Mashco - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Subsistence activities of the Mashco, in the order of their importance, include tropical-forest shifting cultivation, hunting, fishing, gathering wild fruits, and raising wild animals. Daily food for all the members of the community is guaranteed by the production of vegetables, a family enterprise. The Mashco grow achiote (annatto), peppers, manioc, various kinds of plantains, pumpkins, peanuts, papayas, and many other vegetables given to them by a mythical woman called Káya. For agricultural work iron axes (Wachipaeri and Zapiteri) were used or small stone axes (Amaracaeri) and a digging stick. Cultivation was the task of women, except for the felling of trees.

Even though hunting occupies a secondary place, the Mashco ethos is profoundly geared to it, and there exists a special relationship between humans and animals of the forest. This is true to such an extent that many animals not only are among the ancestors of the Mashco, but human society also finds its paradigm in animal life. There is much empirical knowledge related to the art of hunting—the identification of animal trails, their smells and associated insects, and their calls and the imitation of animal voices. The most abundant animals are tapir, deer, four species of jaguars, anteaters, white-lipped peccaries, bears (in some peripheral areas) that descend from the mountain ranges, sloths, armadillos, varieties of monkeys, toucans, parrots, turkeys, and many other species that exemplify the exuberant fauna of this southern Amazonian enclave. Bows and various types of arrows are the principal weapons, but the Mashco also use traps, hunting blinds, cages, and ropes for climbing high trees.

Fishing can be considered an extension of hunting when bows and arrows are used for this purpose. This is done from the shores of rivers with crystalline, calm, and shallow waters. Despite the shallowness of the rivers, the prey, such as pacú and dorado , are of considerable size and weight. Another procedure for fish of considerable size, especially among the Zapiteri, utilizes a hook made from deer antlers in the form of an anchor. The Mashco also catch surubi, bocachico, sábalo , sardines, catfish, and many other smaller species. Women collaborate with the men in fishing with barbasco. Eels and alligators are also taken.

There are two aspects to food collecting: the collection of animal products and that of plant species. The gathering of animal products is generally done by women with bare hands; it includes shrimp, crabs, river snails, palmborer grubs, turtle eggs, and carachama fish, which hide in riverbanks. Special precautions are taken when gathering wild fruit, since everything that grows in the forest belongs to Toto, a demon, and any violation, carelessness, or squandering can infuriate him and bring misfortune of various kinds. The number of edible fruits is enormous, and forty-five species have been counted. These are carried in baskets and bags; some are eaten raw, others cooked (i.e., boiled or roasted).

Industrial Arts. The Mashco have developed a very extensive ergology, which includes bows and various types of arrows, snuff Inhalators, small ritual rods for coca-chewing drums, spindles, boxes made of plant fiber for keeping feathers, basketry, pottery, bark and cotton bags, tunics of bark cloth, necklaces, feather ornaments for the head and other parts of the body, rattles, axes made of polished stone, graters, and many other items that demonstrate the richness of their heritage.

Trade. More than trade (especially as regards the Wachipaeri faction), the Mashco from early times have maintained an exchange first with the Inca and later with the Spaniards. The Indians were especially interested in items made of metal and offered feathers, exotic birds, and monkeys in exchange. There exists among the Mashco an expository opinion of mythical character expounding the meaning of the concept "gift"—understood as a retribution and an obligation on the part of the Amiko to give metal items.

Division of Labor. Men are in charge of hunting and fishing with bows and arrows and are the creators of the entire male heritage. Women have dedicated themselves to horticulture and gathering. There are other, shared, tasks, for example, fishing with barbasco.

Land Tenure. The Mashco have always been very conscious of landownership. There is land that belongs to the communal house, and there is the territory comprised of the land of all communal houses, which integrates a specific faction.


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