The Ziona of Ecuador, their monetarization process and other future uncertainties: analysis of a collection economy

Reception: June 15, 2020

Acceptance: September 3, 2020


This article analyzes the monetarization process of the indigenous Ziona of the Ecuadorian Amazon, its collecting economy and its future uncertainties. Through ethnographic work for three years in the community Soto Tsiaya In the Aguarico river, I affirm that the Siona anticipate their economic future in the very short term because they live a gathering economy that allows them to subsist on a day-to-day basis. In addition, in its territory there are requests-collections that are part of a historical process of colonial and extractive monetarization, as well as vital exchanges from the interrelation between the Zionas and non-humans, that is, their feeling and living in their cosmos where relationships are reproduced. spiritual for their subsistence. Beyond a future where economic accumulation is a priority, its future uncertainties reflect concerns about its identity and cultural changes, as well as the importance of protecting its territory because it is the manifestation of its being, thought, practices, memory, spiritualities and economy. .

Keywords: , , , , ,

The Siona People of Ecuador, Their Monetization Process and Other Future Uncertainties: Analysis of an Economy of Gathering

This article analyzes the monetization process of the Siona people of the Ecuadorian Amazon, their economy of gathering and their uncertainties regarding the future. With a three-year ethnographical study in the Soto Tsiaya community on the Aguarico river, we state that the Sionas anticipate their economic future at a very short term, since they live in an economy of gathering that helps them subsist on a day-to-day basis. In addition, requests-gatherings take place in their territory that are a part of a historical colonial monetization and extraction process, as well as vital exchanges from the interrelation of the Sionas with non-humans, that is, their feeling and living in their cosmos , where spiritual relations are reproduced for their subsistence. Beyond a future in which economic accumulation is a priority, their uncertainties for the future reflect the concerns over their identity and cultural changes, as well as the importance of protecting their territory, since it is the manifestation of their being, thoughts, practices, memory , spiritualities and economy.

Keywords: Siona nationality, monetization process, economy of gathering, accumulation, uncertainties over the future, vital exchanges.


Nationality1 Siona indigenous lives in the province of Sucumbíos,2 in northeastern Ecuador, specifically in the cantons of Putumayo, Shushufindi and Cuyabeno. This population has a binational presence in Colombia and Ecuador. According to the community census prepared by the Technical Team of the Organization of the Siona Nationality of Ecuador, in Ecuador there is a population of 638 people (Technical Team of the onise, 2020) that make up eight communities: four settled on the banks of the Aguarico River (Soto Tsiaya, Aboquehuira, Biaña, Orehuëya) and four within the Cuyabeno Wildlife Production Reserve (Puerto Bolívar, San Victoriano, Tarabëaya, Seoquëaya). This writing is part of an ethnographic investigation carried out during three years in the community Soto Tsiaya on the Aguarico river.

The Siona families of the Aguarico, unlike the communities of Cuyabeno that subsist economically from tourism, resort to collecting strategies and negotiation with different actors to sustain themselves economically. The current economic and social activities of the Aguarico Siona interact in a historical context implemented by the capitalist system by the extractive companies, facilitated by the evangelization of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (ilv) and by the Ecuadorian State.

Figure 1. Map of the Siona communities. Elaboration: Daniel Guerra Garcés, 2019.

This text aims to show the future economic and non-economic aspirations of the Siona families, for which I resort to the analysis of their monetarization process and the current way of living a collecting economy. Their future concerns revolve around cultural identity changes, such as the extinction of their language (baicoca), the disappearance of their ceremonies, the contamination of their territory and the scarcity of game and fishing animals. The notion of accumulating money or obtaining a stable salaried job is not part of his future concerns, since his aspirations for economic income are of immediate time, and also because the Zion economy is sustained in other ways that do not necessarily imply accumulation of income. capital. Precisely, this article explains these other forms that sustain the economy of the Ziona, which I have called a gathering economy.

