Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Nambicuara live in an ecologically marginal environment. The region is criss-crossed by rivers and streams; the vegetation is mostly of the savanna type; the red, dry soil is barely suitable for farming; and game is not especially abundant. The Nambicuara subsist through a combination of hunting; gathering berries, fruit, and insects; fishing; and slash-and-burn horticulture. The bow and arrow is the main hunting weapon, and the digging stick is used for gathering and planting. During the rainy season, they slash and burn plots in the gallery forest and plant maize, beans, tobacco, cotton, and two varieties of bitter cassava. Cassava is the staple food; cassava flour is often stored for later use as the main ingredient for chicha (a fermented drink).
Industrial Arts. Compared to those of other tropical groups, the Nambicuara tool kit is rather limited. As a rule, pottery making is absent, although crude pots were found among the Western Nambicuara. The primary materials for their tools are palm wood, bast, leaves, various types of reed, shell, bone, tusk, claws, wax, and cotton thread. Baskets and gourd vessels are used for food storage and transport. Objects are sometimes decorated with thin straps fingerwoven from spun cotton. Ornaments are made from shells, teeth, nuts, berries, and feathers.
Trade. Trade among the various subgroups was important in aboriginal times. The Western Nambicuara groups traded pots for wax, feathers, and bows and arrows.
Division of Labor. Men hunt, fish, prepare the garden plots, build the huts, and make baskets and hunting weapons. Women gather, prepare food, transport firewood and water, and care for the children. Both men and women make shell earrings, which are emblematic of tribal membership.