Matsigenka - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Matsigenka are slash-and-burn horticulturists; the main cultivated crops are manioc, maize, plantains, and pineapples. Garden activities produce about 90 percent of all calories, supplemented by hunting, fishing, and collecting, which provide the most highly prized foods. Most hunting is done with bows and arrows and traps. Individuals with shotguns are more successful and share their catch with local households to offset resentment. The most common game include monkeys, birds, peccaries, and tapir. Fishing is done with hooks and lines, nets, and barbasco poison; the latter is the most successfiil but requires communal effort in damming up waterways. Commercial activities have been almost nonexistent in traditional communities. Communities with schools typically try to develop commercial crops such as coffee, cacao, peanuts, and beans for sale, but as of the early 1980s these provided only a small proportion of household income. Money has only recently been introduced into the local economy.

Industrial Arts. The Matsigenka manufacture nearly everything they use except machetes and axes, and now aluminum pots and factory-made cloth. Men make houses, bows and arrows, and fiber twine for netting used in fishnets and carrying bags. Women primarily spin cotton and weave cloth, but also make mats for sleeping and sitting and plaited sifters and strainers used in food preparation.

Trade. Historically, trade with the Inca was important. Today Western goods such as machetes, axes, aluminum pots, and cloth are obtained through barter, by working for farmers in the major river valleys, or through the schoolteacher, who serves as a link with the commercial world.

Division of Labor. Women provide most child care, prepare nearly all the food, manufacture cotton cloth, and grow certain "women's crops," such as yams and cocayam ( Xanthogoma nigra ). Men do all the hunting, most fishing, and the bulk of agricultural work, accounting for the vast majority of calories in the diet. Men and women occasionally work together in the garden or on foraging trips, complementing one another's tasks. Starting at age 5, children begin to acquire adult skills by accompanying the parent of their sex to work. The only other division of labor is on an individual basis, as people with particular skills such as hunting or bow manufacture share their products with others in exchange for material goods or prestige.

Land Tenure. Although land is not owned as such, territories are informally demarcated. Men announce in advance their intentions to clear gardens in specific locations; later, abandoned gardens revert to the public domain. Hamlets may remain in the same vicinity for several generations, although individuals frequently travel and visit to learn of prospects for resources or mates.

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