Collection economy: Siaye (collect) money and species

The practices of going hunting, fishing, gathering fruits and natural medicine in the airo (jungle) are linked to the concept of abundance, that is, no one can return from airo to their communities empty-handed. Thus, the Siona of the Aguarico ask-collect3 money or contributions in kind to those who visit their communities (social researchers, politicians in electoral campaigns, government employees, tourists, environmentalists). For the most part, women are in charge of requesting money or species (hammocks, clothes, flashlights, food).

These ask-collect practices can be understood within the monetarization and commodification process that generated various forms of dependency; but at the same time it is a survival strategy in the communities, and represents their being as indigenous gatherers. In this sense, “asking” for goods or money is a gathering activity that also implies generating abundance for each family. Thus, each member fulfills his task of asking-collecting; for example, in the community of Soto Tsiaya del Aguarico, the eldest son of the extended family is in charge of carrying out the negotiations and requests with the oil companies and ngo. The second son, being the president of the community, is the one who negotiates with the government authorities, while the women request money or species from the visitors. These collections will benefit the entire community of Soto Tsiaya, which is made up of the same extended family: the grandmother, her husband, her five daughters and four sons with all their descendants.

The life of the Siona in Soto Tsiaya it is much simpler, in the sense that there is no idea of accumulation of goods, food or things in general. In each house in this community it can be seen that there is what is strictly necessary for them: tools for hunting and fishing, basic utensils for food, a minimum of furniture, a communal motorized canoe or motorcycles, implements for planting.4 I make this description to affirm that in the economic notions of the Aguarico Siona there is no idea of accumulating, this was evidenced in situations where they have accessed large amounts of money from the compensation provided by the oil companies. The expenditure of the money is brief and is destined to purchases of clothes, basic food, gasoline for transport, cartridges for hunting, nets for fishing.5 Cash is not even intended as a form of savings.

Figure 2. Casa siona, Aboquehuira community, 2018. Author: María Fernanda Solórzano.

I return to the concept of accumulation of Magdalena Villarreal to understand that it is not about accumulating resources, but about "achieving a degree of economic control, reaping benefits from the value attributed to a particular resource" (2008: 147); that is, to have a certain degree of control in the short or long term of economic or symbolic goods. In the case of the Siona, this conforms to the idea of collection, in the sense of a short-term accumulation in which they can, in a certain way, have control over what they have acquired without expectations of saving, but rather more. good of uses and immediate expenses. This control is not within a capitalist logic of multiplying resources, but of using them according to their customs and needs (Villarreal, 2008).

So, these practices of collecting goods and money can be understood within the idea of value6 (Graeber, 2018) that becomes reality only within a broader social totality that implies a cosmoexistence7 (Guerrero, 2018) of indigenous hunters and gatherers within a territory that provides them well-being. In a society like that of the Siona, production focuses on unity and immediate family well-being beyond production for capital accumulation. The economy of the Siona is an attempt at synthesis between their family and communal interests, to perpetuate their survival and future well-being. On the one hand, they strive to integrate into the local labor market, and on the other to continue their own traditional livelihood practices.

This economy of harvesting does not imply that they are remote from the capitalist system, but rather that they coexist with it. “Capitalist and non-capitalist social relations coexist not isolated from each other, but as interrelated aspects of the frontier economy” (Ziegler-Otero, 2004: 8). These two systems are interrelated, and not only are they close to each other, but they interact and their values are transferred. These interactions are in continuous negotiation and confrontation, especially within an economy where capitalism is emerging as the most powerful.

Understanding how the Ziona cohabit between the capitalist world and their own economy of collection implies reviewing their historical process of monetarization since coloniality and territorial colonization, based on: a) the relationship with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, which played an economic role, political and moral in their lives since the fifties; b) the Agrarian Reform and the State Colonization Law in the 1970s; c) the State as a driving force behind extractivism in the Amazon territory.

