Sirionó - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activites. The main economic activity of the Sirionó is hunting. The jaguar is highly valued as food because its meat confers physical power. Other animals hunted are tapir, several kinds of monkeys, deer, white-lipped peccaries, turtles, and several kinds of bird.

Fishing is an important economic activity of the dry season. Fish are caught with bows and arrows, barbasco , and weirs. Fishing with bows and arrows is a distinctly male activity and involves the capture of large fish like the pacú , the bagre (catfish), the bocachico , and others. Fishing with bows and arrows may be combined with weir fishing when large numbers of fish are trapped. Barbasco is extracted from a wild-growing plant ( Hura crepitans ); palometa, ventón , and simbado are the most coveted species taken using this poison.

Gathering is next in importance to fishing and involves collecting fruits and plants, rhea and turtle eggs, and honey. The oldest sources disagree on whether or not the Sirionó practiced agriculture at the time of contact. Some authors have suggested that they represent a deculturated society that gave up cultivation at some time in the past. There are some cultigens, however, that appear to be original with the Sirionó, that is, tobacco, cotton, chuchío cane, manioc, and maize. It is interesting to point out that of these five cultivars, three are not grown for food, which suggests that the Sirionó did not pay too much attention to horticulture. Nowadays, the crop assemblage has increased and includes calabashes, urucú , pumpkins, rice, sweet potatoes, plantains, and sundry minor plants. In order to prepare a plot of land for cultivation, the Sirionó chose a high and sandy place with sparse vegetation. There are community and family plots, and before the introduction of iron tools, clearing was done with a shaft of chonta- palm wood.

Industrial Arts. The material culture of the Sirionó is little developed and features cordage, baskets, cotton hammocks, spindles, chisels made from rodent teeth, ceramic vessels or gourds, fans, mats, clay pipes, digging sticks, bows and various kinds of arrows, fire drills, and feather ornaments.

Trade. Commercial relations with other ethnic groups and rural inhabitants have been practically nonexistent. At some time there may have been reciprocal gift exchange.

Division of Labor. Men dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to hunting—their social status depends on their effectiveness. They also collect honey and palm shoots. Horticultural work is performed by men and women. Women make hammocks, baskets, and clay pipes and do domestic work.

Land Tenure. Land is informally owned by the family and the group.

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