Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The habitat of the Chimane is the humid mountainous forest. Their principal means of subsistence are fishing and hunting, supplemented by cultivation. Fishing is done with the harpoon and the bow and arrow; a man using a harpoon stands in the prow of his canoe or on shore. The Chimane also fish with weirs, blocking a stream with lianas and palm leaves. Weir fishing is usually combined with the use of barbasco fish poison. Whereas fishing with bows and arrows and harpoons is done individually, fishing with weirs and barbasco is a communal activity of several families from different villages. The Chimane smoke fish to preserve it for prolonged periods of time. Both firearms and bows and arrows are used for hunting peccaries, monkeys, and tapir. There are no taboos regarding the consumption of animal meat. Among the main cultivated crops are sweet manioc and bananas; sweet potatoes, maize, papayas, and cotton are crops of secondary importance.
Until the 1960s the Chimane lived in relative isolation in their habitat, which was of little economical interest in terms of national exploitation. Large cattle ranches were established to the east of their habitat in the savannas of the department of Beni, and there was as yet no exploitation of tropical timber. In the 1960s, however, exploitation of the hatata palm for roofing material was begun in the Chimane area. With the construction of roads to the largest mestizo village of the area, San Borja, hatata-palm exploitation assumed an ever-increasing importance for Chimane trade and exchange in the Bolivian market.
In the 1970s, when fine tropical woods began to be exploited, lumber mills penetrated the habitat of the Chimane, employing the Indians as a source of cheap labor. Acting largely outside the nation's forestry laws, these industries destroyed large tracts of the jungle, contaminated rivers, and dispersed the game on which the Chimane depended for their livelihood. With no consideration for conservation or sustainable industrial development, the Bolivian government issued forestry concessions for land occupied by the Chimane. To further complicate the situation, clandestine cocaine production began in the Chimane region during the 1980s, and Indians were hired to manufacture drugs. Thus, although previously the Chimane had had a reasonably well-balanced economy that provided them an adequate diet and guaranteed their continued existence, developments since the 1960s have seriously endangered their physical and cultural well-being.
Division of Labor. Hunting, tree felling, and other heavy tasks (e.g., building canoes and raising house posts) are done by men. Women prepare the food, take care of the children, keep the fields clean, and harvest the crops. Individual fishing with harpoons and bows and arrows is a male activity, but women take part in weir fishing with barbasco.
Land Tenure. The Chimane have no concept of individual landownership. They consider the rivers and forests of their habitat to be territory that belongs to their people. With the penetration of their area by non-Indians, however, the Chimane, through CIDOB, demanded the official and definitive demarcation of their territory, protection, and a guarantee of reasonable and sustained exploitation of natural resources. Indigenous pressure on an international level had the desired effect; the demands were met and the recommendations implemented.