Aymara - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Early Aymara began practicing animal husbandry and subsistence agriculture possibly around 2500 B . C . Climate, elevation, and poor soil limit the range of plants and food crops that can be cultivated. The Aymara adapted to their harsh environment by engaging in the domestication of animals and crops, some of which are still unique to the Andes (the Andean cameloid, llama, and the native grain, quinoa) and others of which (e.g., potatoes and maize) have spread throughout the world. A method for food preservation was developed early: dehydration (freeze-drying) of the staple food, potatoes, and other Andean tubers. This allowed long-term storage, necessary in a region of seasonal production, as well as the accumulation of a surplus to free labor for nonsubsistence activities. The dramatic differences in elevation create substantial climatic variations in geographically close areas. As insurance against the failure of a single crop and to get access to a greater variety of products, the Aymara have developed a method of agricultural diversification: they keep land in different ecozones. This diversification technique is used also in commercial activities (e.g., trade and wage labor). Trade is by tradition dominated by women, who bring agricultural produce to central markets, where today most products are sold, not traded. Early patterns of seasonal migration (mainly by men) for wage labor have contributed to the engagement in the cash economy by most present-day Aymara. However, there are rural villagers still living mainly through subsistence agriculture.

Industrial Arts. Pottery making and weaving are performed by both men and women. Works of highly skilled architects and sculptors from the Tiahuanaco culture can still be seen at that site.

Trade. Despite lagging development of infrastructure and poor communications, Aymara men and women traditionally keep long-distance trading partners, which enables them to acquire produce from other ecological zones. In institutionalized reciprocal relationships, such as ayni (exchange of labor, goods, and services) and compadrazgo (godparenthood, coparenthood, ritual kinship), labor may be exchanged for food products or meals. Urban traders exchange, for example, salt, sultana coffee, rice, or vegetables grown at low elevation for several kinds of potatoes and dried beans with their rural partners.

Division of Labor. Labor is divided equally between married spouses (i.e., husbands and wives work the fields together, although they may have different tasks). But no task is so sex specific that the other cannot take it on. Among urban "Westernized" Aymara, however, the traditional labor cooperation seems to be vanishing.

Land Tenure. In early days a form of collective landownership was practiced by the members of an ayllu, a basic social, political, and geographical unit (see "Kinship"). Grazing land was used in common, whereas the agricultural land was rotated and distributed yearly among ayllu members according to the needs of each extended family. Only land on which the families had their houses was privately owned. As land became permanently divided and privately owned by separate families, the tradition of working in common-labor groups has been weakened.


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