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Making a Living
In the past Amazonians lived by farming, fishing, and foraging for wild plants and animal foods in an environment of forests and rivers. This section of the tour looks at the tools and utensils used by Amazonians to make their living, to obtain their food, build their homes and make objects both practical and beautiful. Most of these objects belong either to men or to women, each having their own specialized tasks in the family and community.
Illustrated here is a a manioc grater, one of the most important tools for preparing food. Manioc, also known as cassava or tapioca, is the main food crop grown by Amazonians in their temporary gardens cleared from the forest. Its root forms a tuber rich in starch. Women use graters like this to turn the roots into mash, after they have been softened by soaking in water. The mash is then squeezed dry to remove the poisonous acidic juice by squeezing it in a basketry tube. It is then sieved and pressed into a dough which is cooked on a hot plate or griddle.
Men make the tools such as squeezers and graters. The board is carved from soft wood and is set with tough palm spines or, in this case, with small flints, which are glued in with tree latex.
Main illustration: Manioc grater, from the Icana River, Upper Amazon, collected by Richard Spruce, 1850s (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, inv. no. 38689)
Manioc planted in a garden in the middle Amazon area.
Wapishana people of Guiana processing cassava, from grating the tubers to drying the bread on the roof and baking it on a griddle. (Robert Schomburgk, Twelve views in the interior of Guiana, London, 1841)