, and fishing along with slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture. Wild animals such as deer, rabbits, peccaries, iguanas, and assorted birds were originally hunted by men with traps, bows and arrows, and a kind of slingshot. Now guns have largely supplanted these devices. Fish and crayfish are caught with handmade nets. Wild greens, roots and tubers, mesquite beans, mushrooms, avocados, nopal cactus and fruits, huamuchili fruits, berries, and plums are collected. Animal-pulled wooden plows and digging sticks are used for cultivation, the primary crops being maize, beans, squashes and chilies. Families also own cattle, mules, donkeys, horses, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, and turkeys. Cheese is made from cows' milk. Various Huichol migrate seasonally to the west coast to work as wage laborers in the harvest of tobacco and commercial food crops. Others are artisans who sell their artwork in the sierra, in the Mexican cities and resorts, and along the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of the money earned in these ventures is earmarked for expenses incurred in sponsoring ceremonies. Some Huichol move to the cities to work as manual laborers. A select group pursues such occupations as bilingual teacher, engineer, economist, and health professional.

Industrial Arts. Huichol men weave baskets, hats, and baby cradles from plant fibers. They also manufacture chairs, musical instruments, bows and arrows, loom tools, and spindles. Women embroider, weave on backstrap looms, and make some pottery. The multitude of ritual offerings made are divided into male objects, such as prayer arrows, and female ones, which include votive bowls. Both men and women make beaded jewelry, gourd bowls, masks, and other figures for commercial ventures. Woven and embroidered belts, bags, and clothes are made for sale, as well as yarn paintings and other commercially developed art forms.

Division of Labor. Women gather wild foods, help in horticultural activities, milk cows, prepare food, carry water, sew, weave and embroider, make clothing and accessories, and care for children. Men hunt, fish, perform the heavy manual labor in cultivation, gather firewood, construct buildings, and help with child care. Young boys herd animals and help the men hunt; girls care for younger siblings, make tortillas, and help in household chores. Most shamans are male; those women who are shamans tend to be more discreet about their specialized training. Men are the political leaders and musicians. Women can specialize as midwives and master artisans. Ritual traditions emphasize the importance of male and female counterparts in ceremonial roles.

Land Tenure. The sierra is divided into districts of community lands. Local Huichol governing officials allocate land to family members of the community. Many families occupy several plots of land, where they reside on a seasonal basis in conjunction with their subsistence activities. A community member can petition for a parcel of unoccupied land. Land is passed down through the family, and inheritance rules place special importance on the oldest and youngest children. Huichol are constantly under pressure from neighboring mestizos encroaching upon their land. There is a great deal of uncertainty among the Huchol about the effect that the 1992 amendment of Article 27 of the Mexican constitution will have on agrarian law.


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