Wapisiana - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The staple crop is cassava ( Manihot esculenta ), which the Wapisiana grow in their cut-and-burned plots along with beans, melons, maize, rice, sugarcane, and numerous other food crops. They also cultivate sweet potatoes and other roots, squashes, tomatoes, greens, onions, and dozens of different kinds of hot peppers. Some of these vegetables are found in small kitchen gardens near their homes, alongside cotton, tobacco, calabashes, decorative flowers, and medicinal herbs. Wapisiana women grate the cassava, express its juice, sieve it, and then toast it on iron griddles into flour ( fariula ) or thick, flat breads. This lengthy process removes the deadly hydrocyanic acid. Wapisiana men hunt for deer, agoutis, wild turkeys, and other small game and birds. Men, women, and children fish. The Wapisiana have raised cattle, swine, chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, and many other introduced animals for over 200 years, and these now contribute regularly to the Wapisiana diet. The sale of produce, animals, and homemade food provides small amounts of cash for purchases of store-bought food and household goods.

Industrial Arts. Wapisiana men fashion wooden stools and plait baskets, sieves, and squeezers for use in the preparation of cassava and other foods. They also make arrows, working heavy-gauge fencing wire into points, but these arrows and the bows they buy or acquire from other Indians have been almost entirely replaced by shotguns. Women make clay cooking pots and spin cotton and weave the thread into baby slings and hammocks. Introduced crafts include needlework, dressmaking, and rustic furniture making. Some men make knives from worked auto springs and fashion bone or plastic knife handles.

Trade. The Wapisiana earn money and spend it in shops in Boa Vista or small towns in the interior. They trade among themselves on an ad hoc basis and irregularly with the Wáiwai. Peddlers sometimes try to trade with the Wapisiana, but these transactions are described as exploitative, and they are avoided by all but those who are too isolated to understand.

Division of Labor. The ideal division of labor corresponds to that reported in early ethnography: men hunt, cut and burn fields, make baskets, and educate their sons. Women plant and harvest, process cassava, cook and clean, make cotton hammocks and clay pots, and care for their babies and daughters. Men, women, and children together catch fish and engage in some horticultural work.

Land Tenure. The Brazilian government has delineated Wapisiana villages, but has not yet demarcated Wapisiana lands; every village is encircled and penetrated by non-Indians. The Wapisiana do not believe in private ownership of land, and even though they are confined to shrinking spaces, they exhibit flexibility in the assignment of house and garden space. Newcomers to an area must secure permission from the villagers before they settle there.

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