Yuqui - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In their traditional state, the Yuqui subsisted entirely on game, fish, and food plants gathered from the tropical forests and savannas. They had no known trading relationships with other people, including other bands of Yuqui with whom they often had antagonistic encounters. All outsiders, indigenous or otherwise, were considered enemies. Although their system of food taboos may have been more elaborate at some earlier period in their history, at the time of contact the Yuqui would eat any animal that had "feet or wings." Thus they excluded only insects (with the exception of bee larvae) and snakes from their diet. Although virtually all wildlife was considered acceptable, the Yuqui preferred and still pursue the larger mammals (tapir, collared and white-lipped peccaries, capybaras, pacas, and spider and howler monkeys) and birds (curassows, guans, toucans, and macaws). Fishing was of minor importance and highly seasonal since Yuqui technology was limited to bow fishing and the use of barbasco vine as a fish poison. Because of their fear of being sighted on open waterways, most fishing was done in shallow, seasonal forest ponds, or oxbow lakes.

The Yuqui gathered a wide variety of fruit, particularly that of several species of palm, in addition to hearts of palm. Honey was also an important part of the diet and was consumed in enormous quantities when available. The Yuqui collected fiber from the imbai tree ( Cecropia sp.) for use in making hammocks, baby slings, and bow string. Two vegetable dyes were important as body paints to ward off sickness and misfortune: urucú ( Bixa orellana ), a red dye, and dija ( Genipa americana ), a blue-black dye, both widely used by native Amazonians.

Since contact and the adoption of a sedentary existence, the Yuqui have begun to cultivate a few crops on a small scale. They are not enthusiastic farmers, however, and still prefer to devote their time to subsistence activities in the forest—traditional hunting and gathering. They have also become increasingly dependent on plantains, which do not require a great deal of attention and are easy to harvest (actually an activity similar to gathering). They also plant sweet manioc, maize, upland rice, squashes, peanuts, sugarcane, papayas, and other minor crops that have been introduced by missionaries or colonists. The mission provides the Yuqui with surplus food donated by the United States, and they are beginning to develop trade relationships with colonists moving into their area. The presence of settlers and subsequent deforestation is beginning to severely affect Yuqui hunting and fishing success as these sources of meat are depleted by overexploitation and habitat alteration.

Industrial Arts. Both a nomadic existence and the effects of deculturation have contributed to a paucity of artifacts in Yuqui culture. The cultural inventory is virtually complete with bow and arrows, hammock, baby sling, an agouti-incisor notching tool, rudimentary pottery, and a few basket products made from palm fronds.

The Yuqui bow is over 2 meters in length and fabricated with black palm wood ( Bactris sp.). The string, made by the women from twined imbai bark, is attached to the sharpened bow tips with a loop, and the excess bowstring is coiled around the lower third of the stave. The arrows, often mistaken for spears, are of equal length and are of only two types: the "bleeder arrow" made with a large bamboo lanceolate point and used for large animals such as the tapir, and the barbed, black-palm point used for smaller animals. Arrow shafts are made from arrow cane ( Gynerium saggittatum ), and the arrow is fletched using the Peruvian cemented technique. Curassow feathers were typically used prior to contact, but with a growing trade in bows and arrows developed by the mission, any large bird feathers are now employed, particularly those from the colorful macaw.

Baby slings and hammocks are also made from imbai twine and are fabricated by using similar techniques. In the case of a hammock, twine is wrapped around two posts set in the ground until the proper width is achieved. Then a single tie strand is run down the middle to separate and secure each individual cord. A rope, also made from imbai, is run through the end loops to secure them, and the completed hammock is removed from the two posts. The baby sling is made in the same manner except that instead of posts, the fiber is wrapped around a woman's spread knees while she is in a sitting position. Several tie strands complete the circular band of fiber that is worn diagonally across the woman's upper torso. The Yuqui do not use any form of upper arm or leg bands, waist ornaments, or penis strings. Body painting done with Genipa and Bixa is not particularly decorative and follows no set pattern. Dye is simply applied somewhat haphazardly to specific body areas to treat wounds, to encourage pubic hair growth among adolescents, or to prevent animal bites or other untoward events while hunting.

Basketry consists of quickly made receptacles of various sizes, all made with a double-herringbone weave common throughout Amazonia. Baskets are undecorated and rudimentary in style. They are not considered art objects and are often discarded after use. The Yuqui first weave a mat from the soft, pliable center stalk of a palm, fold it in half, and braid the sides to form a container. A type of palm-frond backpack is also woven to transport game and fruit, but this is also discarded after use. Pottery was not being made by the Yuqui at the time of contact, but one or two of the older women could still remember how to produce a small coiled pot. Finally, men produce a small tool used to make a nocking plug for the ends of arrows. This consists of an animal bone, usually a femur, into which is glued (using black beeswax) an agouti incisor. These notching tools tend to be kept by the owner until they break or are lost.

Division of Labor. As foragers, Yuqui men and women shared most tasks, giving the group greater flexibility in terms of survival strategies. The great majority of daily activities centered around the procuring of food. Both men and women engaged in fruit and honey gathering, fishing using barbasco ( chimbo ) vine or by hand in drying ponds, and the collection of fiber. There were women who knew how to use smaller bows for fishing, but hunting was, and continues to be, a male activity, particularly with the introduction of firearms. Women, however, accompany men on hunts, participate in tracking and calling animals, engage in hand kills, and assist in the transport of game back to camp. Men make bows and arrows and help collect firewood. Women make string, may assist in the cleaning of game, and share cooking tasks with men. Child care is also shared, although women spend many more hours than men in this activity, particularly when children are still nursing. While on trek, women transported infants as well as all household items such as arrow-making supplies, hammocks, fiber, and leftover food. Men hunted ahead of the group and watched for possible ambushes by Bolivians who frequented the forest. All camp tasks, particularly those requiring hard labor, were typically performed by or done with the assistance of slaves. Now that former slaves refuse to perform many of these tasks unless compensated, upper-caste ( saya ) men and women must meet these needs themselves.

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