Chamacoco - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Chamacoco were primarily gatherers of honey and wild vegetables. They hunted animals and birds to obtain meat, hides, and feathers. They also caught eels and fished for species that abound in freshwater lakes and small rivers. A very strict code of rules based on sex and age governed the quality and quantity of consumption. Taboos and restrictions were particularly numerous for younger people. The Chamacoco knew some simple techniques of food preservation (e.g., smoking meat, preparing flour from carob beans), which lessened the severity of the dry season. They lacked domesticated animals except dogs, of which there might have existed an autochthonous variety. Food-procuring activities other than honey collecting, hunting, and occasional fishing were of little importance to the native economy. Aside from salaried employment in Western establishments, an increasing number of Chamacoco have taken to farming for home consumption, breeding domesticated animals and some livestock, manufacturing handicrafts for the tourist trade, and hunting, often illegally, for marketable furs. The procurement of food and Western goods through barter, purchase, or donations from welfare-oriented agencies, government or private, is an important supplement to Chamacoco subsistence.

Industrial Arts. The Chamacoco do not manufacture stone implements, and their overall technology is little developed. In addition to very primitive pottery, they make weapons (bows and arrows, maces, spears) and gathering implements (digging sticks) of wood. Bags and sandals are made of leather; bags, shawls, ropes, and protective coats of Bromelia fiber; and beautiful ritual adornments of bird feathers.

Trade. Previously, the members of opposing clans conducted certain ritualized transactions in which the donor was considered of higher rank and prestige than the receiver. Presently, through barter or monetary transactions, the Chamacoco participate in most commercial networks in the region.

Division of Labor. Until recently, women were responsible for gathering vegetable food and turtles, activities that were possibly more important than hunting to the traditional Chamacoco diet. They still process Bromelia fiber, fetch and store water and firewood, and take care of the household equipment during migrations. Their artisanal activities have also become very important for the tourist trade. Men were hunters and gathers of honey. They had the monopoly on ritual activities and symbolic prestige and were the prime participants in curing and magical practices. Nowdays, men bear the brunt of wage labor and subsistence farming, and the traditional economic importance of women has diminished.

Land Tenure. The various Chamacoco subgroups used to own relatively unlimited stretches of land but each clearly recognized the others' rights to fishing, hunting, and gathering grounds. Disregard for such rights and disputes over them caused frequent wars. Nowadays, the Chamacoco own small reserves of land, the most important of which, Puerto Esperanza, covers an area of 21,000 hectares. Its legal title is in the hands of one of the subtribal chiefs, which causes continuous tension among the groups.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Ebidóso and Tomaráho were divided into seven exogamic-patrilineal clans. There existed, in addition, an endogamic clan that performed priestly functions and rites of ritual closure and impurity. At the same time, the exogamic clans were subdivided into moieties, which were responsible for matrimonial exchange and certain reciprocal economic and religious services. Internally, the clans were rigidly structured on the basis of sex and age. They were characterized by prestige rankings and functions and shaped the personality of their members in accordance to these characteristics. Their exogamic marriage rules and almost all of their norms and regulations were jeopardized as a result of contact, first with the Kadiwéu, and later with Whites. Interethnic marriages, illegitimate births, and, above all, changes in the upbringing of children, have relegated the previous tribal practices to memories and nostalgia.

Kinship Terminology. Chamacoco kinship terminology is markedly descriptive. It is characterized by an extensive nomenclature of terms of address and by a set of necronyms.

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