Cuicatec - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . In the highlands, seasonal-rainfall agriculture is supplemented with irrigation. Most land, of poor quality relative to the Cañada, is cultivated for subsistence crops. A few crops are grown for export, however, including peaches, walnuts, and coffee, all of which were introduced by the Spanish. Above 2,000 meters, agave plantations are cultivated, and mixed forests are exploited for lumber.

The zone between the Cañada and the highlands is unsuitable for either rainfall agriculture or irrigation. This uninhabited area is sometimes used by the poor for hunting and gathering small game and edible varieties of wild plants and for grazing domesticated goats.

Industrial Arts. According to a 1982 report ( Los cuicatecos ) by the Instituto Nacional Indigenista, wool and cotton textiles continue to be manufactured in Santa María Pápalo, Tlalixtac, Santa Cruz Teutila, and San Andres Teotilapan. Pottery is important in Santos Reyes Pápalo and San Andrés Pápalo. Baskets of reed grass are made in Concepción and San Lorenzo, and items of woven palm are fashioned in Santa María Tecaxtitlán and San Pedro Nodón. Most of these activities, however, are declining in importance.

Trade and Division of Labor. There are three semipermanent markets in the district of Cuicatlán. Commodities may also be acquired from small local stores, through private exchange, and at the temporary markets that are associated with holy days. Each Cuicatec settlement is characterized by a unique roster of saints, whose corresponding holy days rarely coincide. Traders come from other Cuicatec and non-Cuicatec Indian villages and from mestizo towns within and outside the district. In general, Indians from the highlands provide agricultural goods and handmade crafts, whereas mestizo traders sell agricultural products that are not grown locally, processed foods, and manufactured goods, such as huaraches, shoes, clothing, cigars, and liquor.

Regional trade is dominated by the members of a few elite mestizo families in the Canada, who export to distant markets the fruit and other products that are grown in the Canada, as well as the coffee, walnuts, and peaches grown in the highlands. They import such products as hardware, canned goods, clothing, beer, and soft drinks.

Historically, there has been, and there continues to be, economic symbiosis between the highlands and the lowlands. Because irrigation allows greater security than rainfall agriculture, the highlands have depended on the Canada for staples during times of shortage. In turn, highland communities export wood, charcoal, and other crops to the Canada and serve as a source of labor for its export agriculture.

Land Tenure. Three major forms of landownership exist in the highlands: communal property, privately owned land, and ejido lands. Communal property is land "owned" by the settlement and cultivated by peasant households. Mestizos own coffee plantations and cattle ranches, but Indians also own private land. Ejido lands are communal holdings that are officially not for rent or for sale. Unofficially, however, land in all three categories is sold, rented, leased, and inherited. In addition, fruit trees may be sold, rented, leased, or inherited independently of the land, a continuation of pre-Hispanic practice.

Cultivable land in the highlands is in short supply. Population pressure is the basis of intrasettlement conflict that occasionally leads to the fissioning of settlements and migration to the Canada and elsewhere for wage labor.

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