Subsistence and Commercial Activities, The Chiriguano were traditionally horticulturists and hunter-gatherers. They incorporated new methods of cultivation from the Chane. The Ava Chiriguano are settled in a rich agricultural area, although water is scarce. The Izoceño inhabit an arid region of the Gran Chaco, where strong winds, erosion, and a lack of water hinder agricultural production. The former inhabitants of the region, the Chane, developed a system of irrigation, digging canals up to 5 kilometers long from the river to the fields, thus providing a source of water to improve productivity. Nowadays the Chiriguano practice swidden agriculture and complement their diet with fishing during the rainy season and hunting. Fruit collecting, which was an important source of food, has diminished in certain communities as a result of cultural and ecological changes. The most important crops are maize, beans, and squash, which constitute the basis of the Chiriguano diet. Other plants, such as sweet potatoes and manioc, complement the diet. Vegetables such as tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, and onions have been introduced through contact with the missionaries, White settlers, and development agencies. The Chiriguano also raise chickens, turkeys, sheep, and goats.
Since the beginning of the nineteenth century the Chiriguano have migrated in search of work, which they could not find in their homeland. Hundreds of Chiriguano families migrated to northern Argentina to work on the farms and sugarcane plantations. This migration, which constitutes an important aspect of their society, has produced numerous changes in the culture. Because of the economic crisis in Argentina, the Chiriguano do not migrate there anymore, but to the cotton and sugarcane harvest near Santa Cruz de la Sierra and to northern Bolivia for work in the timber mills. These temporary migrations, which in some cases last up to six months, have produced a deterioration in local agricultural production. Nongovernmental development agencies have been implementing development projects to revitalize agriculture and allow people to obtain a source of income in their communities without having to migrate or depend upon patrones (employers).
Industrial Arts. Aboriginal crafts included basket weaving, pottery, and loom weaving. Today, weaving of fishing nets and bags persists and loom weaving of hammocks, ponchos, and handbags constitutes an important source of income for many women. Chiriguano weaving, especially that in the Izozo region, is well known for its quality and designs.
Trade. Precolonial trade was maintained between the Chiriguano and other ethnic groups. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Chane served as intermediaries to the Guaraní, trading metal objects made in the highlands. Until the 1940s trade continued to take place between different groups. The Izoceño would trade their weavings to the Ava in exchange for corn. Cheese and salt were important tradegoods.
Division of Labor. Women attend to household chores; in the fields they do the harvesting and planting of beans, squash, and watermelon. Men are responsible for hunting, fishing (women also participate in fishing but to a smaller degree), and clearing, burning, and planting of the fields. Women prepare food, raise the children, and weave. In some Ava communities women participate more actively in agricultural tasks. When a Chiriguano family migrates, the men and the male children work the fields. Women usually stay at home engaging in household activities.
Land Tenure. After contact Chiriguano territory was reduced, and since then there has been constant conflict over the right to obtain land titles, which the Chiriguano have struggled for a long time to obtain. They have gone to the capital of Bolivia in epic walks, hoping to impel officials to initiate the paperwork. Land titles were obtained for some communities—the agrarian reform of 1952 helped to some degree, but it has been manipulated and incorrectly implemented. This, together with the difficult ecological conditions and reduced access to roads and transporation, has caused the Chiriguano to lose some of their good lands. Most Izoceño communities have obtained communal land titles, whereas the Ava and Simba communities are still struggling with government bureaucracies. In northern Argentina most communities are under the jurisdiction of the missions and are involved in obtaining land titles.