Yukateko - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. For most of the thousands of years of occupation of the peninsula, the Yukateko have relied upon slash-and-burn (milpa, or kòol ) horticulture. Evidence exists that pre-Hispanic Mayas supplemented kòol horticulture with other more intensive techniques such as raised fields. To make kòol, quadrilaterals of jungle are felled and burned in the dry spring. Planting occurs after the arrival of the first rains and continues for a total of three consecutive years. The fertilizing ash supplements the shallow soil. The field is then left fallow for fifteen to twenty years. This digging-stick-based system is perfectly adapted to the Yucatán environment, which does not favor mechanized agriculture. Maize, beans, and squashes have long been planted together. The maize tortilla ( wah ) is a dietary staple, and fruits and vegetables are often grown in house gardens. Since pre-Hispanic times, and to a lesser extent today, salt has been produced from coastal lagoons.

Today wage labor supplements subsistence or income-producing agriculture. In the northeast, residual estates producing henequen provide agricultural employment. Tourist resorts provide many low-paying construction jobs. These jobs have great allure for Yukateko men, however, because urban merchants pay below-market prices for their produce simply because they are Maya, a discriminatory practice that limits the potential for economic success through agriculture.

Industrial Arts. Certain communities have a reputation for producing high-quality hammocks ( k'áan ), hats, shoes, pottery, or huípil dresses, but such industry is highly localized.

Trade. Pre-Columbian trade networks were both sea and land based, with the latter depending exclusively on foot transport, owing to the absence of draft animals. Markets as centers for exchange were more common in the past than they are today, with private or government-controlled capitalism requiring Mayas to transport their wares to urban centers. Village-level exchange, often based on Mexican currency, is usually preferred, given the difficulties of transport.

Division of Labor. The Yukateko man is known by his profession of kòolnàal, or maize farmer, and is complemented by his wife, who is in charge of the domestic unit, usually venturing forth only to take her daily maize to the local grinder, collect firewood and water, go to market, go to church, or visit friends and family.

Land Tenure. In pre-Columbian times, land use was controlled by political and kin groups. Today, the Maya have access to both private land, if resources allow, or federal ejido lands, which were made available through agricultural reform after the Mexican Revolution.

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