Waimiri-Atroari - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The WaimiriAtroari practiced slash-and-burn horticulture, planting in their gardens plantains, bananas, sweet and bitter manioc, several kinds of sweet potatoes, sugarcane, and pineapples. They hunted, fished, and collected wild foods from the forest. Since the late 1970s FUNAI has imposed economic projects to produce manioc flour and grow bananas for sale. It also organized Brazil-nut-gathering and handicraft-production projects. The Waimir-Atroari now hunt and fish only on weekends. Since 1985 the Paranapanema Mining Company has been financing cattle-raising projects, set-up by FUNAI, in an attempt to fix the Waimiri-Atroari in small restricted areas. Cattle raising is totally inappropriate in this region; it is contrary to the customs of the people and harmful to the tropical forest. Yet, despite initial failures and the destruction of gardens by cattle, the Waimiri-Atroari captains have been pressured by FUNAI and Paranapanema to convince the Waimiri-Atroari that that cattle raising will be their future. FUNAI policies in this regard are creating extreme inequalities within Waimiri-Atroari society. A group of captains and young men who are more receptive to imposed FUNAI projects have been given disproportionate access to industrially manufactured goods, drastically altering traditional exchange relationships.

Industrial Arts. Traditionally, Waimiri-Atroari women made bracelets of arumã ( Ischnosiphon ovatus ), beadwork, hammocks, bow strings, women's loincloths, and ceramics. Men made fans, several kinds of baskets with black geometrical motifs, carrying baskets, bows and arrows, paddles, canoes, fish traps, and, occasionally, aruma bracelets. Today, some of these crafts are made for sale.

Trade. From at least the middle of the nineteenth century, the Waimiri-Atroari traded with the regional population of the Rio Negro to obtain iron. In 1968 the missionized Wáiwai from Guyana, who were interested in converting the Waimiri-Atroari to Christianity, initiated contacts with them. At least two Waimiri-Atroari are now living with the Wáiwai on the Anauá and Mapuera rivers. Through the Wáiwai they obtained beads brought from Suriname. Today the Waimiri-Atroari trade agricultural and craft products through FUNAI and directly with the regional population.

Division of Labor. In horticultural work, men traditionally felled trees and burned the clearings, whereas women did most of the planting, weeding, and collecting of horticultural products from the gardens. With agricultural work now directed by FUNAI, plantations are prepared and planted principally by men. Traditionally, the men fished and hunted, but today women also fish occasionally; hunting with shotguns or bows and arrows remains restricted to men. Women used to prepare manioc bread. Today, the preparation of manioc flour, following regional methods, has been defined by FUNAI as a masculine task, although women participate in some secondary phases. Fruit collecting has been largely discontinued and industrially produced food is obtained from FUNAI. Paranapanema has provided frozen chickens for the principal captain. Men build houses and, in the past, made canoes. Today they receive aluminum boats from the program.

Land Tenure. In the past the Waimiri-Atroari divided their gardens, each family cultivating a plot. Traditionally, all had equal access to hunting, fishing, and collecting territory. According to the plantation system imposed by FUNAI, the land is planted collectively in some settlements, as ordered by FUNAI workers, and the sale of products and distribution of profits are controlled by the workers and Waimiri-Atroari captains. Since 1986, some young captains have been enticed to sign agreements that permit a large mining company to extract minerals from the Indians' lands.


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