Nahuat of the Sierra de Puebla - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Sierra Nahuat have traditionally cultivated milpas, plots planted with rows of maize interspersed with beans and squashes. Small chili and tomato gardens, avocado trees, and herbs gathered in the forest provide the ingredients for a variety of sauces. Domesticated turkeys and small game (deer and armadillos) are important sources of meat. Spaniards introduced chickens, domesticated pigs, sheep, cattle, goats, sugarcane, oranges, wheat, and coffee. A number of villages specialize in the production of baskets and pottery. Women weave cloth on backstrap looms in some communities, and men weave on European looms in others.

Trade. The northern Sierra de Puebla is a region with many villages occupying diverse ecological niches and specializing in different crops and crafts. A complex system of periodic markets for exchanging goods was developed during the pre-Hispanic era. Patterns of trade changed after the construction of railroads and highways and the introduction of cash crops intended for the domestic and, particularly, the international market. Coffee orchards replaced many milpas, and the subsistence cultivation of maize and beans decreased dramatically in lower-elevation communities. Higher-elevation communities send plums, peaches, apples, avocados, and flowers to the regional market centers and Mexico City.

Division of Labor. Traditionally, women have brought water from springs; simmered maize in lime to make nixtamal; ground maize on metates; made tortillas, bean soups, and sauces; fed domesticated turkeys; cared for small children; and washed and mended clothes. Men have hunted, cultivated their milpas, and collected and split firewood for the kitchen. Women and men gathered crayfish in rivers, harvested and transported milpa crops, shelled maize, and bought and sold in local markets. Changes in the economy have modified the division of labor: many Sierra Nahuat now work on the coffee plantations, where men transplant coffee trees and cultivate orchards, and women and children harvest the crop. Men migrate to coastal sugar and maize plantations and work on construction projects in the central Mexican highlands (particularly in Mexico City). Women work as domestic servants or prepare food for workers in migratory labor groups.

Land Tenure. Most arable land is held in fee simple and as ejidos, which will become private property because of changes in agrarian law.


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