Apiaká - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Until the nineteenth century the Apiaká cleared their fields by cutting the forest with stone axes fixed to wooden handles. They had a reputation for being hardworking agriculturists who also practiced hunting and fishing. Nowadays the Apiaká use sickles, machetes, steel axes, and chain saws in combination with slash-and-burn methods to clear their fields. The Apiaká grow mainly manioc and maize, but also rice, bananas, pineapples, yams, taro, and various other cultigens, as well as dozens of fruit trees. This food production is complemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering in the nearby forest and by raising domestic animals. Besides objects of personal use, they make handicrafts to sell. As far as the products of the hunt, fishing, gathering, and other work is concerned, the Apiaká follow traditional modes of distribution. The same rules govern economic obligations that are part of the social structure.

Industrial Arts. According to Koch-Grünberg, the Apiaká used feathers to adorn their spears and to make diadems, earrings, and scepters. Body adornment consisted of raffia or cotton strips. Men wore waist belts of woven cotton and penis sheaths. Strips of the same material were worn on the arms and legs by both sexes. Women also wore cotton strings in their hair. Necklaces of seeds, teeth, and shells completed a warrior's decoration. Nowadays, they dress as Brazilians do and make canoes, paddles, bows and arrows, carrying baskets, sieves, fire fans, nets from commercial thread, and bracelets and rings of tucum -palm material. From the inner layer of the bark they make shoulder straps to carry their children. This fiber is also used for basket handles. Pottery has been replaced by aluminum ware. Bracelets, rings, necklaces, and bows and arrows are made for their own use; these same items, but in simplified form, are also made for sale to tourists.

Trade. The Apiaká traditionally used the barter system for their products. There is an obligation to distribute game or fish proportionately, according to the abundance of the food item and the degree of kin relationship. Items of local trade are acquired with money earned from work on neighboring plantations or cattle ranches and/or the sale of handicrafts or rubber latex. The Apiaká have long bought salt, sugar, coffee, clothes, textiles, soap, firearms, munitions, fishing items, kerosene, and steel tools. Occasionally, they buy radios and battery-operated tape recorders.

Division of Labor. Agricultural tasks are divided among men, women, and, to a lesser degree, children. Men are responsible for clearing the fields—a series of activities that includes cutting shrubs and small trees by using machetes and sickles and large logs by means of steel axes and chain saws. Planting, weeding, and gathering are done by the family, following internal subdivisions. Hunting is an exclusively male task, whereas fishing is done by all. Housework, child care, making clothing, and cooking are female tasks. Men build houses and make canoes, paddles, bows and arrows, and baskets. Women make the rest of the handicraft items that are used as trade goods. Despite the temporary lack of certain items, most of them can be obtained in the village throughout most of the year.

Land Tenure. One cannot speak of landownership among the Apiaká. The individual who wishes to clear a field communicates his intent to the others and determines with them the dimensions of the plot. The Apiaká consider themselves the owners of the field even after it has been harvested and is covered by secondary growth. It can be ceded to another person, or, once it has been abandoned, simply taken over by someone else. The produce of the field belongs to the farmer who planted it; some may be given to whoever needs it and asks for a "loan." There is also ownership of trees in the forest. From the moment that someone makes it clear that he intends to make a boat or house posts from a tree or that he is interested in harvesting its fruits or honey from a hive in its trunk, he owns it. Hunters and fishermen tend to frequent specific trails and places time after time, but this does not imply ownership; it is simply recognized as "the trail of a specific individual." Among rubber-tapping Apiaká, each is the owner of his "street," that is, a trail he has opened to reach 50 to 100 trees. Use of the "street" can be let to other individuals.

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