(Part 1: setting, house activities) During my 23 stay with the group, part of the time was spent with the whole group at their main house, and part traveling with a couple of families, staying at 7 different locations, including 3 permanent houses, one semi-permanent house and 3 temporary camps; 6 days were devoted to travel of a duration of between one and three hours walking time (roughly one-quarter traveling and three-quarters settled), the rest of the time being spent on subsistence or household activities including resting or leasure; food gathering and horticultural harvest were the most frequent activities (in number of days the activity was performed), followed by hunting, fishing and travel; horticultural products were most often consumed (21 days: several kind of bananas, especially plantains, were the staple food and were eaten everyday; sweet potatoes were abundant during the last five days while we stayed at two smaller houses next to which were mixed gardens) followed by collecting products (fruit and honey – 18 days) and meat (7 days); fish was an occasional small supplement. **********
Slash-and-burn agriculture as practiced by low-density native populations is not harmful to the environment, provided enough time is given for the forest to grow again (estimated at about 15 years). Is is even considered beneficial, as discarded (or purposely planted) seed of useful species grow to mix into the rejuvenated forest. A slash-and-burn garden showing remains of burned wood, maize and Xanthosoma sp. The nutrients in the ashes serve as fertilizer.
Left: Woman harvesting manioc. Right: Woman and daughter harvesting sweet potatoes.
Return from the slash-and-burn garden with cotton, sweet potatoes and firewood.
Men harvesting bananas from a stand of possibly feral bananas, of various varieties, growing together with the similar-looking false banana, Phenakospermum sp.; one of them is making a palm leaf basket to carry them.
Man harvesting tobacco leaves. The leaves are dried, crushed and mixed with ashes. Water is added to make a paste; this paste is placed under the lower lip (I tried it, and I became immediately dizzy; but I don´t smoke, so my brain is not used to nicotine).
Subsistence activities, be it slash-and burn agriculture, hunting or collecting, involve traveling as each group may have more than one house and dispersed slash-and-burn gardens, and the group may have to move in the forest where a species of fruit is ripe, or where animals like peccaries are known to be at a particular time of the year. Man building camp, tying saplings with vines.
Although of irregular yield, hunting was the most important source of animal protein. It is often a day long activity. During my stay with the Hoti the animals killed were: two young peccaries, one small caiman, two anteaters (one adult and one young), one trumpeter (Psophia crepitans) and one agouti.
The men had left early one morning. I wasn´t ready to follow them, so I went to the forest on my own photograph nature. I was busy taking photographs of a red passion flower when this man, who was the informal leader of the group and who had become my guide, came to get me. We walked some distance until we reached two dead anteaters, killed with spears. He pointed to my camera and to the dead anteaters, making me understand that I should take pictures of them. He had never seen photographs before, but he understood that I was making a record of their activities. I also was happy to have a proof that I had been accepted by the group. I figured that, summing the time between the place where the two anteaters laid and the house, then the house and, following my tracks, the place where I was taking pictures, then the time back to the anteaters, he must have spent about 40 minutes (maybe a little less as he may have walked fast). Elder cutting up meat of anteater ; the meat will be shared between members of the group.
Food gathering / collecting
Food gathering was also important, although not quite as important as horticulture. It takes more time and demands more work, first in locating useful products (wild fruits and honey), then in collecting them. Often a tree had to be felled; picking thousands of olive-sized lute fruit from felled trees was a time-consuming process. Man cutting tree on scaffolding, to save work cutting the tree higher, where the trunk is narrower, for collecting wild fruit or honey. The gap left by the fall of the tree is small enough for the forest to recover quickly; in case of fruit, some fruit will have been left on the ground allowing for the same species to regenerate.
Collecting honey from hole carved in felled tree to reach beehive. A hole is carved in the felled trunk; the honey is squeezed in a calabash, and the other parts of the beehive, including wax, are wrapped in a leaf of a plant of the Marantaceae family.
These small bees were not stinging, but very annoying because they stuck in the hair. Eating honey was always a feast! Some would be taken to the house, and diluted in water to make a beverage.