Monetarization process of the Siona of Ecuador

The Summer Institute of Linguistics (ilv)8 He entered the Siona territory in 1951, and had a great cultural, economic and territorial impact on the life of this nationality. The arrival of ilv it is the starting point of your relationship with money and wage work. As recounted by the grandmother of the community of Soto Tsiaya,

The Linguist gave a machete, wheelbarrow, and we cleaned everything to build the school in San Pablo [community where the Siona and Siekopai nationalities were grouped]. We also clean the mountain so that the plane of the linguists can land.

They told us that the Linguistic was going to pay us to clean, and that it was urgent to have the clue because when we had a disease we could go out to heal. El Lingüístico sent almost 400 sucres [Ecuadorian currency prior to the dollarization process in Ecuador] to pay us. From there, we were able to communicate, go out to heal in Limoncocha [city of the Shushufindi canton]. At that time there were no products to sell like now, when he paid us in sucres we bought clothes and pots in Limoncocha.

At that time, no corn was planted to sell. Now we have to work, we plant coffee and cocoa to take to Tarapoa [town closest to Soto Tsiaya], sometimes there is no car to take there and Don Luchito comes to buy. What is sold is very little.

The Linguistician paid me to wash my clothes, he paid me 40 sucres for 15 days. But before the Lingüístico we didn't even have clothes, we went by canoe through the Cuyabeno lagoon to Putumayo [border with Colombia]. If we wanted to have something like clothes, we would go by canoe far away to change for fishing or hunting.

The money came with Linguistics, because when I was five years old only with paiches [river fish] we change for pots (conversation with the grandmother of the community of Soto Tsiaya, May 2018).

One of the leaders of the Siona community of Soto Tsiaya It also tells about the monetarization process of the Ziona:

When I was in Linguistics, they bought my father the corn that they made themselves sow, because those gringos [US missionaries from ilv] they had chickens, like 200 chickens, and they bought what my father planted on one hectare. My father also planted hectares of rice and that was also for the chickens of the gringos. At that time, my father was paid little, for the daily work they gave him between 10 or 15 sucres.

My mother worked in crafts making earrings, necklaces, ceramics, because the Linguistic used to buy them. What they bought they took to Quito and sold it. My mother was paid to wash or cook 12 sucres.

But much earlier, in the time of my grandparents, when there was no Linguistic, nor the colonists [mestizo population], they exchanged animal skins with other indigenous people for salt, hooks, axes, machetes. In Linguistic times there began to be money ! (conversation with community leader, January 2019).

As can be seen, the monetarization process in the Ziona is recent, barely since the 1950s. And it is introduced under the logic of capital supported by reason,9 hand in hand with religion, driven by the ilv as part of the coloniality of being (Guerrero, 2018). In addition, the ilv It opened the doors for the extractive colonization of the following years, and influenced the cultural and identity forms of the Siona world due to the indoctrination of the missionaries. The yajé cuquë (sages-healers) were accused of doing witchcraft, so the teaching of the making of yajé (ayahuasca) or the ujas (healing songs) was minimally transmitted to the next generation, which turned to structuring political organizations in defense of their territory.

Another important event in the monetarization process of the Siona was the Colonization Law of 1970, which allowed the start of oil exploitation. This Law was issued by the extinct Ecuadorian Institute of Agrarian Reform and Colonization (ierac) where the Amazon was declared “wasteland”, favoring the appropriation of land by the mestizo population from other regions of Ecuador. The Colonization Law decreed that, of the more than 5,102,000 hectares that comprise the province of Orellana and Sucumbíos, 30% of the territory be granted for forest heritage, 28% for Parks and Reserves, and 42% was destined for mestizo colonization10 (Eberhart, 1998).

