Chatino - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Although large coffee plantations exist in the region, the Chatino are smallholders. In this mountainous area, swidden techniques are used to grow traditional crops—maize, beans, and squash. Rapid population growth, however, has cut fallow periods to as short as three years, which in combination with overcultivation, has led to the severe erosion of large areas on mountainsides. Coffee—the primary cash crop—is grown with bananas or under canopy trees. Chatino maize fields and coffee plantings typically are less than 5 hectares. Cultivation is carried out with very simple implements—digging sticks, hoes, and machetes. In the few level areas that exist, metal-tipped wood plows may be drawn by oxen. Aside from crops, most households have a few chickens or turkeys. Wealthier households may have a few head of cattle, horses, mules, or donkeys. The Chatino also supplement their diet by hunting deer, iguanas, javalinas (peccaries), and various birds. Villagers obtain additional vegetables and fruits from kitchen gardens and trees surrounding their homes (e.g., tomatoes, chilies, guavas, lemons, oranges, and mangoes). As a general rule, the Chatino try first to guarantee their subsistence base of maize, dedicating any excess land to cash crops. Thus, the larger the holding, the greater the percentage planted in coffee. Even so, few households possess enough land to make ends meet from their smallholdings alone. Most are forced to work seasonally on large coffee plantations, do daily wage work, or produce crafts for sale in the market. Out-migration is increasing, especially to Oaxaca and Mexico City. Census figures indicate some 10 percent of Chatino speakers live outside of the region.

Industrial Arts. Although there are few full-time specialists, the Chatino produce a number of crafts, including pottery, mats, baskets, tumplines, ropes, hammocks, wood saddles for mules and donkeys, and ritual masks. Carpenters make beds, tables, chests, and chairs. Local blacksmiths fashion machetes, horseshoes, and branding irons. "Traditional" dress is maintained, although it is worn less commonly than in the past. Women embroider elaborate blouses, make men's shirts and trousers, and weave belts, girdles, and tortilla bags.

Trade. The Chatino have been part of commodity chains and market system integrated into a global economy since the sixteenth century, and the local expressions of these relations are visible in the regional market systems. The major periodic markets within the region are held in Juquila and Nopala. These commercial centers have the stores and shops carrying the industrial merchandise the Chatino want, and their weekly markets attract Chatino from the surrounding communities. Each Chatino community tends to specialize by selling certain crafts and produce. For example, Amialtepec is known for its pottery, Ixtapan for its net bags and hammocks, Tataltepec for its chilies, Tepenixtlahuaca for brown sugar, Zenzontepec for goats, and Cuixtla for cattle. In addition to these regular markets, during fiestas, especially for the village's patron saint, fairs are held in Chatino communities. The largest of these, held for the Virgin of Juquila on 8 December, attracts some 200,000 pilgrims to its monthlong fair.

Division of Labor. There is a sexual division of labor for a number of tasks. Although women may help in the fields, most heavy labor is done by men. Similarly, hunting and fishing are male domains. Tending livestock also is a predominantly male activity. Women's work includes most domestic chores such as cooking, cleaning, and the burden of most child care, as well as tending kitchen gardens, domestic fowl and pigs, and gathering wild foods. In their households, women also do much of the craftwork, such as pottery, weaving, embroidery, and basketry. Women usually do the greatest share of marketing and shopping for the household.

Land Tenure. In the Chatino region, both communal and private property exist. Parcels of privately owned land, such as large and small coffee plantations or house lots, are commodities that are freely bought and sold. All Chatino communities also have communal lands. In theory, these belong to the community, and decisions about how they are to be allocated or reallocated are made by town officials. If any unclaimed land exists, villagers in need of land may petition village officials for usufruct rights. In practice, these rights to most arable land are held by individual households and are not only inheritable, but such lands may be bought and sold as long as sales are made to "native" members of the community. Areas such as pastures are considered common lands. Some of the land-poor communities also "rent" lands either from the communal-lands commissions of neighboring communities or on large private estates.

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