Siona-Secoya - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The subsistence economy of the Siona-Secoya is based on shifting cultivation, hunting, fishing, and collecting. Gardens are usually cleared, burned, and planted during the dry season, from November to January. Plots are polycropped and often contain over fifty varieties of food, medicinal, and utilitarian plants. The staples are manioc, plantains (post-Contact), maize, and peach-palm fruit ( Bactris gasipaes ). Over sixty species of animals are hunted. Among the most important are white-lipped and collared peccaries, tapir, woolly and howler monkeys, pacas, agoutis, guans, curassows, turtles, and caimans. Fishing varies in importance according to location and season. Many species of catfishes, characins, and cichlids are consumed. Wild plant foods contribute about 5 percent of the overall diet, but assume greater importance seasonally and when people travel.

Jesuit missionaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries introduced iron tools, but the native economy has retained its basic subsistence orientation. Shotguns were introduced in the 1950s and have now replaced blowguns and spears for most hunting. The Siona-Secoya earn petty cash by selling timber, animal skins, chickens, pigs, maize, hammocks, pottery, and other artifacts. Some men have worked for oil-exploration crews for brief periods. Since the 1970s some tourists have reached native settlements on the Rio Aguarico, but they are disruptive of native life and provide few economic benefits.

Industrial Arts. Aboriginal crafts include wood carving, pottery, featherwork, bark-cloth manufacture, and the weaving of hammocks, arm bands, netted bags, and baskets. All are still practiced, but trade goods such as aluminum pots and textiles are increasingly common.

Trade. The extent of aboriginal trade is unknown, although indigenous exchange of artifacts and raw materials probably existed to cement social relationships and alliances. By the nineteenth century the Piojé were trading hammocks and sarsaparilla to outsiders.

Division of Labor. Men hunt and clear gardens. Both men and women fish and plant, weed, and harvest gardens. The harvesting and processing of manioc tubers is women's work. Women do much of the cooking and child rearing, but men cooperate in these activities. Men make houses, canoes, and hammocks, and do most of the wood carving and featherwork. Women make clothes, netted bags, pots, and other ceramics. Men may be shamans and headmen. Women may be herbalists and midwives. Boys are not expected to do serious work until late adolescence. Girls assist their mothers in household tasks. Older men and women work as their strength permits, often cooperating as members of extended households.

Land Tenure. Aboriginally, there was no formal system of land ownership, but local groups had territorial interests in particular rivers or sections of rivers. The average territory was about 1,150 square kilometers in size. Settlements were semipermanent and shifted within the territory. Individuals still make gardens on any land that is unused. Such gardens are "abandoned" after several years, but the cultivator claims harvest rights to the palm and fruit trees he plants.

Intermarriage, visitation, migration, and war give flexibility to social and territorial relationships. Introduced diseases have greatly reduced the Western Tukanoan population, and most of their former range has been occupied by Lowland Quichua Indians, mestizos, and Whites. Colombia has established a small reserve for the Siona at Buena Vista on the Río Putumayo. The Siona-Secoya in Ecuador have officially recognized communes at San Pablo on the Río Aguarico and Puerto Bolívar on the Río Cuyabeno. In Peru the Secoya communities on the Santa María and Yubineto rivers have small reserves. Unfortunately, none of these reserves includes the full hunting and fishing territories of the native communities.


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