Tzotzil and Tzeltal of Pantelhó - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Agriculture is the basis of the economy. The Indians of Pantelhó use a slash-and-burn technique: fields (milpas) ranging from 0.5 to 3 hectares are cleared with machetes and axes in March and April and burned in early May, in anticipation of the coming rains. Maize (in several varieties) is planted with a digging stick ( abonte' ) later that month. Milpas are weeded twice, and, when mature, the maize plant is doubled over and left to dry. Then, in September, beans (principally black beans) are sown among the corn plants. In hot country, a second crop of maize is planted in January. Depending on the climatic zone, bananas, chilies, pineapples, squashes, and tomatoes are cultivated. Citrus trees are also common.

In the nineteenth century Ladinos introduced coffee, along with cattle, tobacco, and sugarcane to the area. After obtaining land, Indians continued the cultivation of coffee, and it has become the dominant cash crop: in 1990 Pantelhó produced more than 450 metric tons. The production and marketing of coffee represent an important source of revenue and a continuing source of conflict between largely Indian producers and Ladino traders.

Throughout most of the last two centuries, Indians labored on Ladino ranches in Pantelhó or migrated to work on the coffee plantations of the southern coastal highlands (Soconusco). Once they obtained land of their own, however, they ceased to work for wages. Wage labor is now a pursuit of young men and those who remain landless.

Industrial Arts. The people of Pantelhó rely heavily on imported goods, given that indigenous crafts are limited. A few Tzeltal women continue to make clay cooking pots and comals (large griddles on which tortillas are cooked). The Tzotzil women of the headtown maintain an age-old tradition of textile manufacture. Blouses for women and shirts for men are woven of imported cotton on backstrap looms and brocaded in the unique style of Pantelhó. Women have begun to manufacture napkins and tablecloths for the tourist market in San Cristóbal.

Trade. Commercial activity centers on agricultural products (primarily coffee), the revenue from the sale of which is used to purchase manufactured goods, food, medicine, and transportation. The headtown, where a weekly regional market is held on Friday and Saturday, is a major commercial center. In addition, Ladinos operate several stores that sell a variety of items ranging from machetes to cheap rum ( pox ), and they also supply smaller stores in Indian hamlets. The headtown is a transportation hub connecting Pantelhó to San Cristóbal by bus and truck.

Division of Labor. A pronounced division of labor by gender characterizes Pantelhó, as does segregation in other aspects of life. Men's work revolves around agriculture, wage labor, construction (e.g., house building), and community work projects. Men and boys clear fields and—with occasional help from women and girls—burn the fields, plant, weed, and harvest. Men also raise cattle and horses. Women maintain the household: their work includes cooking (the processing of maize into tortillas alone is a time-consuming task), cleaning, child care, textile production, and, to varying degrees, helping in the fields. They also raise chickens, turkeys, ducks, and pigs but rarely engage in wage labor.

The gender division of labor is more pronounced among the Tzotzil than among the Tzeltal. Tzotzil women are less likely to work in the fields and more likely to spend time on textile manufacture; they also collect firewood, whereas Tzeltal men and women share this task.


Land Tenure. The pattern of land tenure in Pantelhó has fluctuated repeatedly over the centuries between communal and private. As recently as 1993, there were still two forms—ejido and private. According to the Mexican constitution, qualified rural landless agriculturists could petition the government for grants of land, ejidos. The eight ejidos in Pantelhó offered their members the right to inherit (but not to own) land. In the early 1990s there were two local variations of private property: ranches and copropiedades. Ranches were owned by individual families, usually Ladino. Copropiedades consisted of former ranches purchased by collective groups of Indians who assigned individual ownership but often maintained an association with some control over the use and distribution of the land. Ejidos make up about 60 percent of landholdings. Most landholdings in Pantelhó, with the exception of individually owned ranches, range between 2 and 10 hectares.

In 1992, led by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Mexico changed its constitution, allowing for the privatization of the ejido, in effect ending the ejido system. The ramifications are unclear, but a comparison of ejido and non-ejido members in Pantelhó suggests that increased inequalities and greater poverty are likely outcomes.

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