Nahua of the Huasteca - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Nahua of the Huasteca practice a mixed form of agriculture based upon the subsistence farming of maize. Members of some communities use a horse- or mule-drawn plow to turn the soil, whereas people in other communities, sometimes constrained by hilly terrain, use the slash-and-burn method with a dibble stick for seeding. Besides maize, the Nahua grow beans, chili peppers, squashes, onions, tomatoes, papayas, citrus fruits, tobacco, and condiments such as cilantro. Major cash crops include maize, sugarcane, and coffee. Animals raised include turkeys, chickens, pigs, bees, and, in well-to-do households, cattle. Virtually all Nahua families supplement their farming activities with secondary occupations.

Industrial Arts. The only widespread industrial production entails the manufacture of sugarloaf. A wooden, or, in the late twentieth century, a metal trapiche (cane press) is used to squeeze the cane stalks and extract the juice. This liquid is boiled until a thick syrup is rendered, then poured into molds and cooled, with the resulting loaf wrapped in cane leaves and sold in the market.

Trade. Major trading takes place in weekly markets organized throughout the region. Many Nahua attend one or more markets, often at considerable distances from their home base.

Division of Labor. The major division of labor is by sex. Women prepare food, make and repair clothing, attend to domestic chores, help with the harvest, and provide major care for children. They may also engage in one of a number of secondary occupations to help increase family income. These activities include baking bread, embroidering, gathering and selling firewood, pottery making, bonesetting, curing, midwifery, or operating a stall in a regional market. Men clear and plant fields, care for animals, build and maintain houses, weave fishing nets, hunt and fish, carry produce to the market for sale, and make sugarloaf. They may also engage in clearing forest and brush for regional cattle ranchers, picking coffee beans, temporarily working as a laborer in an urban area, playing music, curing, raising bees, or selling produce or animals at the regional market. Both men and women may choose to run a small one-room shop in their community as a means of earning extra money.

Land Tenure. The land-tenure situation in the Huasteca is exceedingly complex. Many Nahua have rights to ejido land. Many others had invaded private ranch land and were in the process of applying for ejido status. Still others sharecrop or farm as tenants, and many families combine several such approaches in order to gain access to farmland.

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