Guambiano - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Guambiano are traditionally an agricultural people. The main source of their subsistence comes from working their land, and its development not only transcends daily life and the vital cycle but the existence of the community itself. For the Guambiano, land represents a kind and benevolent reality, the Mother Earth who must be respected, cared for, and looked after. Cultivating the land is the ideal way of accomplishing this. One must help the earth to produce, so it is necessary to feed, maintain, and warm her, to dance, to sing, and, above all, to accompany her. Land and collective labor are two realities closely associated in Guambian thought. Community and land constitute a unity neither part of which can survive independently. The potato is perhaps the basic staple of the Guambian economy. Cultivation technology is rudimentary: plows and rakes are used to break up the soil, and during weeding and harvesting the traditional hoe is used. More than eight kinds of potatoes are cultivated, typically grown in association with cultigens of secondary importance. Thus, potatoes may be grown together with onions and garlic. Maize is cultivated in lower-lying and warmer terrain. It is highly valued culturally, and, prepared in a variety of ways, it is never absent from the Guambiano diet. Two or three varieties of maize are cultivated; whereas potatoes and wheat are grown for the market, maize is essentially cultivated for consumption, and only the domestic group that will later eat it participates in its production.

The following crops are also grown: cabbages, Arracacha ( apio ), pumpkins, wheat, barley, and ulluco (a tuber typical of Andean economy and diet that is cultivated in the high and cold areas of the territory). Vegetable gardens or domestic enclosures are never without aromatic and medicinal herbs, which women tend carefully. Cattle are seen as an important investment, and generally every family raises one animal. Sheep, which belong to the women, are also important in the domestic economy; their wool, carefully shorn, washed, and spun, is the prime material that Guambian women transform into clothing.

Division of Labor. The male world is associated with what is public and external to the community, whereas the female world is related to domestic life. Exclusive male activities are those that are done with "the head" and pertain to political, mercantile, and magico-religious life. Women do all those things having to do with "the lower and median part of the body," such as the numerous activities related to the life and reproduction of the domestic group. This strict division of labor between men and women has been losing ground, however, because of transformations that have taken place within the community. As a result of this process, women have widened the radius of their activities, entering the very core of production in farming and animal husbandry and sharing all activities with men.

Land Tenure. Land tenure is within the framework of communal forms of property characteristic of Indian reserves in Colombia. A basic trait is that it is collectively owned, and the Indians have the right of usufruct but not of transferral. Traditionally, the main role of native town councils has been to adjudicate plots of land for each family. Plots revert to the community at the death of the head of the family that worked them and are then newly adjudicated by the council. In new adjudications, the tendency is to favor the previous owner's heirs. Although the legal framework of the reserves has been kept more or less constant throughout their existence (Law 89 of 1890 is still in force), in actual practice regional dynamics have resulted in the penetration of alternate forms of possession such as private property or leasing, evidence of a process of decomposition, or at least transformation.

In order to have the right to own land one must be a member of the reserve, be at least 18 years of age or married, and without enough land to cover family needs. The expansion of White haciendas since colonial times has resuited in distressing and problematic conditions regarding land for indigenous communities in this part of Colombia. Landless natives, unproductive small farmsteads, payment for renting land in the area's haciendas—such problems are familiar to specialists and especially to the Indians, who throughout history have developed multiple survival strategies not only to resolve this difficult situation but to revitalize themselves ethnically. One strategy, overexploitation of plots of land, involves the transformation of traditional technology, a decrease in the time arable land can lie fallow, and a change in crop rotation and the adoption of new agricultural products. Colonization of hot lands requires the purchase of small farms located outside the reserve, one of the more interesting answers to the land shortage. The lands that have been sought are those where principally coffee is raised as a cash product. It is important to note that the majority of Indians who have bought land elsewhere continue to own their small plot of land on the reserve, as well as their homes. They resist abandoning the reserve and their ancestral lands. Another trait worth mentioning is the familiar form of work used for the exploitation of these plots. Sometimes day laborers are employed, including Guambiano who are paid a small salary and given lodging, food, and products grown in "the hot climate" to take back to their families on the reserve.

The widening of the "agricultural frontier" within their own territory is another answer to the scarcity of land. Lands of the high mountain ranges, the Páramo, formerly untouched by agriculture, are being exploited with traditional Guambiano technology. Humidity, excess moisture of the earth, and strong winds that batter the region are ably managed by the Indians, who have a precise knowledge of the topography of the terrain and distinguish between slopes on the high mountain ranges that can or cannot be used for agriculture. The recuperation of land is the most radical and effective innovation that has been developed by indigenous communities of the Cauca and especially by Guambiano town councils. They have recuperated land that once belonged to White-owned haciendas and used it to provide a supply of maize, the cultivation of which is so highly valued culturally and which had begun to become increasingly scarce on the reserve.

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