Piro - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Piro had been hunters and gatherers, but by the late 1940s their principal foods were fish and ripe plantains. Manioc was next in importance, and they raised more than sixty other kinds of produce. Agricultural courses introduced concepts of reforestation, grafting of fruit trees, crop rotation, breeding of livestock, and much more. These courses were timely because the influx of White settlers into Piro territory was depleting the supply of fish and game and diminishing the available arable land. By 1984 the Piro were raising cattle in the larger villages, had bred better livestock in general, and were able to maintain a sufficient yield from their plantings without the accustomed migrations. Commercial crops had greatly increased in profit, and the Piro were selling their own lumber. Outboard motors have replaced poles and paddles, making it possible to spend nights in the villages even when crops need tending on distant beaches or when trips are necessary for hunting, fishing, gathering, or business. Hunting and gathering are still popular, but the gun has replaced the bow and arrow.

Industrial Arts. Until quite late in the twentieth century homegrown cotton was seeded, carded, and spun by hand, woven on a girdle loom, and painted with geometric designs for men's robes and hunting bags and women's wrap-around skirts. Women's blouses were made of material bought from the Whites. Now, because of economic pressure, homespun is rarely seen, even on festal occasions; metal pots and pans have largely replaced clay cooking pots; enamelware has superseded painted clay bowls and platters; bark cloth is rare. Mats are still woven for straining the plantain beverage and for beds. Crude benches are made instead of turtle-shaped seats.

Trade. There is informal communal interchange of food and possessions among the Piro. Indians of other tribes help themselves to Piro produce for immediate needs, and freely supply the needs of traveling Piro. Crops, livestock, lumber, and artifacts are sold to Whites.

Division of Labor. Women are generally responsible for the upkeep of the home and care of the children, for meals, clothing, the supply of coiled pottery and mats, and the routine care of livestock and pets. Men hunt and fish; make weapons, rope, canoes, paddles, and fishing gear; build houses and furnish them; slash and burn for new clearings; carry heavy loads; take responsibility for the protection of the family and for travel; make baskets; and provide holiday regalia, apart from clothing. There is still a trace of the former matriarchal authority, usually limited to verbal expression. The entire family participates in planting, harvesting, and gathering from the forest.

Land Tenure. Formerly, lacking legal right to their land, the Piro feared that planting fruit trees or otherwise increasing the value of their land would lead directly to its seizure. As of the 1980s they have titles to the areas surrounding the larger villages, but still lack titles to much of the land they are cultivating.

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