Cubeo - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Economic activities are based on shifting cultivation using slash-and-burn techniques for small plots of land (1 to 3 hectares) in which bitter manioc is planted, together with other tubers and fruit. This is complemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering of wild plant and animal products. The basic unit of production is the nuclear or composite family; crops are intended for autoconsumption. Any sporadic surplus is distributed among relatives.

Industrial Arts. Pottery and items made from the calabash tree and from tree bark are still made occasionally, but they are steadily being replaced by Western products. More persistent are basketry and woodworking; items such as baskets of various types, fishing traps, canoes, paddles, and textiles made of cumare -palm ( Astrocaryum chambira ) fiber have no counterparts in Western merchandise. Because of missionary influence, the Cubeo no longer make ornaments and ritual paraphernalia, although some may still possess ancestral flutes and trumpets that pertain to the yurupari ritual (see "Ceremonies").

Trade. Internal trade is limited and confined to products the primary materials of which are not obtainable in the area, such as manioc graters obtained from the Baniwa-Curripaco-Wakue. A small portion of Cubeo products—such as canoes, manioc flour, and smoked meat—is traded on the White market for shotguns, machetes, axes, knives, aluminum pots, clothes, radio batteries, or watches. Many Cubeo have participated in the arduous tasks of processing coca leaves and, more recently, in the extraction of gold.

Division of Labor. Traditional production is organized according to the principles of division of labor by age and sex. Female activities include planting, caring for and harvesting the field, preparing food, making pottery, child care, and other domestic work. Male tasks include preparing fields, fishing, hunting, basketry and woodworking, as well as building canoes and houses. Gathering wild products is a task shared by men and women. There is no specialization, although it is recognized that some artisans are better than others. Collective teams are organized to construct houses, to clear land for planting, to hunt peccaries, and to fish with barbasco poison. In their dealings with the national society, only the men seek employment as workers and engage in commercial trade; the women stay at home. Communities are concentrated in river areas considered ancestral land.

Land Tenure. Communities are concentrated in river areas considered to be ancestral land. According to Cubeo mythology, their clan ancestors emerged in certain places along the river, where their descendants settled. Land possession is secured by preparing fields, the old fallow plots of which are recognized as being the property of a man or a lineage. The various family members must ask the elders of their local lineage for permission to cultivate their lands. Cubeo territory forms part of the Vaupés Reserve, a legal mechanism by which the state recognizes the collective territorial property of various Vaupés groups.


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