In those same years, the Ecuadorian government granted 10,000 hectares to the company Palmeras Ecuador, for the palm industry located in the Shushufindi canton, surrounding the Siona communities of Aguarico. In 1979 the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve was created, which represented a limitation in the use of natural resources for indigenous people, due to the hunting and fishing controls carried out by the authorities of the Ministry of the Environment. In addition, since the 1990s, in this Protected Area, the same State, through the Ministry of Tourism, encouraged the entry of tourist companies that have contaminated the area and created intra-family conflicts among the Zionas of Cuyabeno, due to the dispute for access to economic income and jobs in tourism.

Here [in Cuyabeno] each family has to look for work, some are motorists [men who drive motor boats], others do the ceremony of the yajé, the women cook for the tourists. But you have to make agreements with tourism agencies, and that is sometimes difficult. Only those who know pay attention and give work, others do not get anything (conversation with the president of the Siona community Puerto Bolívar in Cuyabeno, August 2018).

As David Graeber mentions, it is important “to have K. Polanyi (1944) close to remind us to what extent the power of the State has created the very terms of what is now considered a normal commercial life” (2018: 81).

Likewise, the rubber, timber and oil extractive industry is part of the monetarization story of the Siona. Thus, narrates the grandmother of Soto Tsiaya:

In 1986 and 1988 my husband worked with loggers to sell laurel and balsam. While he worked, I made the food and brought lunch to the workers. In 1994, the seismic projects from the oil companies were in Pañacoha [Kichwa territories bordering the Siona and Siekopai territory], where my husband participated as a guide to make boundaries. He spent six months in the oil company, but the land was swampy and he worked wet, so he returned home (conversation with his grandmother, June 2018).

This grandmother's story gives an account of the first relations that the Siona had with the oil companies in the eighties, when they began to receive cash payments, food gifts and the construction of health centers and roads, in exchange for their income for oil exploration and exploitation.

In 2011, the Chinese company Andes Petroleum undertook the process of exploration and exploitation in the Siona del Aguarico territory. The leaders of the communities played an important role, since they worked as translators of the Environmental Impact Studies of the Chinese company to the baicoca (Siona language). Thus, for 2014, the social compensation agreement was signed for Andes Petroleum to build two oil platforms and begin the exploitation of crude oil for a period of 15 years. The payment for this agreement was 400,000 dollars, which were distributed among all the families that make up the four communities of Aguarico.

In addition, other compensation such as a vehicle11 to the community of Soto Tsiaya, and salaried work was promised for the men of the community. From 2016 to the present, between eight and ten Siona have worked for six months with the payment of the minimum wage (386 usd monthly).12

In this section I emphasize that the monetarization process of the Siona began when the Summer Institute of Linguistics arrived in their territory, and obviously is accentuated in the colonization process under a developmental and extractivist logic that the State undertook in the northern Amazon of Ecuador. This process contributed to aggravate intra-family conflicts due to appropriation of monetary resources, as well as a division between those who question the extractivist process and those who are related to the development programs of the government and the oil companies.

Figure 3. Andes Petroleum oil wells in the Siona communities of Aguarico. Elaboration: Daniel Guerra Garcés, 2019.

Productive projects and wage labor in the life of the Ziona

Currently, one of the sources of economic income for Siona families is the sale of food such as coffee, cocoa, cassava, green plantain, corn. The average monthly sale of Siona families is between 20 to 50 kilos of coffee, two or three sacks of corn or cassava, several bunches of bananas.13 Agriculture is seen as family work in the Siona communities of the Aguarico. The sale of the crops is carried out sporadically in the nearby towns of Tarapoa and Shushufindi, although some mestizo merchants go to buy in the communities.14

Fishing and hunting15 are main activities for your daily food diet. Very few families sell fish in nearby cities, this transaction is sporadic, as long as there is a catch of a large animal. Fishing and hunting are practical for self-consumption.

Figure 4. Fishing in the Aguarico River, Soto Tsiaya community, 2018. Author: María Fernanda Solórzano.

The sowing plot (the farm) is seen as a family job. Each child over the age of 18 has his own planting space. To venture into the commercialization of various products, the Siona, since the 1970s, have resorted to loans financed by state institutions. These credits are invested for the cultivation of coffee, cocoa, corn and trout pools.

