Yukpa - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . When the Yukpa occupied the Sierra de Perija, they apparently brought along a lowland-forest subsistence economy. In this economic system, shifting cultivation, hunting, fishing, and gathering all contributed equally to the group's subsistence. But this integral subsistence system underwent changes in the mountainous environment. Resource depletion and increased population density in the circumscribed river valleys most likely forced the Yukpa to become predominantly subsistence agriculturists. The cultivation of bitter manioc was abandoned, and the planting of maize, beans, and squashes was added to the existing crop assemblage. Unfortunately, the increased emphasis on slash-and-burn agriculture proved deleterious to the natural forest. Today the Yukpa continue to rely on slash-and-burn agriculture for much of their food. There is a growing interest, however, in a newly introduced economic activity—the growing of coffee for sale in local markets. Practiced in conjunction with subsistence agriculture, coffee cultivation is being promoted by the Venezuelan government through a local cooperative. As a subsistence/cash-crop system of agriculture develops, the Yukpa rely less on gathering, hunting, and fishing, ancillary activities that, because of resource depletion, are no longer very productive.

Industrial Arts. The Yukpa work neither stone nor leather but do weave and work clay. Both men and women are good basket weavers and fashion satchels, telescoping boxes, quivers, and fire fans in twilled and hexagonal weaves. A traditional coiling technique was used to make crude cooking pots, but today metal pots have replaced these traditional wares. Men continue, however, to use clay for making pipes used in the smoking of locally grown tobacco. Until well into the twentieth century, the Yukpa spun cotton and used a vertical loom to weave tuniclike garments for men and skirts for women. Older men continue to manufacture palm bows and cane arrows, which are now used more for ceremony than for hunting. Shotguns have replaced the use of these traditional hunting implements.

Trade. It is believed that in precontact times Yukpa (Yuko) living in Colombia traded with Arawakan tribes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. In earlier times, there was some trading of subsistence and material goods between both communities and subtribes; this trade continues to a small degree today. Communities closer to Watia settlements occasionally exchange food crops for clothing, processed foods, and metal tools.

Division of Labor. Labor is divided according to age and sex. Both men and women share the subsistence-agricultural tasks, although men do more of the heavy labor and women do more processing and food preparation. Although men undertake domestic activities, women predominate in this area. Cash cropping of coffee is undertaken by both men and women, although the former do more of the marketing and the field clearing; women work more in harvesting and weeding. Some Yukpa women in more acculturated communities work as domestic servants; the men in these same communities often enter into wage labor as cattle herders and milkers for local dairy farmers. The clearest division of labor occurs in hunting, which is exclusively undertaken by men.

Land Tenure. The pattern of land tenure among the Yukpa is the result of generations of passing ownership to male and female siblings. Each community or settlement maintains rights to use surrounding tracts of land, which are in turn divided among particular households. Both men and women own land, and both may borrow or rent if they need additional land for gardens. The boundaries of the Yukpa territory have been established by the Venezuelan government. The southern section of the Sierra de Perija is a zona indígena —a territory reserved for the sole use of indigenous inhabitants. Much of the remainder of the Sierra de Perija is a parque nacional, a designated area where it is unlawful to alter the natural flora and fauna. Both these land classifications help prevent the expropriation of Yukpa territory by settlers and large landowners.

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