Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The major crop is quinoa ( Chenopodium quinoa ), commonly known as pigweed or lamb's-quarters in the United States. Not enough quinoa can be grown for family food needs, so each family must supplement the food supply by trading woven sacks, cheese, wool, or meat for other grains and food. Also, family members may seek temporary employment outside the Chipaya area.
Because of the saltiness of the soil, water is diverted from the river each winter to wash the land to be used for planting the next spring. The land is community property; each year it is divided into portions, several of which are allotted to each family. Although every family is responsible for its own crops, several persons are chosen annually to carry out prescribed rituals on behalf of the community, as well as to protect the crops from domestic animals. In exchange for this community service the caretakers, muyucamanaca, are granted the privilege of planting in suitable spots not allotted to others. There is no plowing of the ground. Planting is by dibble stick, and harvesting is by hand. The heads are knocked off the stalks, pulverized with a wooden club, winnowed, washed, and dried. The grain is then toasted and a thin bitter hull is ground off in a large stone mortar, with a woman acting as a human pestle, grinding the grain with her feet.
Domestic animals include sheep, llamas, pigs, and a few chickens. Sheep are the most important. They provide wool for clothes and milk for cheese and were necessary for the traditional sacrifices. Llamas are mostly used as beasts of burden but are also important for their wool and as sacrifices. Pigs are usually trucked to Oruro, the state capital 200 kilometers away, and sold, but they are sacrificed on certain occasions. Although hunting and fishing are not a large part of Chipaya life today, there is evidence that the Chipaya were once a hunting and fishing people. Some still hunt flamingos, ducks, and snow geese with a small three-stringed bola, each string being less than a meter in length. In the winter some hunt flamingos in the Salar de Coipasa with the chalkawñi, a line of nooses. Some still hunt flamingo chicks to make charqui (dried meat) and extract the oil (for medicinal purposes and trading). During the winter they may hunt the quetwana, a small burrowing rodent.
Industrial Arts. Industrial arts play a limited part in Chipaya life and their economy. There is some weaving of sacks to trade for food, especially after a poor harvest. Other weaving is mostly for family use. Recently a Chipaya bought an acetylene welding unit and now sells his services to nearby Aymara as well as to Chipaya, Skill in vocational arts is evidenced by the Chipaya's creative and resourceful use of sod and straw in making dams, houses, and utensils.
Trade. Barter, both for food and other commodities, was traditionally an important means of supplying family needs. The men traveled west to Chile for food and cloth goods, east to the mountains and valleys for food and felted hats, south to the Llica area for food, and north to the towns for industrial manufactured goods. Outsiders also bring trade goods into Chipaya. During cheese season many Aymara come to exchange goods at a high price for cheese at a low price. Increasingly, the Chipaya themselves market their cheese in Oruro. As the Chipaya have entered the cash economy, some have begun to sell or trade goods in their homes or in square adobe buildings adjacent to their homes.
Division of Labor. Although most activities can be performed by both sexes, home tasks such as cooking and caring for the children are usually done by women, and men do most of the agricultural work and hunting. The women do the weaving on the ground loom, and the men knit the caps. A few men use an Aymara upright loom for weaving cloth for pants and shirts.
Land Tenure. From early Spanish times, the head of each household has had a land title, for which he pays an annual tax that gives him land rights. Family ownership is recognized by the Chipaya as well as the national government. Family land is identified by place-name more than by well-defined boundaries. Because of loss of land to the Aymara and a growing population, Chipaya land is insufficient to sustain everyone. Therefore, some dispersion is taking place, to the Chapare (foothills near Cochabamba), to major cities, and to Chile.