Otomí of the Sierra - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Sierra Otomí are primarily subsistence farmers. They are smallholders who farm 1 to 3 hectares per nuclear family. Many own goats or cows. The crops grown depend on elevation. The main subsistence crops are maize, beans, chili peppers, tomates, and squashes. One seasonal crop of maize is grown above 1,500 meters. At lower elevations, two crops can be grown. Forests are exploited for timber and fuel. The people of Santa Ana also grow barley and alfalfa.

Public works are performed by work groups ( faenas ). Men are expected to work a prescribed number of days each year. The other costs of public works are paid by monetary assessments.

Industrial Arts. The peasant way of life includes the production of traditional manufactures such as pottery, cloth, clothing, agricultural tools, and furniture. At the higher elevations, the traditional female garb is a barrel skirt and heavy blouse, whereas at the warmer, lower altitudes, pleated cotton skirts and cotton dresses are worn. Manufactured cloth has replaced most handwoven cloth, and Indian garb for men is being replaced by modern manufactured clothing.

Trade. The region has many weekly markets. The main cash crops are coffee, peaches, and sugarcane. Subsistence crops are also sold. Some families specialize in trading. Traders may make trips lasting several weeks during which they buy, sell, and transport products to take advantage of market-price differentials between the highlands and the lowlands.

Division of Labor. Men do most of the cultivation. Women do most of the domestic work such as gathering water and preparing food. Both sexes share the work of harvesting. Women may work in the fields when and if men migrate to find well-paying jobs. The following occupations are often practiced in conjunction with peasant agriculture; shaman, mason, potter, woodworker, trader, store owner, bonesetter, herbalist, and musician.

Land Tenure. Land may be held privately, communally, or as an ejido. Forest land tends to be communal and belong to a village. Private land is purchased or inherited. Ejido land may be agricultural or forested and is allocated by a local ejido commission under national law. It is in the process of being privatized. There is a strong tendency toward keeping private landownership in the hands of local families. As a nuclear family matures, it receives parental land on which to farm independently.


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