Apalai - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Agriculture and hunting are the main subsistence activities. Complementary activities are fishing (during the summer months) and gathering. Agriculture is of the slash-and-burn type. The Apalai plant numerous species of bitter manioc, their staple food. The cassava pulp is made into flat cakes that are always eaten with protein food. The juice is used as a condiment for meats, and the flour is made into gruel. Other vegetables are planted and consumed, some in the form of fermented drinks. In the village, the main meals are always communal. Men are separated from women and children when processed foods are shared. Raw foodstuffs are also exchanged, mainly between related women. The main commercial activity is the manufacture of handicrafts for sale. The repertoire of items includes baskets, ceramics, glass-bead ornaments, and objects sculpted from wood. Initially they were traded internally for merchandise in "Apalai Village"; some Apalai undertook to resell them to Artíndia's (FUNAI's) stores and tourist stores in Belém. FUNAI acquires these trade items for their stores throughout the main Brazilian cities. There are constant complaints about underpayment in such transactions. Especially during the 1950s and 1960s, some Apalai turned to prospecting for gold during the summer months. Leasing rudimentary tools, they extracted gold from rivers in the proximity of cleared fields. Contract work became more rare after 1971. Another business, restricted to the villages to the south of the Paru de Este Indian Area, involves selling salted fish to prospectors in the "May 13th" camp established in the vicinity.


Industrial Arts. The women devote themselves to spinning and weaving cotton for body ornaments, hammocks, and fishing nets and making ceramics for ritual and daily use, as well as glass-bead ornaments. Men use lianas, straw, or the cortex of arumâ ( Ischnosiphon sp.) stems for more than forty types of basketwork. They work wood to make bows, benches, canoes, paddles, and clubs, and also make arrows, featherwork, and musical instruments (flutes) for ritual use. Apalai men and women are reputed to be excellent pottery makers. An extensive repertory of items is commercialized in order to obtain Western goods.

Trade. The Apalai historically belonged to an extensive trade network that connected many indigenous peoples of the Guiana region. Manufactured goods like glass beads, textiles, and axes were obtained from European settlers on the Caribbean coast. Intertribal commerce reached indigenous groups who lived too far away for direct contact. In times of peace the Apalai received merchandise from the Wayana, who in turn obtained it from the Tiriyó and the Maroons. Until the 1970s and 1980s, traders of these groups came to the villages on the Rio Paru to exchange nets and domesticated dogs for industrial products. Owing to their location, the Apalai had access to items that originated in Brazil and that were traded among the local populations. Barter persists with Wayana and Maroon communities of Suriname and French Guiana, and business transactions take place with FUNAI.

Division of Labor. Daily activities are carried out according to a division of labor by sex. Men provide the daily supply of protein by hunting, fishing, and gathering. They choose an appropriate piece of land and undertake the arduous task of preparing the field for agriculture. Planting and harvesting are predominantly women's work. Women also prepare food and drink, spending many hours in processing bitter manioc. They also carry out domestic chores and take care of small children. Men build houses and work wood, plant fibers, and feathers. Women work with clay, glass beads, and cotton. Both men and women produce items for sale.

Land Tenure. Land is considered communal property and is divided equally between the Apalai and Wayana. Nevertheless, the ancient territorial division is still valid, that is to say, the central and lower portion of the Paru de Este is an area occupied by the Apalai. Therefore, it is precisely in this area that the majority of their villages are located. However, there is free transit on the rivers, in the jungle, and on streams to permit fishing, hunting, and gathering of foodstuffs and primary materials. Legal claims to a given piece of land are only possible after a field has been prepared; the claim lasts as long as the land is considered productive. Natural resources in the field's vicinity are held to be for the exclusive use of the family group that cultivates it, and exploitation of these resources by others is subject to request and permission. The Indian park of Tumucumaque was created by presidential decree in 1968, and the indigenous Paru de Leste Area was delimited in 1984; the boundaries of neither zone have been fixed.


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