Bakairi - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Bakairi are horticultural riverine Indians. Slash-and-burn horticulture is practiced in subsistence gardens located in the gallery forests along the rivers. The Indians cultivate manioc, rice, yellow maize, bananas, sugarcane, yams, melons, red beans, green beans, papayas, and squashes. They are learning how to use mechanized agricultural equipment to produce rice in the cerrado parts of the reservation. Fishing, hunting, and cattle herding provide high-quality protein. Garden products provide over 96 percent of the energy produced annually by the Bakairi. Over 62 percent of the protein available to the Indians is from vegetables, whereas less than 38 percent is from animals. Young males leave the reservation for several weeks during the dry season to work on nearby ranches and earn small amounts of cash. The money is used to buy goods such as processed foods, cloth, and ammunition. About 400 head of cattle graze on the Bakairi reservation. The herd is owned by FUNAI and cared for by two Bakairi men with whom the foundation has made special arrangements. Sometimes the Indians are allowed to slaughter a steer; the beef is then evenly distributed around the village. Some Bakairi also raise chickens.

Industrial Arts. A variety of products are made to use, give as gifts, or sell to visiting ranchers. Men carve wooden or bark ritual masks, manufacture shell necklaces, make baskets used in agricultural tasks, and carve bows and arrows used in hunting and fishing. Women weave cotton and palm hammocks, bind together mats used in processing bitter manioc, sew dresses and shirts with sewing machines, and make palm costumes used by the ritual-mask dancers.

Trade. Bakairi occasionally travel to Paranatinga or Cuiabá to shop, to receive medical treatment, or to visit FUNAI. People infrequently enter the reservation to trade because authorization from the Brazilian government is required to do so. One of the Bakairi men has a relative living in Cuiabá, however, who visits, bringing extra goods that the two men sell informally in the village. Sugar, candy, flour, cloth, thread, kerosene, fishhooks, and ammunition are available.

Division of Labor. A clear distinction between work done by men and women exists, although there is some overlap, especially in gardening. Men are responsible for hunting, fishing, clearing land for gardens, harvesting garden foods, working outside the reservation on nearby ranches to earn cash, manufacturing certain goods such as baskets and bows, and dancing with ritual masks. Women do most of the child rearing, especially of infants. They also plant and harvest the gardens, process food, cook, wash clothes, fish, manufacture such goods as hammocks, and keep the house clean.

Land Tenure. Bakairi lands are communally owned. The average size of a garden is about 4,000 square meters. Total land under annual production in the gallery forest areas is calculated to be 44.5 hectares. The industrial-agricultural project of the 1980s doubled the amount of land under cultivation. This land is also communally owned.

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