Suya - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Suya lived by hunting, fishing, and subsistence horticulture, supplemented by the gathering of plants, wild fruits, nuts, and some insects. Unlike their upper Xingu neighbors, the Suya ate both fish and game (with certain restrictions by age and status), and their cuisine combined foods from the different communities they had encountered—upper Xingu, Juruna, Brazilian (when the ingredients were available), and Gê. The year was marked by two seasons, a dry season (April to September) and a rainy season (October to March). Within this large cycle were many smaller seasons during which certain fish or game were more plentiful, and specific hunting and fishing techniques were used. The jungle was cleared for new gardens annually. Trees were felled at the start of the dry season, allowed to dry, and then burned before the first rains. The gardens were planted in the ashes with maize, various types of manioc, sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, and a few other crops on a smaller scale such as sugarcane and watermelons. In addition, fruit trees, cotton, and some crops were planted around the houses and in the gardens. These were often harvested after the village was abandoned for a new site.

Before their contact with Brazilians, the Suya—like many Gê-speaking groups—would leave their villages for weeks or months at a time after planting and before the harvesting of maize in January. During this period they would go on extended hunting and fishing trips in smaller groups, usually based on kinship, returning sporadically to the village. The entire village would reunite to harvest the green maize and would begin a series of ceremonies that continued through the dry season. Although they loved to raise baby birds and the young of other animals, the Suya did not raise domestic animals for food before they adopted chickens from the Brazilians.

Industrial Arts. With the exception of some Upper Xingu (Waurá) captives who specialized in making ceramic pots, craft specialization was along gender and age lines: most adult men and women could make most implements required for their gender's subsistence and ritual activities. The most important objects in a person's life were his or her ritual ornaments, which made extensive use of feathers.

Trade. After they began to fight with the Upper Xingu and continuing until 1959, the Suya did not trade much with outsiders but took objects in raids. After 1959 they engaged in some trading of artifacts for desired industrial objects with other tribes and Brazilians.

Division of Labor. The Suya divided tasks and knowledge by gender, age, and name-based ceremonial groups. In the gardens, men felled the trees, both sexes planted, women harvested the crops, and both sexes gathered. Men did most of the hunting and fishing. Female children helped their mothers as they grew older; male children formed groups that engaged in small-scale fishing and hunting expeditions prior to their initiation. Different male age grades engaged in different kinds of collective subsistence activities, and the name-based moieties also went on collective hunting and fishing expeditions accompanied by unmarried women. Some types of knowledge and certain songs and singing styles were also specific to a certain gender, age group, or name-based group. So extensive was the raiding and introduction of outside women into the group that in 1970 the Suya had two distinct cultural tendencies—a women's culture resembling that of the Upper Xingu in terms of material culture, body ornamentation, and ceremonies, and a men's culture that in the same features more resembled that of the other Northern Gê.


Land Tenure. The Suya considered their territory to include all of the resources on either side of the Rio Suiámissu above the junction with the Xingu. Other Indian groups were expected to leave this area alone. Within the Suya territory, land was not owned until it was planted. Then the crops belonged to the nuclear family that planted them.


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