Afro-Hispanic Pacific Lowlanders of Ecuador and Colombia - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The people of Afro-Hispanic culture are completely capable of maintaining themselves on a strictly subsistence basis, and they often do so even though they are also deeply embedded in the vicissitudes of a boom-bust capitalist economy. Prominent in the sea-edge environment are shore fishing and deep-sea fishing, together with plantain and taro agriculture and coconut, peach palm, breadfruit, and mango arborculture. Chickens are kept for meat and eggs. The mangrove swamp features all of the activities of the seaedge environment plus swine raising, although agricultural activities depend on high-ground areas that are not periodically inundated by the tides. Rice is grown in cleared swamp areas. Women gather bivalve mussels, and men gather crabs in the mangrove swamp for export to the interior. Also, mangrove bark is stripped for tanneries and the wood is used to make charcoal. Fishers and hunters fully utilize the forest-riverine environment. Horticulture focuses especially on plantains and maize. The agricultural system is known as slash-mulch; there is no burning in the swidden activities. The plantain is the fundamental energy-providing food. Because of the heavy rainfall, manioc is not very important in most of the region, but taro provides ubiquitous back-up starch. Tobacco is a prominent crop in some swiddens; sugarcane is grown and processed locally, using the ancient trapiche (the earliest form of sugarcane-grinding apparatus); and peppers, onions, other condiments, spices, and medicinal plants are grown in kitchen gardens. Rice is becoming increasingly important.

Commercial activities now focus on exploitation of the exceedingly diverse hard- and softwoods of the rain forest. Work is done by cooperative work groups organized by one "chief." These are direct transformations of early gold-panning groupings (slave and free). During the full and new moons, men and women in some of the coastal towns gather shrimp larvae in the estuaries or in the sea; these are later sold to commercial shrimp farmers. Economic activity aimed at gaining cash is extensive and intensive when there is an inflow of money from the capitalist economy; subsistence activities are intense when there is no money.


Trade. People of Afro-Hispanic culture produce gold (including archaeological gold that is panned and sometimes mined, and, in the area around Barbacoas, Colombia, locally made gold jewelry) sought after by people outside of their culture area. Their primary trade item is their own labor, and spatial mobility in search of work is a diagnostic feature of the entire region. When there is a market for them, the following foodstuffs have been produced or gathered in large quantities: tagua (ivory nut), coconuts, bananas, peach-palm fruits, tobacco, cacao, dried fish, live crabs, live bivalve mussels, and live shrimp larvae.


Division of Labor. Men are more closely articulated to the capitalist economy than are women, and women are more articulated to the domestic economy than are men. The specific relationships depend on the adaptive niche together with the state of the externally induced boom-bust capitalist economy. Men are relatively more mobile than women, but women are more likely to curry favors in towns than are men. Sex roles are ritually expressed in their contrast and complementarity in six contexts of stylized interaction. In the cantina context males are in complete ascendance; in the saloon men use women as exchange tokens to established male-male alliances; in the currulao context men stress their male mobility, whereas women stress their ability to hold men as other men are "moving on." These contexts are secular. The first sacred context is that of the funeral and symbolic second funeral, in which egalitarian sex roles are expressed; the second is that of the funeral for a child, in which women are ascendant; and the third is the ritual to propitiate saints, in which women clearly control and dominate men. Afro-Hispanic sex-role relationships cannot be understood without reference to this continuum and configuration of complementary and contrasting sex roles.


Land Tenure. Men and women establish gardens in more than one of the three environmental zones, whenever possible. Men clear the heavy trees, and women and men work together in clearing brush and planting. It is up to the founding couple to maintain rights of usufruct to their swidden gardens and to their groves of coconuts and peach palms. Because the Colombian and Ecuadoran governments persist in classifying all areas occupied by Black people in the Pacific Lowlands as tierras baldías (vacant lands), conflict with colonists from the adjacent inland territories assigned land by colonization schemes is ubiquitous. Since the early 1970s the coast of Ecuador has seen the explosive development of the commercial shrimp industry; this has caused the deforestation of large areas of mangrove forest, and this ecological destruction is increasing exponentially. By the early 1990s these processes were incipient in Colombia as well. Cattle ranches have also expanded in many areas. Tourism has increased considerably as national and international travelers visit the beaches of Esmeraldas Province. Prostitution and illegal drug trafficking have increased greatly.


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