Amahuaca - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Each hamlet is a self-sufficient horticultural community with only slightly less dependence on hunting. New hilltop plots are cleared each year in primary forest. Maize, the principle staple, is soaked and planted in holes dug with a broken bow stave. When the new plants appear, cuttings of sweet manioc are interplanted with palm-wood spades, and, just before the rains begin, banana shoots are sunk in deep holes. Minor crops include sweet potatoes, peanuts, yams, pijuayo (peach palms), and papaya in addition to cotton, tobacco, achiote and huito for pigments, gourds, barbasco for fish poison, arrow cane, ayahuasca, and several medicinal herbs. Little weeding is done. Palm hearts, nuts, seeds, small fruits, and fungi are gathered from the numerous trees of the forest. Maize is stored on the cob in granaries built on the same pattern as dwellings but with raised floors of split palm. The toasted kernels are ground to a fine flour in a palm-log trough mortar with a rocker pestle carved from a flat buttress root. The flour is eaten dry or boiled to make a thick soup, often with masticated flour added to sweeten it. Sweet bananas are eaten raw as they ripen, but plantain varieties are roasted or boiled. Manioc tubers are boiled as a vegetable and sometimes mashed to make a slightly fermented soup.

All game animals, including fish, are caught with palm-wood bows and cane arrows tipped with barbed or unbarbed bamboo blades or pijuayo points. The most abundant game are several species of monkeys, peccaries, deer, and tapir and several types of large rodents, anteaters, armadillos, turtles and their eggs, and large non-carrioneating birds. Hunters track game with dogs and sometimes use cane or palm-leaf blinds. Meat and fish are roasted and smoked on babracots. To gather honey, fruits, nuts and other materials from trees, Amahuaca use climbing rings of lianas around their ankles.

Industrial Arts. Steel axes and knives have replaced the traditional T-shaped axes and wooden sword clubs, but clam shells, bamboo, and rodent teeth are still used as cutting tools. With tumplines on their foreheads, women carry heavy loads in deep rectangular twilled baskets made of single-pinnate palm leaves. Oblong covered baskets made of split cane are used for storing men's craft materials. Clay from river banks is used to make undecorated vessels in various sizes and shapes. Coarse cotton skirts, hammocks, baby slings, and ditty bags are woven on backstrap looms. Wrist-and headbands, on the other hand, are woven of fine thread on bent-withe (Ucayali) looms. Men use benches made of two split balsa logs, whereas women sit on yarina palm-leaf mats. Rafts of balsa logs are sometimes used to descend rivers because canoes are virtually unusable on the Inuya headwaters. However, dugout cedarlog canoes are regularly used on the Purus, Sepahua, and Ucayali.

Trade. Game is shared and surplus craft items are sometimes traded within a hamlet. Among people from separate groups, bows and arrows, skirts, food, and tobacco leaves may be exchanged to establish and reinforce friendly relations. No currency is used.

Division of Labor. With few exceptions, the work of men and women is strictly divided and complementary: men hunt and fish; cut and clear gardens; plant manioc, bananas, and tobacco; construct houses; and make telescope storage baskets, wooden tools, utensils, weapons, and benches. Women plant, harvest, and transport most of the crops; cut and fetch firewood; draw water; grind maize; butcher game; cook; and care for children. They also spin; weave; make pots, mats, and most of the baskets; and drill seeds for beads. Both men and women gather products from the forest. There are no specialists.

Land Tenure. The senior male of a local group is said to own the land, which is defended against incursions by outsiders with palm-spine caltrops. Garden plots are individually owned, but only while in cultivation. Fruit-bearing trees, however, continue to be owned by those who planted them. Any member of a settlement may hunt in any part of the surrounding region.


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