Yagua - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Yagua consider themselves hunters, but actually they rely more and more on swidden horticulture today since the majority no longer inhabits the hinterland, which is rich in game. Usually a family works two or more fields in different stages of growth, thus securing a continuous supply of food. The main cultigens are a variety of nonbitter manioc, several varieties of plantain and banana, and, to a lesser extent, pineapples, sugarcane, sweet potatoes, maize, and a selection of domesticated jungle fruits. Usually a field yields well for two years, and a family will clear a new one each year. Hunting is still considered a highly prestigious activity. Formerly, blowguns and spears were used; nowadays most men hunt with shotguns, although blowguns have not been completely abandoned. The primary game are tapir, peccaries, monkeys, large birds, and small rodents. Fishing—originally not very important in the interfluvial settlement period—has become an increasing source of protein for the riverine Yagua. Various palm and other jungle fruits are gathered in season, and palm-beetle larvae and honey collected in the woods are also consumed. Occasionally chickens, ducks, or pigs are raised but rarely eaten by the Yagua, who instead sell them to the mestizos. Cash income plays a minor role since loggers, hunters, rubber tappers, rice and jute planters, maids, and workers in the tourist industry are greatly underpaid because of the system of debt servitude.

Industrial Arts. The Yagua are quite well known for their excellent hammocks and bags made from palm fiber. Other crafts include weaving sieves and baskets, pottery, and making blowguns, but the latter two are rapidly disappearing. The manufacturing of fiber clothing for the male dress—an innovation from the turn of this century—has also declined owing to ridicule by mestizos. It is maintained only as a tourist attraction or in very remote areas by older men.

Trade. Aboriginally, trade between different Yagua local groups as well as with neighboring tribes played an important role. Yagua traded mainly curare poison and hammocks. From the mestizos they obtained salt and iron goods. Today, other basic necessities (e.g., kerosene, gasoline, matches, firearms, soap, and cloth) are purchased by working for a patrón or by selling animal hides and other products of the forest to the riverine population.

Division of Labor. Men clear the gardens and hunt; women do almost all of the planting; and both sexes participate in fishing. The fabrication of palm-fiber yarn, hammocks, and carrying and ammunition bags, as well as pottery are female activities, but men do most of the plaiting, carving, and house construction. The fabrication of musical instruments and the preparation of curare are also male specialties. Ritual and medicinal activities are mainly executed by men. Today a few Yagua communities are used as tourist attractions, and there is a tendency among younger Yagua women near the urban centers of Iquitos and Caballo Cocha to work as maids.

Land Tenure. There is no individual ownership of land or fields. Only the products of the latter are regarded as personal property. All land, whether cultivated or hunting ground, is the property of the community, although each hunter tends to choose his own hunting territory. Increasing pressure from the landless mestizo population, the government policy of peopling the border areas in order to guarantee national sovereignty, and the invasion of cattle ranchers and miners threaten Yagua territory. There is an urgent need for land demarcation and land titles. Unfortunately, only a few communities hold such titles and even then they are not granted so as to be respected by outsiders.

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