Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The precontact Ache economy was based on hunting mammals, exploiting palm products and insect larva, and collecting wild fruits and honey. Recent samples of subsistence suggest that meat provided about 55 percent of the calories in the diet, honey about 20 percent, and plants and insect larva about 25 percent. Today men spend about seven hours per day in subsistence work and supply about 90 percent of the calories in the diet. Women spend about two hours per day moving camp and about two hours per day in subsistence tasks. They dedicate the remainder of their time to intensive child care, which is crucial to the survival of offspring in the forest. Men hunt all mammals larger than 1 kilogram and also pursue larger reptiles, birds, and fish when the opportunity arises. No species of animal is generally taboo, although some species are not eaten by certain age and gender classes. Men hunt with long (2 meters) bows and arrows; the most important game species are peccaries, monkeys, large rodents, armadillos, coatis, and deer. Men also kill many game animals (e.g., coatis, armadillos) by hand, simply slamming them to the ground or by suffocating them (e.g., paca) when they are driven from their burrows. No traps are employed, nor are hunting blinds used. Instead men walk long distances each day in search of game, and often call for help when they encounter an animal that can be cooperatively hunted. Men also collect wild honey by climbing a tree in which a hive is located or felling it. Whereas meat is an important resource year round, honey is commonly eaten only in the early wet season.
In the forest, women carry the family's possessions in woven palm baskets and also carry small children and pets. They stop to rest frequently and generally move toward where the men are hunting. They chop rotting palm trunks looking for beetle larvae and also collect a variety of forest fruits, especially in the wet season. Once they have located a camp spot for the night they often spend some time extracting palm fiber. This fiber is chewed or extracted in water and is rich in starch. Men find the women's new camp spot late in the day and the one large meal of the day is prepared.
Food is shared widely among band members, with complete and equal pooling of meat resources and somewhat less sharing of vegetable resources. The current reservation Ache depend primarily on sweet manioc and corn as their staples and raise some domestic animals in addition to fishing and hunting nearby for protein. Some of the younger members of the population spend weeks away from the reservations engaging in wage labor as field hands.
Industrial Arts. Traditional artifacts included bows, arrows, clubs, tooth knives, palm-leaf baskets, mats, beeswax-covered woven water containers, brushlike utensils for sucking juice, stone axes, clay pots, monkey-tooth necklaces, skin bonnets, baby slings, bamboo flutes, lip plugs, and a few other small items. The Ache still make most of these items for use, but only water containers and bows and arrows are sold commercially.
Trade. Before peaceful contact there was no trade either between the Ache and non-Ache peoples or between different Ache bands. Currently, trade takes place within the context of the market economy of rural Paraguay.
Division of Labor. Men traditionally hunted and extracted honey, whereas women moved camp, collected plant and insect products, and took care of children. Recent studies have suggested that the overriding importance of competent child care in a dangerous forest environment placed strong constraints on female subsistence activities. Men and women both were responsible for the production of the tools that each used, although women manufactured the bowstring used by men. Men built huts when necessary, but both sexes were involved in food preparation and butchering. Women and men were not tabooed from touching or using each others' tools, and about 3 percent of the adult men took on a female economic role and acted like females in social interactions. Men were in charge of a few ritual activities that involved the Ache. Members of both sexes are present at the birth of infants, and the two sexes interact freely and without tension both publicly and privately. In the current reservations men do all the farm labor, but women harvest manioc and prepare meals. Informal and friendly relations continue to be the norm between sexes.
Land Tenure. Traditionally, there was no territoriality in any sense of the word. All Ache bands and band members were free to roam wherever they pleased and often covered large areas. Bands had core activity areas, but these frequently overlapped and might change over a period of years. Members of the four major Ache groups avoided each other's home ranges because of fears about violence and raiding. The Ache currently live on four small reservations (from 300 to 2,000 hectares) with legal or provisional land titles. They have engaged in attempts to obtain more of their traditional home range through the Paraguayan legal system.