Shipibo - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Shipibo practice slash-and-burn agriculture and subsist primarily on plantains and bananas, together with some sweet manioc, potatoes, and maize. These crops are supplemented with fish, game, and other wild foods collected from the forest. Now that some Shipibo are producing rice to sell in regional markets, they are hunting and fishing less. Moreover, greater participation in a cash economy seems to be affecting traditional exchange relationships between kinsmen. For example, whereas in the past it was a man's responsibility "to serve" his parents-in-law by supplying food and labor, men are now refusing to lend their fathers-inlaw money.

Industrial Arts. The Shipibo are known worldwide for the complicated geometrical motifs with which they decorate objects. Women make ceramics, cotton textiles, baskets, and bead work, both for personal use and for sale to tourists. Men still manufacture wooden articles such as canoes and paddles, tobacco pipes, cooking utensils, animal figures, and clubs, although clubs are made only for sale to tourists.

Trade. Historically, Shipibo traded with each other for items that were not locally available. For example, Shipibo on the Pisqui traded salt, vines for making houses and baskets, palm fiber for bow strings, whetstones, baskets, and fish; in exchange they received white earthen pigments used to decorate ceramics and wild cane used for arrow shafts, brought by Ucayali Shipibo. This activity has been discontinued; trade is now restricted to exchanges of food among matrilineal kin living in close proximity within the village.

Division of Labor. Both men and women traditionally performed all aspects of agricultural work with the exception that men did the arduous task of felling trees. Both men and women fish and collect wild foods, although the latter is more often done by women. Hunting with shotgun or bow and arrow is strictly men's work. Women also cook, care for children, perform most of the housework, and manufacture ceramics, textiles, and bead work. Men build houses, make canoes, manufacture weapons, and carve wooden artifacts but more typically work as wage laborers and may be away from their families for weeks at a time.

Land Tenure. Others' claims to land are ascertained before one establishes a garden on fallow garden land. As long as a garden is still producing crops, a man must ask permission of its owner before he can clear it. Permission to use old fallow garden land is not necessary, however. Men often mark valuable trees on their trips through the forest, and another must ask permission from its "owner" to cut and sell a tree that has been marked. In principle, all have equal access to hunting and fishing grounds, but certain men are recognized as being more knowledgeable than others about the animals in particular regions of the forest. Also, the owner of fish poison can regulate the number of participants on fish-poisoning expeditions by limiting the number of invitations he extends to others. In the 1970s Shipibo communities petitioned the Peruvian government for titles to land, but few titles have actually been acquired.

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