TECHNICAL CULTURE1

SHELTER

DESCRIPTION OF CLANHOUSES

THE clans2 which constitute the tribe live apart from each other, each making up a community and occupying a single house.3 The house has an oval ground plan and is very similar in appearance to an enormous beehive. As shown on the sketch plan (Fig. 3), it has no inner walls or partitions. The house is constructed of plaited palm leaves of the pasy4 palm tree (Lepidocarium) on a framework of hardwood poles. The wood most frequently used is chonta (Bactris ciliata) but when the latter is not available, any good, straight growing hardwood is used. The floor of the house is composed of hard pounded clay from the river bank. Instead of windows there are one or two doorways which take the form of oblong openings. In extremely bad weather or on cold nights, a screen made of plaited palm leaves is placed on the outside of the doorway for protection (Pl. 4).5

The center of the floor is occupied by a single fireplace which is used on occasion by the entire community. The regular cooking is done outside the house, on the side sheltered from the wind, and each family has its own fireplace.

The site for the house is chosen with great care. With the chief and the shaman presiding, lengthy conferences are held before a decision is reached as to where a new house shall be built. Usually the place is a high, level spot in the forest, close to a small gorge or quebrada, whence a narrow path leads to the site of the house. This path is used in obtaining water from the quebrada and is always kept clear, no effort being made to conceal its opening. No house sites are ever selected on the shores of the large rivers or on broad open ground which may be flooded. While apparently no attempt is made to conceal the house, great care is taken that it shall

____________________
1
The term "technical culture" has been used here in preference to the more usual term "material culture" at the suggestion of Dr. Bidney who is in agreement with those writers who maintain that the latter term is, in the last analysis, a misnomer. Material artifacts, he believes, in and by themselves are not constituent elements of culture; only the technique of making them and their functions within a given culture may be so designated.
2
See later section on Clans.
3
There are, properly speaking, no villages among the Yagua. In fact, the Yagua language has no word for village. As Radin has noted, "We find, throughout the western Amazon region, social units forming an undivided household community varying from sixty to two hundred individuals, all of whom occupy a common house and live under a chief." See Radin, Indians of South America ( 1942), 115.
4
Some terms adopted for biota are vernacular (frequently Quechua) words used throughout the Amazon valley.
5
See later section on Plaiting.

-30-

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Ethnography of the Yagua
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Preface 5
  • Contents 7
  • Illustrations 10
  • Phonetic Key 13
  • Introduction 14
  • Technical Culture 30
  • Non-Technical Culture 70
  • Appendix A: List of Artifacts and Their Functions 113
  • Appendix B: Yagua Vocabulary 118
  • Bibliography 129
  • Index 131
  • Plates 139
  • Explanation of Plates 141
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