Panare - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Panare have a mixed subsistence economy based on slash-and-burn swidden cultivation, fishing, hunting, and gathering. The principal cultivated crops are manioc, yams, plantains, and maize. All these crops are usually eaten boiled or mashed in the form of broths or drinks. Only limited quantities of cassava bread are made. In some areas rice and sugarcane, both recently imported crops, have become important. Other edible crops include papaws, pumpkins, hot peppers, and peanuts. Cotton, tobacco, and fish poisons are also grown.

Of the sources of animal protein, fishing is more important in the dry season, when the rivers are low and fish are easy to catch, whereas hunting is more important in the rainy season. Fishing is frequently aided by poisons released by certain plants when crushed and dunked in the river. These poisons bring the fish to the surface and make them very slow in their movements. They can then be easily harpooned or even picked out by hand. Nets and traps are never used, but fishing with hook and nylon line is now becoming increasingly common. The shotgun is now widely used for hunting, although the blowgun, charged with curare-tipped darts, is still used for hunting canopy-dwelling game such as monkeys and birds. The most frequently hunted game animals are various species of giant rodent (agoutis, pacas), peccaries, and tapir. Various species of birds and monkeys are also hunted, as is a species of small forest deer.

The most important gathered food in terms of dietary contribution is undoubtedly palm fruit, but the most appreciated by far is honey, and a great deal of time and effort are expended in collecting it. At certain times of year, flying ants and palm grubs are eaten as snacks, usually after being briefly toasted on a griddle.

Industrial Arts. Women weave loincloths and hammocks from cotton grown in the gardens or, increasingly, bought from the criollos. In most communities traditional pottery has been displaced by aluminum ware, but where the former is still found, it is women who make it. It is a very simple ware, painted black inside and out but otherwise without decoration. Men make hunting weapons (harpoons, spears) by shafting slivers of steel fashioned out of old machete blades. They do not make blowpipes since the bamboolike reed used for the inner tube does not grow in their territory. But they do make the darts and the curare with which they are tipped. Men also make musical instruments of various kinds, including long flutes, nose flutes, panpipes, and maracas. They also make rattles from a cluster of toucans' beaks or peccaries' hooves, which are attached to sticks and used as percussion instruments by the women.

The artisanal activity on which men spend most time, however, at least in Western Panare territory, is undoubtedly basket weaving. Carrying baskets and mats are woven from kokorite palm leaves ( Maximiliana regia ), whereas manioc sieves and presses, as well as storage baskets of various kinds and a circular decorative basket known as a wapa are woven from itiriti ( Ischnosiphon obliquiformis ). The majority of storage baskets and all the wapa are made for sale to tourists. The Panare also make a cheese mold that they sell to local criollo cattle herders.

Trade. Some Western Panare groups traditionally traded their curare for blowpipes produced by their southern neighbors, the Piaroa. This trade has more or less ended, however, since the Piaroa are no longer making many blowpipes. Some communities in the extreme south of Panare territory trade with the neighboring Hoti, exchanging steel goods, aluminum pots, beads, and other industrially produced items for game or the promise of labor in the Panare's agricultural plots. In most parts of Panare territory, however, trade with the criollos is by far the most important. In order to be able to buy industrial goods, the Western Panare sell decorative baskets, whereas those from the south and east sell agricultural produce. In most parts of Panare territory, men also collect tonka beans and sell them to local criollo intermediaries, who then pass them on for use in the industrial manufacture of soaps and perfumes.

Division of Labor. The only significant division of labor is along the lines of gender, and even here there is some overlap. Men hunt, cut down and burn trees for swiddens, collect honey, play the leading role in fishing, weave baskets, and trade with criollos. Women predominate in child care and the planting and harvesting of gardens. They do all the cooking, make pots, weave cotton hammocks and clothing, and gather palm fruits.

Land Tenure. Although a local group is thought to have a vaguely defined right over nearby resources, there are generally no alienable individual rights to land. When a family has prepared a swidden plot, they are thought to have an exclusive right to it, but this is no more than a right of usufruct; when the swidden reverts to forest, their right is thought to lapse also.

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