Canelos Quichua - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Canelos Quichua practice upper Amazonian swidden horticulture, focused especially on manioc and other root crops. Women are in charge of all root-crop production, and men are the cultivators of maize and tobacco. Both sexes fish; men hunt game and birds; men, women, and children collect fruits, wild seeds, snails, shrimps, crabs, tortoises, and turtles. Men plant palms, which provide material for house construction and net and net-bag weaving and natural herbariums for palm weevils and their larvae. Men also plant huayusa trees, the combination of palm and huayusa trees serving as markers for territories established by powerful shamans. Contact with Europeans resulted in acquisition of plantains and bananas, which became male crops. Chickens and foreign ducks were acquired and used in the internal economy. Sporadic demand for the naranjilla ( Solanum quitoense ) fruit led to its specialized cultivation by men (but with the help of women) in swidden gardens cleared specifically for it. Near Puyo indigenous people have moved heavily into cattle raising and timber cutting. Many also cut rough planks and boards with chain saws and sell them by the roadside. Other income derives from sporadic seasonal labor on plantations or for petroleum-exploration companies and from traditional and ethnic arts. Protestant missionaries put special emphasis on cattle raising in areas far beyond the reach of the expanding road system, but so far have had little success with the Canelos Quichua.

Trade. Extensive trade networks have long characterized this area of greater Amazonia. There is archaeological documentation of trade networks linking the Andes, upper Amazonia, and coastal Ecuador some 4,500 years ago and coterminous pottery traditions 3,500 years ago with expanded trade networks. The archaeology of Ecuador reveals that agricultural development and ceramic manufacture occurred 1,000 years earlier than in Peru or Mexico. The Canelos Quichua long traded with indigenous neighbors, especially with Zaparoan and Jivaroan (Shuar, Achuar, Huambisa) peoples, with whom they also exchanged raids, as part of a far-flung, regional head-taking system. Trade with the Europeans began in the sixteenth century, and the Canelos came to corner the market for broom fibers and cinnamon bark, which they traded west to Puyo. Prior to large-scale disruption during the Amazon rubber boom, and later because of the Ecuadoran-Peruvian war of 1941, some Canelos Quichua traveled eastward and southward to the region of the Río Marañón to obtain salt and then returned to their territory to trade it up and down the rivers. Such expeditions to obtain salt would take from one to several years.

Division of Labor. Division of labor by gender is pervasive. Women do most of the gardening, except for the cultivation of tobacco, bananas, and maize. Men hunt, clear the swidden of large trees and vines, tend their three principal crops, and explore labor and other financial possibilities in the economic sectors. Women prepare and cook food, mend clothes, and care for children. They also brew manioc mash, store it, and serve chicha (home brew) on a continuous basis. Pottery manufacture is part of this manioc complex, a strictly female domain. Women plant, harvest, and store special black beans to plant with the maize, but such beans are not eaten; they are utilized solely for nitrogen fixation. Hunting for forest game is strictly a male pursuit, as is acquisition of large fish with spears, hooks, or dynamite. Women and men join together in fish-poisoning and -netting expeditions when the rivers are low. Long-distance trade is undertaken by men and by husbands and wives traveling in pairs. Cosmologically speaking, men are predators, women are domesticators. Shamanism, for males, is the paradigmatic complement to female pottery manufacture, and women "help" their shaman fathers and husbands in very specific ways by preparing their tobacco and "clarifying" their visions.

Land Tenure. Aboriginally, large territories were established by powerful shamans who were able to keep both their sons and daughters-in-law, and their own daughters and sons-in-law. From a great oval house in a strategic position, a powerful kindred would grow within three generations to lay claim to considerable territory. As more and more intermarriage occurred, with Achuar to the south and Napo Quichua to the north, such territories became subdivided, with a mission hamlet or condensed region as a permanent, geographical focus. By the 1940s the region that was to become the 17,000-hectare territory of the Comuna San Jacinto del Pindo began to sprout a few hamlets on its periphery; they grew to twenty-two in the late 1980s. In the early 1990s the struggle for land is incessant, as people confront contradictory laws and shifting agencies responsible for various kinds of nationally recognized social organizations including parishes, communes, colony-support systems, and cooperatives. The rhetoric of a given organizational mode is often contradicted by indigenous activity in a specific territory. Basically, though, in the indigenous system the residential kin unit ( ayllu ) derives from a shamanic ancestor who laid claim to a territory ( llacta ).


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