Trio - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Trio are slash-and burn cultivators, hunters, and gatherers. The staple crop is bitter cassava, which is used for making a range of dietary products. Supplementary crops include sweet potatoes, eddoes (aroid plants with edible farinaceous roots, such as taro of yautia), yams, maize, bananas, pineapples, sugarcane, tobacco, and various medicinal plants. In Suriname agricultural practices have remained relatively unaffected, but in Brazil change has resulted from mechanization and the introduction of new crops, such as rice. Hunting was traditionally with bow and arrow, but now firearms are generally used. Dogs remain an important hunting aid. The most highly prized game are peccaries, tapir, and howler and spider monkeys, although the more common catches tend to be agoutis, labbas (pacas), armadillos, and other small animals. There are few animals and birds other than carnivores, carrion eaters, and snakes that are regarded as inedible. The importance of fishing varies, depending on the size of the rivers in the vicinity. Fish are caught using the bow and harpoon, hook and line, traps, and, in the dry season, fish poisons. A very wide range of natural products is collected as required or when available. These include honey, wild fruits, and raw materials for all types of objects and uses: basketwork, pots, houses, bows, canoes, medicines, and poisons. Traditional commercial activities were limited to trading, but in the second half of the twentieth century there have been periods in Suriname when wage labor for government and other agencies, either in Trio territory or elsewhere, has been available. In Brazil a system of paid agricultural work has been introduced. Most Trio are now familiar with the use of money, and they are increasingly in need of a regular cash income in order to obtain supplies of shotgun cartridges, electric batteries, and fuel for outboard motors.

Industrial Arts. Traditional crafts included pottery, basketwork, and woodwork. The first of these has declined as pottery items have been replaced by metal objects, but the other two continue to form an important part of Trio technology and material culture. There is some production of traditional items such as bows, arrows, baskets, and combs for trade.

Trade. The traditional Indian trade items consisted of hunting dogs, basketwork, arrow cane, and cassava graters. There is evidence to suggest that the Trio were involved in very extensive trade networks. From the seventeenth century and perhaps earlier the introduction of Western manufactured goods greatly increased the importance of trade. The Bush Negroes became the Trio's main supplier of these objects, and formai trading partnerships were formed between individuals of both groups. The trade with the Bush Negroes has now virtually ceased as a result of permanent White settlement in the region.

Division of Labor. Work is apportioned almost entirely along gender lines. Men hunt and do most of the fishing. Their participation in agriculture involves clearing the forest and helping with the planting. The women are responsible for the maintenance of the gardens, the harvesting, all food preparation, and child care. The men build and thatch houses, weave all the basketwork (much of it for use by women in the preparation of food), and make their own tools, weapons, and canoes—the last being one of the few activities that require cooperative labor. Men also work with silk-grass fiber, from which they make bowstrings and one of two sorts of hammocks. The processing of cotton, from which the other type of hammock is made, is a very important female activity. Women are also the potters. In Suriname access to wage labor, almost entirely limited to men, has done little to disturb this traditional pattern. In Brazil mechanization has resulted in men playing a far larger part in agriculture.

Land Tenure. The Trio do not have a notion of land ownership, nor is there a strong sense of territoriality. A man who cuts a field has the right to the land, but once he has abandoned it and it has reverted to forest, he has no further claim on it. Settlements are too widely dispersed for there to be competing claims between villages for natural resources and for hunting.


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