Ayoreo - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The Ayoreo are a hardworking people. They divide the annual cycle into various time periods, according to astronomical and other considerations. These periods do not succeed each other in linear fashion but are determined according to a variety of criteria. From the mythico-religious standpoint, the annual cycle is divided into two periods: eápi-puyái, "forest" or "forbidden world" (from May to August), and eápi-uomí, "free world" (from September to April). The changeover from the first period to the second is marked by the festival dedicated to the asohsná (nightjar) bird. For agricultural activities, the Ayoreo distinguish between periods of sowing ( putaningái ) and harvest ( sekeré ). The putaningái begins around September and ends in December; the sekeré begins when the sowing period ends and lasts until April. From a metereological perspective, the months of May through December constitute the dry season ( essóí ), which is interrupted by the rains that come in July and August. The two periods are called "punishing rain" ( uhuia-todié ) and "punishment of the stars" ( iyokisnáne uhuiatóh ), respectively.

During the months that correspond to the eápi-puyái period, the Ayoreo become nomads and live mainly from gathering, hunting, and the agricultural reserves left over from the previous harvest. After the nightjar festival—at the beginning of the putaningái period—a semipermanent village is established, which will be occupied until April. At this time agricultural tasks are begun, while gathering and hunting continue. At the end of the putaningái period, the first fruits of the field are harvested, and there is a gradual increase in agricultural production during the sekeré period until food crops constitute almost the only source of food. In April, when the eápi-puyái period begins, the semipermanent village is abandoned, and the annual economic cycle is begun once more.

Gathering plays a very important role in the economy of the Ayoreo; the yield from wild food is equal to or even greater than that derived from cultivars. Approximately thirty wild plant species are eaten—the roots or tubers of some, the fruits and seeds of others. From palms the Ayoreo extract the palmetto (palm cabbage). Of mammals, they eat only anteaters, armadillos, and white-lipped peccaries; they also eat four different kinds of turtle. Other animals are hunted in order to acquire raw materials: tapir for hides to make sandals, and jaguars, howler monkeys, ocelots, and other mammals for hides to make headdresses for men.

For agricultural work the Ayoreo use a digging stick ( ogé ) and a wooden spade ( kosnangé ). The ogé is also used in collecting wild-growing victuals. The Ayoreo plant maize, beans, gourds, calabashes, potatoes, and tobacco. All these crops are harvested once a year except for tobacco, which matures more often. Fishing is practiced only occasionally and only when the Ayoreo live in semipermanent settlements and the water conditions are right. Some ten different species of fish are caught, the most important being bagre, ventón, cayú, and two species of eel. Fish are caught with the bare hands or with a plunge basket ( čménno ).

Industrial Arts. As regards weaponry, the Ayoreo have three kinds of lances, three varieties of sword-clubs, an elongated truncated conical club, and a bow with three kinds of arrows. The Ayoreo have a remarkable array of implements consisting of wooden spatulas, tubes for absorbing water, aribaloid pitchers (ceramic pots with a narrow opening on top, broad at the center, pointed at the bottom), calabash receptacles, axes made from scraps of iron, wire perforators, scalpels, graters made from rodents' teeth, bone and wooden needles, tassels of Bromelia for the extraction of wild honey, quartzite sharpeners, mortars made of hardwood, various kinds of carrying bags made from the caraguatá (B. argentina ) fiber, fire drills, cordage, pamói (resting bands unique to Ayoreo men, used for sitting with drawn-up legs—the band is strung around the lower back and behind the knees), pipes, and scissors of sheetmetal with which to cut hair. A man's customary dress consists of a simple pubic cover, made of a bunch of strings and feathers fastened to a waist string. Women wear skirts made of plaited string. Both sexes wear sandals made from tapir leather or wood.

Trade. Given the degree of bellicosity of Ayoreo bands, neighboring ethnic groups have not engaged in commercial exchange with them. This bellicosity arose mainly from their desire to obtain iron instruments through theft.

Division of Labor. Activities usually carried out by men are agriculture; hunting; fishing; those tasks that involve the use of stone, wood, and iron; and the manufacture of skin and feather ornaments. Other male activities include the manufacture of pipes and the only item woven by the Ayoreo, the pamói. Men do the felling, clearing, hoeing, sowing, and banking up of soil, which in rare cases may also be done by widows. Collecting honey is a task generally performed by men. Women, however, may collect it from tree hives they can reach from the ground. Hunting turtles and armadillos is also sometimes done by women. Activities usually carried out by women are cording, plaiting, sewing, food preparation, and the making of pottery (with the exception of tobacco pipes). Men occasionally prepare their own food if they are alone in the forest. Gathering plant foods, with the exception of palm sago, which requires very strenuous work, is done primarily by women. Men also occasionally collect fruit or wild roots.

Land Tenure. Ownership or tenure of a particular good is determined in the first place by the work that someone has done to obtain it. This also applies to work that has been done communally, which means that the product passes into collective ownership. So, for example, the product of a collective hunt is distributed among those who participated in it. There are various kinds of ownership, depending on the nature of the property. In the case of cultivated land, the man who works the field is the one who has control over it. This male ownership comes to an end at harvesttime, however, when the owner calls upon the women of the extended family to race toward the field to harvest its produce.


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