Chinantec - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Traditionally, the Chinantec used digging sticks to cultivate maize, beans, and squashes. Forced displacement into the upper-mountain regions brought about adoption of the European bull-drawn plow. The Chinantec cultivate these same three crops today, supplemented by raising fowl and pigs and some wild and cultivated fruits and nuts. Today, as in the past, slash-and-burn gardening is most common. There still is no irrigation, and few farmers use fertilizer. Fishing continues to be important in the lowlands. Coffee is of increasing significance as a cash crop. During the nineteenth century many Chinantec subsistence farmers also worked as peons on local, foreign-owned plantations in the riverside regions. Today many Chinantec of both sexes are temporary or permanent labor migrants to Mexican cities and the United States.

Industrial Arts. The Chinantec have few technological activities other than farming. Since at least the 1950s, most items have been purchased. Only limited domestic production of fiber bags and baskets, fishing nets, pottery, and huipiles (handwoven women's garments) persisted into the present.

Trade. In the past the subsistence crops were neither exported nor traded. All other products were obtained from resident merchants or itinerant peddlers, who were usually Cuicatec in the lowlands and Zapotec in the highlands. Coffee export to the national market dates at least to 1900. At various historical periods, native markets were found in highland communities, but they often had to be suspended owing to intercommunity tension. These trade patterns persist, although the advent of a highway, connecting roads, and motor transport enables the Chinantec to leave their communities to make purchases in Oaxaca, Tuxtepec, and Valle Nacional.

Division of Labor. Women and men both engage in agriculture, although the nature and extent of women's participation varies by community. Women are also responsible for all domestic tasks, including care of pigs and fowl. These contemporary patterns appear to have historical precedent. Today both sexes also engage in cash-generating activities. Children traditionally participated in agricultural activities from about the age of 7. They continue to do so today as classes permit.

Land Tenure. Most townships have communally owned tracts, with members permitted indefinite occupancy and use, although the land cannot be alienated. In the past, corporate groups such as barrios or age grades also controlled limited communal lands. In addition, communities may have smallholder plots. In riverside communities plantations were expropriated from foreign companies by the federal agrarian reform program and awarded to Chinantec peasants who cultivate and govern them as ejidos.

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