Araucanians - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Between A . D . 500-1000 and 1500 Araucanian subsistence was based on a combination of food gathering, hunting, fishing, horticulture, and incipient agriculture. Their diet was and continues to be predominantly vegetarian. Horticulture is believed to have developed among the aboriginal Araucanians between 500 and 1500. In the valleys, horticulture and incipient agriculture were combined with hunting and gathering, whereas in the highlands only hunting and gathering were practiced. In the coastal areas, fishing and gathering shellfish were supplemented with hunting. The plants cultivated by the Araucanians of the valleys were maize, kidney beans, squashes, quinoa, oca, peanuts, chili peppers, and white potatoes. The latter are believed to have been domesticated by the Araucanians. Irrigation agriculture was practiced by the Picunche in the northern part of the Araucanian territory. The Araucanians were herders as well as farmers, raising llamas for meat and wool. By the end of the eighteenth century, llamas were replaced by horses, mules, sheep, pigs, and other domesticated animals introduced by the Spanish.

Contemporary Araucanians agriculturists cultivate European crops using steel plows and farming techniques learned from the Chileans, such as the three-field system of land rotation and crop rotation. Woven blankets, pottery, and wood- and stone work are sold to tourists in the markets of cities near the reservations. Women sell part of the produce from their gardens in the local markets.

Industrial Arts. Ceramics were probably introduced in the northern cultures of the Araucanian territory in the last 500 years prior to the arrival of the Spanish. By the time of their arrival, the Araucanians were skilled in fashioning baskets, blankets colored with native dyes, cordage and netted objects, pottery, and wood and stone objects. With the introduction of sheep by the Spanish, weaving became more important. Silversmithing was introduced in the late eighteenth century and became highly developed. Today, the Araucanians make textiles, baskets, and stone- and woodwork both for domestic use and for cash sale in the local markets.

Trade. Exchange between the Araucanians consisted of reciprocated favors. Chilean Araucanians traded with the Argentinian Araucanians for salt and animals in exchange for weavings and alcohol. Trade between the Araucanians and the Spanish and, later, the Chileans, was fairly common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; however, there were no established markets. Generally, Araucanians traded animals and weavings for alcohol and European goods.

Division of Labor. When swidden agriculture was practiced, men cut down and burned the forest, whereas women did the planting, weeding, and harvesting of the gardens. During times of war farming was performed primarily by women. Since the relocation to reservations, farming has become the main occupation of men. Women, in addition to their domestic work, engage in the small-scale cultivation of vegetable gardens. Children start to help their parents in farm activities when they are young. At an early age, they begin by taking care of the animals. As they grow older, boys help their fathers with farm activities, whereas girls help their mothers with domestic tasks. Minga, a communal form of reciprocated labor in which kin members and neighbors participate, was and continues to be resorted to for the construction of houses and agricultural tasks.

Land Tenure. Among aboriginal Araucanians land lacked importance because their economy did not emphasize extensive agriculture. In the second half of the eighteenth century, land was owned communally by a group of families. Each family owned the land they cultivated and grazed. Property was administered by chiefs, who apportioned plots to families. Reservation settlement in 1884 changed this situation, weakening common holding and strengthening individual holding and inheritance. Three thousand small reservations were mapped by surveyors from 1884 to 1920. The Chilean authorities gave the head of a kinship group a land deed ( título de merced ) granting use to him and to the (named) group members. The reservation policy of 1884 gave chiefs an opportunity to receive more land if there was division. Under this policy, upon petition of one-eighth of the households, the reservation would be disbanded and the land given in severalty title to household heads, with additional land given to chiefs as inducement.

In the early part of the twentieth century, this policy, combined with the increase in population and diminishing agricultural productivity, produced the greatest pressure to divide land. In the 1920s, however, the division of land came almost to a standstill. The Mapuche resisted disbandment. The government continued its efforts to attempt to appeal to individual Mapuche and bypass the authority of the chiefs. In 1927 the law pertaining to the disbanding of reservations was changed to require only the appeal of a single household. After this measure failed, the government decreed that even this single vote was not necessary and that it could disband reservations at its own discretion. In 1931 the law was again changed; it stipulated that the votes of one-third of the households of a reservation were needed. In March 1979 Decree-Law 2568 went into effect, providing for the division of Mapuche communal land into individual plots if only one occupant demands it, whether Mapuche or non-Mapuche. The majority of the Mapuche now live on reservations (the number of reservations has decreased to under 2,000). They can bequeath their land, lend it, or rent it, but they cannot sell it or dispose of it in any permanent way. The sale of land is possible only after the reservation is divided.

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