Mundurucu - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Mundurucu are subsistence horticulturists who use slash-and-burn techniques to raise manioc, bananas, rice, and other crops. Their primary sources of protein are fish and game. They hunt with shotguns and rifles, or, infrequently, with bows and arrows. Among the animals hunted are peccaries, agoutis, tapir, pacas, and various species of New World monkeys. Fish may be caught using hooks and lines or, more rarely, bows and arrows. Occasionally, the Mundurucu poison a section of a stream and collect stunned fish floating to the surface and unable to breathe.

Trade. The most important products Mundurucu offer for trade are gold dust and rubber. Some households gather Brazil nuts for sale. Where a Brazilian settlement is close enough to make it practical, part of the game taken in a successful hunt may be sold to Brazilians.

For many years, itinerant riverboat traders have visited Mundurucu villages to sell aluminium pots and pans, fishing line and hooks, ammunition, clothes, cloth, sugar, salt, coffee, cooking oil, and, sometimes, illegal alcohol. The Trans-Amazonian Highway makes access to Brazilian shops much easier. These shops offer a wide variety of goods. In some areas, a patronage system still controls trade. Patrons extend credit to clients to pay for goods and expect repayment in cured rubber or in gold dust. This is a system of barter and credit, but by the late 1970s, the system was deteriorating in favor of cash-based transactions.

Industrial Arts. Among the Mundurucu, basket weaving is strictly a male activity. Baskets are woven from the fronds of palm trees and are used to carry firewood, food, and household goods. These baskets function as backpacks and include a tumpline of bark cloth that is placed over the forehead or around the chest of the carrier. The fronds are also used to make small baskets for sale to Brazilians. From the bark of vines, men weave manioc presses. Men also weave sieves for straining manioc pulp and cages used to transport chickens. Some men make necklaces using fishing line and figurines they carve from nutshells. The figurines include recognizable representations of turtles, alligators, fish, and various game animals. These are worn or sold to FUNAI agents or missionaries for resale in Brazilian cities.

Division of Labor. Most tasks are strictly defined as the sphere of males or females. For example, hunting and clearing plots are male responsibilities, and processing manioc flour and washing clothes are female preoccupations.

Land Tenure. Garden plots are considered owned by the household of the men who clear them of trees and brush. The garden is planted, weeded, and harvested by women. It is used for two or three years and then abandoned. After lying fallow for ten or more years, it may be reclaimed by anyone in the village.

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