Lenca - Economy

The central component of subsistence is the production of maize, beans, and squashes. These crops are raised together on small plots (milpas). Traditional implements such as the hoe, machete, and digging stick are utilized to cultivate crops in the milpa. Other crops that are grown to supplement the Lenca diet include, wheat, bananas, sugarcane, yucca, chilies, and oranges. These crops are raised on ejido lands: officially, the land is owned by the community, but plots are assigned to individuals, who farm the land as if it were their own.

A smaller portion of time is devoted to hunting and fishing. Men hunt for deer or jaguars with their bows and arrows. The Lenca have a unique way of fishing. They first dam up a stream or river with stones, leaving an opening where water can still flow through. They then place a net over the opening and place poisonous barbasco vines in the river upstream. The poison from the vine kills the fish, and they are then caught in the net.

The Lenca also make use of a number of domesticated animals. Dogs, chickens, pigs, ducks, and turkeys are commonly owned. Horses, mules, and cows are rarer possessions but are valued very highly. Horses and mules are important for transportation, and cows are prized for their milk, which is given to infants.

The Lenca make a number of objects for their own use. Basketry and pottery are important industries at the village level. Using pine needles or a type of cane, they make many types of baskets. By employing various organic dyes they decorate the baskets with colorful patterns. Pottery is made by coiling strands of clay into jugs and bowls. These are then fired in kilns that are built into the ground.

Another important manufactured good is cordage. Fibers from the maguey plant are spun into long strands of cord by two individuals standing 9 to 27 meters apart. These cords are used for construction purposes and are often traded for other goods.

Also, the Lenca produce candles for use in their homes and in the churches. The berries of the weed Mirica cerifera are picked, crushed, and boiled. The residue from this process is then placed into candle molds and left to cool.

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