Guajiro - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Formerly, Guajiro society was probably egalitarian, based on an economy of horticulture, gathering, hunting, and fishing, depending on the region. Today, it is a strongly hierarchical pastoral culture. The first livestock arrived from Europe around the beginning of the sixteenth century. Hungry, curious, and adventurous, some of the Guajiro obtained livestock by raid and theft until they had semiwild herds of cattle and horses. Pastoralism progressively became widespread, probably facilitated by missionaries, who made many attempts at pacification; by Dutch, French, or English pirates hostile to the Spanish and in quest of food; and finally by the Black slaves who, by choice or by force, settled among the Guajiro. At the end of the nineteenth century, pastoralism was nearly general except, it seems, in the region of the Sierra Kusina, where it has developed since. The keeping of cattle, sheep, and goats is still the principal source of livelihood for the majority of the Guajiro on the peninsula. Horticulture, hunting, and fishing have become marginal as opportunities for smuggling and occasional wage labor have developed, even assuring essential income for mestizo families or families that have emigrated to urban zones. Livestock are destined for consumption or the market, but they are also a prestige item that is good to accumulate. Formerly, horses and mules were, along with cattle, the most valued animals. The former have practically disappeared. The wealthiest Guajiro now buy trucks or pickups.

Industrial Arts. Women weave hammocks of cotton with very rich motifs and coloring and belts decorated with similar motifs. They also crochet small bags that they sell at local markets or in Maracaibo. Men principally make sandals and produce colorful wool rugs using the saddle-blanket technique.

Trade. For centuries the Guarjiro have sold Whites brazilwood ( Hematoxilon brasiletto ) to make dyes, divi-divi fruits ( Caesalpinia coriara ), and skins. In the northwest of the peninsula, they fished for lobster and pearls and produced salt, an activity that still continues. There are weekly markets in many localities along the margins of the peninsula.

Division of Labor. Women tend to domestic chores, make the essential items of material culture, and work beside the men in pastoral activities and horticulture. Some occasionally hold political office. In the late 1980s eight of every ten shamans were women.

Land Tenure. Land is not owned, but its usufructs are associated with pasturage rights for visiting groups.


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