Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Most rural Mixtec people are peasants who subsist chiefly on maize, beans, squash, chilies, local fruits, and other vegetables. In some areas, swidden, or slash-and-burn, agriculture is widely practiced; in other areas oxen-drawn plows are used. In favored areas, irrigation works have been developed. The lama-bordo technique of building hillside terraces to control erosion and bring fertile soil off the mountains onto agricultural plots appears to be unique to the Mixteca. In some areas, where virgin forests still exist, wild game (deer, squirrels, coati, iguanas, and birds) supplements the diet. Principal cash crops include coffee, wheat and other grains, tobacco, sugarcane, and fruits. In most areas, significant numbers of goats and sheep are raised, and the coastal area is known for the large number of cattle bred there.
Industrial Arts. In traditional Mixtec villages, there are adept weavers, candle makers, and house builders. In addition, many communities specialize in particular crafts such as pottery making, sugar and liquor production, baking, the manufacture of straw hats and mats, firework production, the manufacture of agricultural tools, leatherworking, and furniture making.
Trade. Much of the trade within the Mixteca is carried out at weekly markets. Local trade involves the exchange of the crafts of different communities and the products of complementary ecozones. Long-distance trade between the Coastal Mixteca and other regions has traditionally focused on salt. Cotton, cacao, chilies, fish, and coconuts are also traded from the coast into highland areas, in exchange for pulque, squashes, herbs such as oregano, and temperate fruits. Pilgrimage centers also function as trading points in the Mixteca, as do sites of religious festivals. Some regions lack weekly markets, and traders simply go from house to house with their wares.
Division of Labor. For rural peasants, the division of labor is by gender and age. Men are responsible for agricultural tasks and house building, whereas women cook and process food, maintain the house, and care for children. In some places, this division of labor is defined by taboos, such as the one arising from the belief that husbands become ill if their wives perform agricultural chores. Both sexes gather firewood; only men hunt. Children and older people are often assigned the task of caring for goats and sheep.
Land Tenure. Patterns of land tenure vary greatly from place to place within the Mixteca, the result of Mexico's complicated agrarian history and local ecological factors. In some areas, land is held privately by individuals and can be freely bought and sold. Elsewhere, land is held privately but cannot be sold to outsiders. In still other places, no individual titles exist, although the same plots may stay within families for generations. In places where swidden agriculture is practiced and there is abundant land, fields are abandoned after a year or two, and the family that worked a plot may never again return to it. Most Mixtec communities maintain at least some communal lands, which are used by community members for pasturage, cutting timber, collecting wild plants, and gathering fuel.