Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The two basic subsistence activities of the Wakuenai are fishing and agriculture, which are of complementary and equal economic and cultural importance. These are supplemented by seasonal hunting and gathering of wild forest products. The primary cultigen is manioc, of which up to fifty varieties are cultivated in swiddens. Collective fishing expeditions are the predominant activity during the dry, summer months. Fishing techniques involve the use of a variety of traps and nets, hooks and lines, bows and arrows, machetes and spears, and barbasco poison. Both fishing and agricultural cycles are synchronized with a variety of natural indicators and mythical calendars and linked to a series of important ritual activities. Hunting weapons still include blowguns and bows and arrows in certain areas, but the shotgun is more common. Phratries were traditionally the most important social units controlling resources within given territories. Given variations in environmental resources, fishing or agriculture may be more productive, giving rise to cooperative arrangements of resource sharing within and among phratries.
Extractive and commercial activities have probably contributed the most to changing subsistence patterns. Since early contact times, the Wakuenai have participated in a series of extractive activities to obtain piaçaba fiber, rubber, chicle, sorva ( Couma utilis ), Brazil nuts, and, most recently, minerals (gold). As these resources are found in different areas, seasonal labor migration has become a common pattern. Commercial activities have included the production of artwork (baskets, manioc graters, hammocks, feather ornaments) and manioc for sale to merchants, missions, and the government. As the demand for these products has increased, they have become nearly permanent occupations in many areas. Both extractive and commercial production have thus created new productive sectors in the Wakuenai economy that seriously interfere with traditional subsistence activities. Protestant evangelism has also contributed to change by undermining traditional exchange rituals and by introducing a different set of religious festivals with its own system of intervillage production. On the other hand, communities have taken advantage of government assistance programs or cooperatives to regain economic self-sufficiency by utilizing traditional agronomic practices to increase manioc production.
Industrial Arts. Aboriginal crafts included ceramics, weaving, and the manufacture of manioc graters, blowguns, and poison darts. Except for making manioc graters and weaving, industrial arts have declined considerably since the beginning of the twentieth century or persist mainly where products are sold on the market.
Trade. Archaeological and historical evidence suggests that the entire upper Rio Negro Basin was connected to other areas by an immense network of riverine and overland trails used by both Arawak and non-Arawak peoples for trade and that specialization existed in the production of trade items. Wakuenai manioc graters and quartz (used in their manufacture and found on the Içana) were important trade items in both pre- and postcontact times. Trade with Europeans was limited in the eighteenth century but, by the early nineteenth century, had become an integral part of the Wakuenai economy.
Division of Labor. In subsistence activities, the division of labor between sexes is one of complementarity and interdependence rather than a rigid distinction between male and female roles. Men are responsible for cutting and burning new gardens; both men and women plant and weed new gardens; women harvest, replant, and process manioc and other plants. Both men and women fish with hook and line and participate in collective fishing expeditions, but men fish more often and use a greater variety of techniques, whereas women more often process the catch. Men are responsible for hunting, gathering in the forest, building and maintaining houses, manufacturing weapons, making canoes, weaving baskets, and cutting manioc graters. Women are responsible for preparing and cooking animals and forest products, some gathering, preparing adobe for houses, making ceramics, and setting stones in manioc graters. Ritual (including manufacture of ritual objects) and shamanism are predominantly male activities. With the intense commercialization of basketry in the 1970s, women participated more in weaving. Extractive activities have been almost exclusively performed by men.
Land Tenure. Traditionally, phratries collectively controlled defined stretches of riverine territory and their resources. Members of other phratries could freely travel within a given phratry's territory but not systematically exploit its resources without obtaining permission from the local phratry. Failure to do so could result in warfare. Within a phratry's territory, sibs identified specific areas for use as agricultural lands and as sacred lands (sites of ancestral emergence/houses of souls of the recently deceased) where no one was permitted to hunt. Forced removal and exile, migrations, and other sociohistorical circumstances have weakened landholding principles, resulting in a mixing of different phratries within a given territory. Phratric exogamy and marital exchange practices have also, over time, produced enclaves of affinal groups within a phratry's territory. No major influx of nonindigenous colonists has forced Wakuenai off their lands. In Colombia, in 1986, the national government created five separate reserves for the Wakuenai (but which include other indigenous peoples) on the frontier. In Venezuela, ten of the thirty Wakuenai communities actually have collective landownership titles issued by the National Agrarian Institute. In Brazil, in 1989, the federal government created five separate reserves (four "indigenous colonies" and one "indigenous area"), surrounded by national forests, to be permanently owned and used by the Wakuenai.