Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Whenever possible, the Kayapó build their villages near a river or waterway, but in dry or well-drained terrain. The area inhabited by the Kayapó, which they explore in a systematic way, is a zone of transition between the tropical forest and the shrub-palm savanna. It is rich in game, fish, and forest products; there are also tracts of land that are well suited for horticulture. In the 1990s, despite the drastic changes they have undergone, all Kayapó continue practicing their traditional subsistence activities, assuring their basic food supply and a well-balanced diet. Horticulture is of the slash-and-burn type, and fields are cleared both collectively and individually. Kayapó plant several types of sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, sweet manioc, and maize. Since contact, there has been increased planting of bitter manioc for the production of farina, which has become a staple food. The Kayapó began to diversify, planting vegetables and fruit trees; some groups grew coffee, sugarcane, and rice. Traditionally, they also planted cotton and urucú and had domesticated a vine of high nutritional value called cupa. The Kayapó think of themselves as being essentially hunters despite their dependence on cultigens. The most prized game animals are tapir, wild boars, white-collared peccaries, deer, pacas, and agoutis. The Kayapó collect turtles in large quantities and ferret out armadillos. They also eat certain birds, for example guans and curassows. In winter, they fish individually, with nylon lines and hooks; in summer, communal fishing with timbó fish poison prevails. In the forest they gather palm shoots, Brazil nuts, babassu and lesser nuts, various kinds of honey, the fruits of the bacaba palm and acaí trees, and palm grubs. They also collect large quantities of genipapo for body painting, timbó vines for fishing, and a great variety of medicinal plants.
Subsistence activities are cyclical and seasonal. There are times of plenty and of scarcity. Some food taboos have been partially abandoned, increasing the number of edible products. The Kayapó are seminomadic, with a fixed migratory pattern and the village always as their point of return. The objective is to explore all the resources of the area, especially during the dry season, when fields produce the least. They spend the night near a river in order to fish, or near an old clearing covered by secondary growth to hunt and gather fruit, or even near a particular area where there are large quantities of a specific resource such as taguara ( Gynerium sagittatum ) reeds for arrow shafts, for buriti palms, or fruit trees. This habitual trekking, besides diversifying the diet, allows for good management of the various ecosystems, avoiding the exhaustion of any one area. Many rituals depend on these migrations, which are essential for supplying the food surplus needed for the performance of ceremonies. The alternation of nomadic and sedentary life among the Kayapó plays an important role in various aspects of their social organization. One can forsee that in the future the reduction of their territory and deforestation will create a reduction in hunting grounds and the depletion of arable land. This will create a greater dependency on the market economy.
Since the time of contact, men have hunted with shotguns; they consequently need ammunition, which is quite expensive and thus creates great dependence on external subsidies for this traditional activity. Deforestation in southeastern Pará has drastically reduced the fauna in the area.
Industrial Arts. Before contact, the Kayapó used different kinds of well-made clubs for hunting and wooden lances armed with tips of jaguar bone. Bows and arrows, on the other hand, were always of a simple kind. Women used the digging stick to pry out tubers in the field. For carrying and safeguarding their belongings they fashioned baskets, boxes, and bags made from palm fronds. In gourds they kept bird down and various types of seeds, including urucú. Formerly, they carried water in hollow bamboo receptacles because they do not make pottery. They sleep on platforms or floor mats. They spin cotton and weave arm straps and frames for feather ornaments. They do not make woven cloth but nowadays buy nets in the market, as well as pots and pans, aluminum vessels, tools, and clothes.
Division of Labor. Activities are planned according to the dry or wet season and can vary a good deal. The Kayapó are divided into groups according to sex, age category, and men's societies under the direction of a chief for the performance of economic activities and communal duties. Women also form groups based on kinship. To them fall the tasks of working in the fields, collecting firewood and water, gathering forest products, and performing household duties. They spend a great deal of time on body painting, spin cotton, and play an important role during rituals. Even though they do not formally participate in the village council, they voice their opinions about collective decisions and decide on matters relating to name giving and marriage. Men generally work under the leadership of a chief, and are divided into men's societies and age categories. In clearing fields or building houses, they sometimes work collectively. Hunting and fishing can be done individually or in groups and may be highly ritualized, as on the occasions of name-giving feasts or initiations. The Kayapó do not work for the local population. They trade in Brazil nuts. Leaders of adult men have their "positions," in which capacity they direct work during the harvesting season. Nowadays the majority of groups prefer to sell timber, which is more lucrative and less tiring than traditional activities. The Gorotire permit prospecting on their reserve, for which they charge royalties.