Macuna - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The Macuna still essentially subsist on swidden cultivation, hunting, fishing, and gathering of wild forest resources. The staple is bitter manioc, but a large number of other food plants are also cultivated, including plantains, sweet potatoes, bananas, pineapples, and sugarcane. Fish is the principal source of protein, but considerable time is also spent on hunting. The most important game include pacas, peccaries, and tapir. Large birds, monkeys, and caimans also constitute a significant part of the diet. The fur trade (particularly of the skins of jaguars, ocelots, and otters) played an important part in the Macuna economy until the 1970s, when it was prohibited. Farinha (a gruel prepared from manioc roots) has been traded with Whites for centuries and is still important as a means of exchange and a source of White trade goods.

Industrial Arts and Trade. Indigenous crafts, still produced largely for domestic use, principally consist of pottery and basketry. Arrow poison is produced by the Macuna on the Río Apaporis but mainly obtained from Macú groups in the forests on the northern bank of the Apaporis. Traditionally, a large-scale trading system seems to have operated over the entire Vaupés region, integrating many of the tribal groups of the area. In the Pirá-Paraná area, different groups are still recognized as being specialized in certain crafts: the Macuna deem the Barasana to be expert basket makers, the Tuyuca skillful potters, and the Macú poison makers and producers of a particularly valued type of basket. Grating boards are obtained from Arawak-speaking groups north of the Río Vaupés. Salt is said to have been produced locally in various areas along the larger rivers of the region but is now exclusively obtained from Whites. Aluminum pots have replaced much of the traditional pottery. All metal tools—including axes, knives, machetes, and much of the hunting and fishing gear (hooks and nylon lines, shotguns, and ammunition)—are bought from White traders.

Division of Labor. Women do most of the gardening: they plant, harvest, and process the principal food crops. Men clear and burn the fields but engage in no other gardening activities except cultivating and harvesting the "male" tobacco and coca plants. The roasted and pounded coca leaves are used as a stimulant and ritual food by Macuna men. Men do all the hunting and most of the fishing. Both men and women collect wild forest fruits, nuts, and seeds, as well as certain edible insects such as ants, termites, and various kinds of larvae. Crafts also follow a strict division of labor. Women make the pottery, whereas men do all the basketwork, including the weaving of hammocks. This traditional division of labor is still strictly upheld.

Land Tenure. Each Macuna clan is considered the owner of a certain tract of land along specific affluents of the Río Pirá-Paraná. This ownership derives from the myth of creation. Within this clan territory, every member of the clan has the right to hunt, fish, and clear fields for cultivation. Forest and river are thus communal property. Individual families have exclusive usufruct rights only to their cultivated fields.


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