Mataco - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Mataco are gatherers, fishers, and hunters, but supplement these activities with a simple agriculture. Women gather tree fruits, tubers, herbs, and roots, whereas men forage for honey. The Mataco know over twenty species of honey-producing bees. Men fish with several techniques but most often with nets. The most common and economically important catches are of sábalos, dorados, and zurubís. Hunting decreased in importance after the Chaco War, and communal hunts have disappeared. Today the customary practice is to hunt with dogs. The most frequently taken game are armadillos, rheas, and iguanas. Slash-and-burn cultivation has been replaced by a more permanent cultivation. The main crops are maize, pumpkins, squashes, watermelons, and cassava. In the 1970s the northernmost Mataco developed a fishing industry, based on seine fishing. The Mataco adopted the idea from a missionary and based the work organization on traditional collective barring-net fishing. Since then commercialized fishing has become the single largest source of income for these Mataco. In other areas, lumbering and unskilled day labor provide the Mataco with the necessary cash.

Industrial Arts. Aboriginal crafts include pottery, making of caraguatá string bags, basketry, and the production of items from calabash and tools and ornaments from wood, bark, skin, bone, and teeth. The string bags have received special attention because of their beauty and variety of design; they are now also produced for sale. In the 1950s the Mataco started producing wickerlike furniture, and in the 1960s they started a home industry of baskets and balsa wood. In both cases, commercialization has been very successful, and these products constitute the second-largest source of income for the Mataco in the northern half of their habitat.

Trade. The group maintained a considerable precontact trade with the Quechua and the Chiriguano; there was probably an Amazon-Pampean trade route that passed through the Gran Chaco. Today the Mataco buy kerosene, maté, macaroni, rice, sugar, and clothes from the mestizos and sell fish, handicrafts, honey, some agricultural products, and labor.

Division of Labor. Women are responsible for the gathering of most foods and light firewood, fetching water, cooking, and making handicrafts out of clay, caraguatá fibers, palm leaves, wool, and cotton. Men gather honey and heavy firewood; they fish, hunt, and manufacture handicrafts of wood, bark, skin, leather, bone, and metal. Men also undertake most of the activities that relate to the national society: employment, work migrations, contacts with authorities, and trade. Both sexes help out in agriculture, and women sometimes sell their own handicraft products.

Land Tenure. Individuals have the right to occupy, hunt, and cultivate any unoccupied land. This right of possession lasts as long as the land is cultivated or inhabited. There is no individual ownership as regards land. With the help of missions or national agencies, Mataco village communities have acquired legal rights to portions of their former territory.


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