Wasteko - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Subsistence is derived indirectly by purchases with cash from seasonal wage labor and from the sale of raw sugar, coffee, or other cash crops, and directly from production of maize, fruits, firewood, plant-derived medicines, and construction materials. The basic diet of tortillas and beans is supplemented by fruits, wild greens, garden foods, and occasional small game. Most of the maize and beans are purchased with cash. The Wasteko agro-ecosystem is a fluid mosaic of several resource zones, including permanent planted fields (primarily sugarcane or henequen), periodically planted fields (for maize production and gardens), fallows in various stages of forest regeneration, orchards, dooryards, permanent forests, and streams. The Wasteko use a short-fallow version of the Mesoamerican swidden system known as "milpa." This system produces sufficient firewood from the regenerating forest in fallows but insufficient maize to meet subsistence needs. Approximately 25 percent of an average San Luis Potosí Wasteko community's land is under forest, 50 percent in fallow-milpa cycled land, and 25 percent in sugarcane. Coffee is grown under native forest.

Industrial Arts and Trade. Raw sugar is produced as a cottage industry. Cane is harvested by hand and put through an animal-powered press to extract the juice. The juice is then boiled in a large open vat until it reaches the sugaring stage, when it is poured into small pottery molds. The unmolded raw sugar is sold to mestizo traders or to cooperatives. Other trade is limited to small-scale selling at weekly markets or church-festival events. Women make pocket money by selling piglets, chickens, eggs, fruit, garden produce, cooked food, small amounts of ground coffee, and embroidered cloths. A few men in any given community are specialists in the repair of tools, radios, or tape recorders. Some work as barbers. The Wasteko construct their own houses, weave cloth on backstrap looms, and produce pottery and clay votive figures for personal use.

Division of Labor. Women are responsible for cooking, cleaning, laundry, child care, caring for domestic livestock, and gathering firewood. They also bear the primary responsibility for carrying water from wells or springs for household use, a task that can become onerous in the dry season, when even the nearest source of stagnant or polluted water may be as far as several kilometers away. In mountainous areas, women often have to climb down into caves to find a source of water. Men clear and plant fields for milpas, cut sugarcane and henequen for processing, and build houses. Both sexes weed and harvest crops, process sugar, and weave henequen bags for sale. Children assist adults from an early age. The division of labor is not rigid; a man may take on household responsibilities if a woman is ill or if he has free time.

Land Tenure. Wasteko land rights were lost in the late 1800s, when federal laws eliminated indigenous peoples' communal-property rights. After the Mexican Revolution, the 1917 Constitution recognized community ownership of land under Article 27 in the form of ejidos and comunidades. Ejidos were granted to groups of people who petitioned for access to resources to which they had had no prior claim. Comunidades are preexisting corporate entities, whose rights were recognized if their members could demonstrate prior, longstanding, community-based use of the land and waters. Because it was easier to establish rights to ejidos, the Wasteko claimed property in both ways. In either case, the community is the primary allocator and enforcer of local rights to resources within its boundaries, and it regulates both inheritance and membership. The corporate group's cultural and social integrity reinforces a unified approach to management decisions. Communities can grant to individual households the rights to manage and benefit from long-term, private access to specific community resources. Thus, each household owns, operates, and passes on inheritance rights to its own farmstead within the borders of the comunidad or ejido, but it cannot sell or rent community lands outside the community. Some Wasteko own small plots of individually titled property ( parcelas particulares ). Households share the rights to harvest their crops or use their land with poorer community members and kin to ensure that the subsistence needs of all are met.

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