Bugle - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Bugle practice swidden-based subsistence agriculture as the main source of their livelihood. Their most important crops for daily consumption are maize, rice, and bananas, the latter harvested green and then boiled. Other crops include plantains; beans; root crops such as otoe (taro /Xanthosoma spp.), ñampi (yams/ Dioscorea spp.), and sweet manioc; peach palms ( Guilielma gasipaes ); cacao ( Theobroma cacao); avocados; mangoes; chayotes ( Scisyos edulis ); sugarcane; pineapples; calabashes; and chili peppers. Almost all of these crops are grown for household use, but rice is regularly produced in surplus and taken to the coast to be sold. Chickens, ducks, and pigs are raised for home consumption, but they are also sold to obtain the cash needed to purchase the manufactured items to which the Bugle have become accustomed. Cattle are raised on a very limited basis and are usually sold. The Bugle told Herrera and González in 1964 that they used to raise more cattle, but that the numbers had been greatly reduced owing to a plague that had also affected other domestic animals and children (71). The hunting of deer, wild pigs, and other small animals with bows and arrows, traps, and rifles (which are not common now and were not available in Nordenskiöld's time) supplements agriculture and animal husbandry, as does fishing with hook and line, harpoons, nets, and at least three types of plant poisons. Some wild plants are gathered as food and others as medicine.

Industrial Arts. The manufacture of sturdy baskets of various sizes—well made but not aesthetic in quality—is traditional. Fashioning net bags out of plant fibers is also a traditional handicraft of the Bugle. Various sizes of bags are made, using a technique of knotless netting. Some of these net bags are crude and strictly utilitarian, but others are of fine artistic quality. Although most are made for home use, many are sold. According to tradition, the Bugle manufactured ceramic vessels in the past, but they have now lost the knowledge of this craft. Nordenskiöld collected a single pottery vessel in 1927. Pottery is now nonexistent except for ocarinas and small whistles, usually zoomorphic in form. The Bugle also make flutes of bamboo and bone. Woven hats, representing a craft of recent introduction (some time prior to the 1950s), are of very fine quality and are offered for sale as well as being used at home. There is a ready market for these hats in the towns of Veraguas Province. Beaded collars, introduced in the twentieth century through contact with the Ngawbe, are made by and for men and are supposedly broader than the typical Ngawbe collar. Clothing was traditionally made of bark cloth. Its use for clothing is now rare, but it is still made and has other uses, such as sacks and blankets. The Bugle are the only indigenous group in Panama that still makes and uses at least some bark cloth for clothing. Strings of beads, now of commercial glass but formerly of vegetable substances, are used as necklaces by women and children.

Trade. Trade occurs with nonindigenous communities on the Caribbean coast, with people in southern Veraguas, and with itinerant merchants who travel through the Bugle area. Rice, sometimes maize and domestic animals, and the two principal handicrafts, straw hats and net bags, are exchanged for Western manufactured goods such as metal cooking pots, cloth, and machetes.

Division of Labor. According to Nordenskiöld, men cleared the land, and women cultivated it. Today, although men still clear the land, men, women, and sometimes children perform other tasks in the agricultural cycle—planting, weeding, and harvesting. Women do most of the food preparation and assume most of the child care in the household. Men hunt and fish, and women do most of the gathering. Men make the fine woven hats for which the Bugle are noted, and women make the net bags.

Land Tenure. Land is owned by kin groups rather than by individuals. Individuals, both women and men, inherit use rights to the lands owned by their kin groups. Fallow land remains the property of the kin group whose members originally cleared it. Disputes may occur when others appropriate and use such fallow land, but such disputes are reported to be unusual and infrequent.

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