Tarahumara - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. As in the past, the Tarahumara economy is based on the cultivation of maize, beans, and squash. The European introduction of plows, axes, livestock, fruit trees, and Old World crops such as wheat enhanced rather than transformed traditional agricultural practices. Wild plants continue to provide an important component of the diet, but wild-plant fibers used for weaving have been supplanted by wool and commercial yarn. The destruction of much of the larger fauna, especially deer, once a crucial source of meat and raw materials, has increased the importance of introduced livestock, in particular sheep, goats, and cattle, which provide manure, wool, and hides in addition to meat. Many Tarahumara supplement their agricultural activities by working in the local Mexican economy, typically in lumbering and road construction, and by performing chores for their non-Indian neighbors. They also acquire cash by selling their agricultural products and by producing items for sale to tourists. Since the colonial period, the Tarahumara have migrated to work in economic centers outside their territory; in the second half of the twentieth century such out-migration, both temporary and permanent, has been increasing.

Industrial Arts. The Tarahumara make most of their basic household and agricultural implements and ritual paraphernalia from locally available raw materials, but they purchase manufactured goods such as cloth, metal tools, and plastic and metal containers. They also produce textiles, pottery, musical instruments, and wood carvings for the outside, mostly tourist, market.

Trade. In the colonial period, the Tarahumara traded maize and other agricultural products for European manufactured goods, providing a significant proportion of the food for some Spanish mining towns. A similar exchange continues, but goods are now more frequently bought and sold rather than bartered. Items found locally in the canyons of southwestern Chihuahua, especially medicinal plants, are traded and sold in the uplands and in areas outside the Sierra.

Division of Labor. The Tarahumara divide most work into male or female tasks, but when the need arises both men and women perform basic household chores associated with the opposite gender. Women tend to prepare the food, care for the children and livestock, weave, and make pottery; men undertake most of the horticultural work, construct houses, cut and haul firewood, and carve. Men are the principal political officials and are also more prominent than women in wage labor for non-Indians and in ritual activities, including curing.

Land Tenure. Most Tarahumara live in ejidos, communal landholding units created as part of the agrarian-reform program of the Mexican Revolution. Land tenure is ultimately subject to ejido rules but tends to conform to traditional practices. Both men and women own fields individually, which they exchange, sell, lend, and transmit to their heirs. Usufruct applies to abandoned fields and uncultivated lands. Reforms to the Mexican constitution in 1992 allow ejido holdings to be converted to private property and sold to non-ejido members, potentially jeopardizing Tarahumara control of their lands.

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