Kuikuru - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Kuikuru subsist largely by slash-and-burn cultivation, domesticated plants accounting for 85 to 90 percent of their diet. The principal crop is manioc, which provides 80 to 85 percent of their food. Some forty-six varieties of manioc are grown (all of them poisonous), but six of them provide more than 95 percent of the harvest. The next most important cultigen is maize. Only four or five men have maize fields, but the harvest is shared villagewide. Sweet potatoes are a minor crop. Peppers are grown for seasoning. Piquí trees ( Caryocar brasiliense ) are planted in mature manioc plots and begin to yield several years after the plots are abandoned. Gathered in November and December, piquí fruit is seasonally important. Nonfood crops include gourds, urucú ( Bixa orettana ), and tobacco. Gardens are cleared in tracts of primary forest surrounding the village and must be fenced against predation by agoutis, deer, and, especially, white-lipped peccaries. They average two-thirds of a hectare in size, yield over 8 metric tons of manioc tubers a year, and continue to be cultivated for three or four years. To remove the prussic acid from the tubers, the Kuikuru grate them and squeeze the pulp through a mat strainer into a large, flat-bottomed pot. The coarse flour remaining on top of the strainer is placed in the sun to dry, as is the fine flour (tapioca) that settles to the bottom of the pot after straining. A gruel is made from the coarse flour and beijú cakes from a combination of coarse and fine flour. Maize may be roasted on the cob or boiled and made into a gruel.

Hunting is negligible, providing less than 1 percent of subsistence. The only mammal eaten is one species of cebus monkey. A few people eat one or two species of birds. The gathering of fruit is not important except for piquí. Honey, a delicacy, is acquired by smoking the bees out of their hives or by felling the trees where they live. Fishing, the most important supplement to horticulture, provides 10 to 15 percent of subsistence. Almost 100 species of fish are caught. Fishhooks are common today but were lacking aboriginally. Fishing is done mostly with the bow and arrow and secondarily with fish traps of four different kinds. The highest yields are obtained through the use of the timbó vine, sections of which are pounded in the water. A fish-poisoning expedition, carried out in a lagoon or the shallow arm of a river when the water is low and the current slow, may yield about one-half metric ton of fish.

Industrial Arts. The Kuikuru are skilled in making a variety of artifacts such as bows and arrows, hammocks, stools, bark canoes, fish traps, feather headdresses, composite combs. They use pottery extensively for food preparation and cooking, but do not make it themselves.

Trade. Craft specialization, which exists to some degree among the nine villages of the upper Xingu, serves to promote intervillage trade. The most important trade item bartered by the Kuikuru is pottery, which they get directly or indirectly from the Waurá, the only people who make it. Along with the neighboring Kalapalo, the Kuikuru specialize in making shell necklaces and waistbands, which they use themselves and trade to the other upper Xingu villages for their specialties. From the Kamayura, the Kuikuru get fine bows made from pau d'arco wood, which does not grow in Kuikuru territory. A standardized set of trade equivalences exists in the upper Xingu: 1 bow = 1 pot = 1 hammock = 1 stool = 1 shell necklace, and so on. Intervillage ceremonies are occasions for trade. Considerable exchange takes place within the Kuikuru village itself, some of it carried out by a formai trading game that proceeds from house to house.

Division of Labor. There is a well-defined division of labor by gender. In manioc cultivation, men clear the plots, plant the cuttings, fence the gardens, and weed. Women harvest the tubers, bring them home, and do the long and tedious work of processing and then cooking them. In crafts, men make most of the tools, weapons, ornaments, and utensils, including baskets. Women make hammocks and mat strainers. No full-time specialties exist, but a number of crafts are part-time specialties. These include the making of canoes, stools, sacred flutes, combs, and certain feather headdresses.

Land Tenure. The land surrounding the Kuikuru village is owned communally. In the case of garden plots, however, a system of usufruct prevails. Plots become the possession of the man who cleared and planted them and remain his as long as they continue to yield. Once a garden plot is abandoned, though, the land reverts to communal ownership. Piquí trees are an exception. They remain the property of the man who planted them or of his heirs, even after they have gradually become part of the forest. Areas improved by individual effort, such as places in rivers or lakes where weirs and fish traps are set, are privately owned.

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