Amuesha - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Amuesha were and are horticulturists. Crops include sweet manioc, plantains, sweet potatoes and a variety of other starchy roots, maize, and squash, as well as pineapple, papaya, and other fruits. Their slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture, typical of Amazonia, is supplemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering. However, except for pacas and agoutis—rodents that thrive on manioc—game and fish have been scarce for many years, especially in the upriver area. During the rubber boom at the turn of the century, the German colonists in the downriver area created necessities by introducing goods that drew the Amuesha into the patrón system, whereby they were obliged to work rubber and plunged into a cycle of perpetual indebtedness. In the 1940s the patrones persuaded the Amuesha to use their abandoned fields as pastures and raise cattle "by halves." Today, along with about forty purchased good stock bulls and other cattle acquired from outside the tribe, as a result, there are some 2,000 head of cattle in Amuesha communities, with individually owned production on the increase. Beginning about 1940, many Amuesha left the upper Palcazu communities for several months a year to work in the coffee harvests of colonists—primarily of German descent—in the upriver area. Since about 1955 the Amuesha themselves have grown coffee as a cash crop and hired other Amuesha to work in the harvest and other aspects of production. They have at least one coffee cooperative. Downriver there is an incipient forestry cooperative, organized by the Pichis-Palcazu Project, which implemented socioeconomic development as well as road construction and colonization along this branch of the Marginal Highway. Some cash income still comes from wage labor.

Industrial Arts. Aboriginal crafts included ceramics, weaving, fabrication of bows and arrows and adornments, and basket weaving. Today, Amuesha make only baskets, palm-leaf mats for household use, and some adornments.

Trade. Until the mid-twentieth century Amuesha men participated in networks of trading-partner relationships with the Asháninca and Ashéninca Campa. Traditional handwoven, long tunics, are still obtained by some of the men, who barter machetes and other merchandise with more isolated Campa communities.

Division of Labor. Men clear and burn new fields, help with planting subsistence crops, and manage plantain fields. Women help with the planting, do most of the weeding, and harvest produce for household consumption. Cattle and pastures are managed almost exclusively by the men. Men are usually responsible for the management of coffee fields, but both men and women participate in weeding and harvesting coffee. Women prepare food, wash clothes, weave baskets, and care for the children. In former times, they also did the spinning and weaving and made pottery, whereas men made bows and arrows and hunted. Girls 4 years of age and older help care for their younger siblings.

Land Tenure. Aboriginally, individuals had the right to occupy and cultivate land wherever they chose to live. With increasing pressure from colonists, Amuesha are largely restricted to small, individually purchased fields or to farming community-owned land assigned to them by local leaders.

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