Salasaca - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Salasaca Indians are primarily horticulturists. They practice a system of shifting cultivation and mixed cropping, which includes more than seventy species of cultigens. The most important crops are maize, potatoes, beans, peas, and alfalfa ( medicago sativa ). Crops are sown or planted, each at particular times throughout the year. Tools are rudimentary and are produced either locally or in nearby towns. Fields are separated by neat lines of agave plants (three or four species are grown). Eucalyptus is the most common tree, followed by the capulí (genus prunus ). Salasaca recognize four different species of capuli. It has cherrylike fruits and is much appreciated as a subsistence crop during February and March. The fruits are also sold for cash. Fields are irrigated every six weeks using water from five major irrigation canals. The water flows for twenty-four hours on each occasion, and people lead and regulate the flow of water into and along their fields. All families have a number of animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and fowl. Most people also own cattle and pigs, and some have a horse or a donkey. Many plants and fruits are used for food, medicine, and religious purposes. These may be cultivated or collected from the wild on the slopes of nearby Teligote Mountain.

Family income is supplemented by the occasional sale of eggs, milk, rabbits, guinea pigs, and fowl. Larger animals, such as cattle and pigs, are usually sacrificed for ceremonies. As land is limited and the population is growing, many men and young women are forced to migrate in order to earn money off the farm. A second reason for migration is to accumulate enough money to sponsor a fiesta. Men are employed principally as construction workers, whereas women find employment as shepherdesses or as maids in the cities. All households have a European loom that is used mainly for making clothes. The backstrap loom is used for weaving belts and hair ribbons, whereas the European loom is used for larger pieces of material and also for tapestries.

Industrial Arts. Attempts have been made to copy the successful commercialization of Otavalo weaving. In 1969 a cooperative was created with the assistance of a Peace Corps volunteer. In spite of the fact that the cooperative has about 200 members and a house to exhibit and sell its crafts, many Salasaca sell their wares individually. Since 1982 a market for tourists has been held each Sunday in the main square.

Trade. Goods and services are exchanged with neighboring Indian groups and with the mestizo population. For example, cupuli cherries are bartered for small woven baskets ( chigras ), grains, and tools. The Salasaca are famous for their aggressive bulls and vicious cows, which they take to bullfights and fairs all over the country.

Division of Labor. Women traditionally did the domestic work, including bringing up the children; men did most of the work in the fields. As a result of both the commercialization of weaving and the increased migration, however, women are now carrying more and more of the agricultural work load in addition to their traditional duties.

Land Tenure. Within the zone, only Salasaca are entitled to cultivate land. The few mestizos who live in the zone are engaged in small-scale trading. Between Salasaca, land can be bought and sold, although few have legal title to their properties. All land is divided among the Salasaca; the only communal land is on the slopes of Teligote Mountain. A major problem is the fragmentation of land as it is inherited by succeeding generations.

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