Chorote - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Chorote were basically hunters and gatherers, but they complemented their subsistence needs with fishing and horticulture. In hunting, tapir and three kinds of peccaries constituted the main prey. Collecting honey and gathering wild fruits also provided a good part of the Chorote diet. The most widely disseminated cultigens were several kinds of pumpkins, bitter manioc, and maize. Socioeconomic activities followed a characteristic seasonal rhythm of abundance and scarcity. The time of greatest abundance of resources was from September until February, facilitating the convergence of various bands in the semisedentary villages for the collection of wild fruits and the performance of agricultural tasks. After a period of great scarcity, which compelled the bands to divide and lead an intensely nomadic life, fish became relatively abundant during June and July. This allowed the river people and, to a lesser degree, the forest people, a secondary permanence on the banks of the Pilcomayo. With contact came the incorporation of new cultigens and domestic animals such as chickens, pigs, goats, and sheep. Raising animals partially compensated for the reduction in game caused by the advancing frontier of colonization.

From the beginning of the twentieth century, temporary wage earning in the sugar mills of northwestern Argentina definitively incorporated the natives into the market economy, creating new needs for them. Prolonged stays in the mills directly exposed the natives to the dominant society's forces of change, dazzling them with and making them desirous of new goods. Since that time, they have adopted manufactured food, alcoholic drinks, weapons, sewing machines, bicycles, watches, and so forth. In the 1960s the mechanization of the mills reduced the demand for less-qualified workers. Some Chorote reoriented themselves toward temporary work in agro-industrial enterprises in Mennonite colonies of the Paraguayan Chaco. For those who reinstalled themselves in villages of the middle Pilcomayo, commercial fishing provides a source of income that, as opposed to wage earning, facilitates permanent residence and the strengthening of community relations. The sale of handicrafts also adds some income.

Industrial Arts. Traditional handicrafts include pottery, woodworking, net making, and weaving.

Trade. In aboriginal times the Chorote acted as intermediaries in an extensive net of commercial relations that connected the groups of the Chaco with those of the southern Andean piedmont. During the first decades of the twentieth century, together with the Nivaclé, they monopolized the commercialization of old iron throughout the entire Chaco.

Division of Labor. Before contact Chorote men were responsible for hunting, collecting honey, fishing, and horticulture, as well as the manufacture of tools and weapons. Warlike and commercial activities were also basically male tasks. Women gathered wild plants and harvested the crops for processing and storage. They built the huts, prepared the meals, and raised the children. Nowadays they continue to make bags, pottery, and some clothing. However, because of the decline in natural resources and the greater importance of male work—wage earning and commercial fishing—female tasks have become restricted to the home.

Land Tenure. In ancient times each band had hunting, gathering, and fishing territories that were recognized, although sometimes disputed. The advance of the cattleraising sector forced the Indians to share their lands with Creoles whose principle livestock (cattle, horses, mules), apart from destroying Indians fields, has changed the distribution of natural resources. The Chaco War and the consequent sale and concession of large tracts of land by the Paraguayan government forced the Chorote to concentrate in missions. The missionaries were able to rescue some land for the Indians and ensure their survival. In the 1980s the Argentinian and Paraguayan governments began giving land titles to various indigenous communities.

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