Warao - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Traditional Warao subsistence is based on fishing and, to a lesser extent, on hunting, supplemented by gathering fruits, larvae, and crustaceans in a marked yearly cycle. Since the substitution of ocumo for palm starch as a staple, gathering activities have diminished and been supplanted by wage labor in lumbering and fishing. Incipient agriculture other than ocumo includes some sugarcane, bananas, and, where suitable soil is available, bitter manioc and maize. There is also some commercial rice growing.

Trade. The allocation of the domestic product is affected by delayed reciprocity and prestations inside local groups, whereas trade with outsiders is based on direct exchange, either through barter or the occasional use of money. Items sold by the Warao include hammocks made of moriche-palm fiber and other handicraft objects, as well as hunting dogs and pets such as parrots and macaws. Acquisitions consist mainly of metal tools such as axes and matchetes, fish hooks, and iron pots, as well as some clothing.

Division of Labor. There are no full-time specialists, although some persons are more proficient in a craft than others. Among the men, the expert builder of canoes, moyotu, is an important personage with considerable knowledge of rituals and oral tradition. Among the female population, the weaving of hammocks is practiced from childhood; this activity is a demonstration of how an old and sometimes blind woman can continue to perform useful labor. Along with the expert weaver of basketry, male or female according to area, such a man or woman is known as uwasi, with important implications for that person's afterlife (see "Death and Afterlife"). There is a whole range of religious practitioners with special knowledge. Other than the "guardian of the rains" ( naharima ) and the owners of specific ritual songs and musical instruments, there are three shamanic specialists who, according to their age, carry a lighter work load. Work is assigned on the basis of ae and sex, girls aiding their mothers from an early age in the important gathering activities that contribute heavily to food production and female prestige. With the introduction of wage labor, female status has declined, as has the role of religious practitioners.


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