Tzotzil of Chamula - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Chamula still define themselves as independent agriculturists who plant their small milpas with the sacred trilogy of maize, beans, and squashes. Planting one's own land is still the most respected occupation for men, as it stresses independence and commitment to traditional values. This, however, has increasingly become an unreachable dream since the end of the nineteenth century, when large coffee farms in Chiapas started recruiting a cheap labor force from highland indigenous groups. The high elevation of lands in Chamula, the fact that they have been intensively planted for hundreds of years, and the fractionalization of land bestowed upon both male and female children have reduced the size of landholdings and their productivity. On average, the Chamula can produce only about 20 percent of their yearly food requirements on their own lands. Most Chamula depend upon wage labor on farms and plantations to support their families or to supplement their plots' production. Many rent lands at lower elevations to plant their foodstuffs—and move there during several months each year to care for their crops. The majority of households own sheep, an important economic asset, since they are the source of wool to weave the family's clothing. Most households also raise chickens, which are eaten occasionally during celebrations and as ritual food. Some households tend pigs to sell to Ladinos.

Industrial Arts. Some households produce utilitarian pottery, furniture, and candles, but weaving is a universal activity for Chamula women and is considered the quintessential female occupation. In the late 1970s many women learned to embroider and to produce more modern-looking garments for tourists.

Trade. From Pre-Hispanic times, periodic local markets have been of central importance in the area. Everything is sold in these markets, from ritual objects, fresh produce, and cooked food to clothes, furniture, and other household needs. People attend the market with enthusiasm, for it is not only a place to buy and sell but also to exchange the latest gossip and visit with relatives and friends. Many Chamula peddle goods on the streets in some of southern Mexico's large cities.

Division of Labor. A traditional, complementary division of labor between men and women existed in the past and still holds as the contemporary ideal; men are independent agriculturists, and women are weavers; they complement each other in household tasks. At present, men leave for wage labor, and women take charge of the household, domestic animals, and children, and plant their small plots.

Land Tenure. Most lands within the township are individually owned, but forests and water holes are community property. Many Chamula have received ejido lands (i.e., lands granted by the government under agrarian reform laws) outside of the community.

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