Chácobo - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Chácobo subsistence is based on swidden agriculture, complemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering. The primary crop is manioc, used mainly for manioc flour and beer. The second major cultigen is maize. They also grow bananas, sugarcane, papayas, and tubers such as sweet potatoes ( Ipomoea batatas ), valusas ( Colocasia sp.), and air potatoes ( Dioscorea latifolia ). Every year, each nuclear family clears, burns, and plants a new garden. Because of the limited fertility of the soil, old gardens are seldom replanted. The fallow period is estimated to be fifteen to twenty years. Today, shotguns are used for hunting. Traditionally, Chácobo used the bow and five different kinds of arrows, including two for catching fish. The favorite big-game animals are the tapir, the wild boar, and the peccary. Several varieties of monkey, deer, and turkey also provide meat. During the rainy season, fishing is still done with a bow and arrow. During the dry season, an efficient technique based on the drugging of fish with the poisonous barbasco vine is used. Only women and children use fishhooks. Brazil nuts ( Bertholletia excelsa ), nuts of the motacu palm ( Attalea princeps ), and fruits of the coquino ( Ardisia sp.) and paquio ( Hymenea sp.) also contribute to the Chácobo diet. Since the 1960s the Chácobo of the Río Ivon have been involved in the tapping, collecting, and smoking of rubber. This new activity is performed seasonally, without cutting into the time allocated for traditional subsistence activities.

Industrial Arts. Chácobo Indians have excelled as feather workers. Up to the 1970s they dressed in their traditional costumes. Bright and colorful feather headdresses, armbands, and a nasal ornament were their most precious adornments. The use of rich personal embellishments (red and black body paint), black seed necklaces and bracelets, and earrings made of capybara teeth contrasts with the absolute lack of ornamentation on objects such as hammocks, weapons, and pottery.

Trade. Chácobo did not maintain trade contact with neighboring Indian groups.

Division of Labor. Chácobo society shows a clear division of labor. Women's work traditionally included collecting firewood, carrying water, harvesting and processing either manioc or maize to make beer, spinning cotton thread for stringing hammocks, weaving baskets, molding clay pots, and taking care of their children. The large number of tasks carried out by women contrasted with the great amount of free time enjoyed by men. Although men's involvement with rubber tapping balanced the former situation, men still devote much time to socializing.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, the Chácobo had no concept of private ownership of land; as soon as their territory was occupied, they moved inland. In 1965, through the intervention of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, they were given a land grant of 43,000 hectares by the Bolivian government. Each Chácobo is an owner of this land, which cannot be sold unless there is consensus to do so.

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