As I have already mentioned, the Ecuadorian State and the Summer Institute of Linguistics introduced the importance of money in Siona life through commodification and wage labor. The projects or proposals from the state institutions granted credits to plant what is "in fashion" in each era, be it corn, coffee or cocoa. Agriculture, although not strictly subsistence like hunting and fishing, currently almost is, in the sense that they sow small amounts that give them barely enough monetary resources to survive.16

For its part, the oil industry provides the Ziona with wage labor and goods. The company pays them for transportation, food, overtime and a basic salary. Wage labor is never sought outside the community. The Ziona wait for job opportunities to come to them, they trust the oil company to hire them again. Between criticism and acceptance of the extractive industry, the Siona of Aguarico see the oil company as an opportunity to make agreements that benefit their families financially.

The Ecuadorian State is another entity that provides money to the Siona nationality. From the Ministry of the Environment, through the Socio Bosque Program, around 10 thousand dollars a year are given to the Siona families of Aguarico for the care of 11,200 hectares of forest. This agreement was signed in 2009 and has a duration of 20 years. The money delivered by Socio Bosque is deposited in the savings account of the Sionas Indigenous Organization of Ecuador (onise). In addition to not cutting down the trees, the Socio Bosque program commits the Siona to plant cedar and that the money given is invested in projects within five axes: education, health, organizational strengthening, productivity and patrolling to control tree felling. .

At the beginning of each year, a general assembly decides the use of the money. For example, in 2017 it was agreed to buy implements for planting, specifically scythes. In addition, it was decided to give an amount of cash to the grandparents of the four communities, since they cannot work on the farm or generate income.17

The assembly of the Aguarico Siona is an act to decide the use of the money from the Socio Bosque program, which, in the long run, has brought family problems regarding the distribution of resources; an attempt is made to overcome these conflicts over money with the delivery of equal goods. In these relationships with government and oil institutions, they lead
these sionas are brokers (Wolf, 1976) who are committed to obtaining benefits for the entire community through concrete works.

In short, currently the Sionas of the Aguarico survive thanks to a mixed economy based on agriculture for self-consumption and for sale, in combination with a series of other activities such as sporadic work in the Chinese oil company and jobs paid by the State such as the program Socio Bosque. In this sense, the Ziona exercise their own forms of work, wage employment and money that are built on the margins and within a global economy. It should be noted that salaried work is temporary, occasional and does not represent a high percentage for the Siona population of Aguarico, so it does not interrupt their festivities or celebrations.

Figure 5. Fiesta de la Chonta, Aboquehuira community, 2017. Authorship: María Fernanda Solórzano Granada.

Also the idea of work includes long days of rest and time for agriculture, fishing and hunting. “I did not want to plant palm, I do not want to be a palm grower because they work every day and there is no rest. We want to go hunting, fishing, sowing ”(conversation with ex-Siona leader, February 2018).

The farm (planting plot) provides them with goods to sell, although many of these products are food for self-consumption because their plots are small. Like the grandmother of Soto Tsiaya He mentioned, “what is taken to Tarapoa [the nearest mestizo population] is just a few pounds of coffee and cocoa to sell, it is not that it is sold every day, only when it is season and it sells little, but those are needed. dolaritos ”(conversation, May 2018). What is grown is not to obtain high economic income or accumulate, nor is it such a linear process of selling goods. The biggest economy is the one that comes from sporadic jobs and what they receive from the government. In addition, as I mentioned, this economy is marked by the collecting practices of asking for money and goods to fulfill their ceremonies, their activities
hunting and fishing, as well as for their expenses (education, food, fuel, among others). So, it should be noted that its territory plays an important role in its economy, because part of it becomes merchandise, but not necessarily all of it.

In addition, debts are present in the financial system of the Ziona. In general, loans or debts are paid when there is the possibility of “raising money”, as several Siona families mentioned: “I will pay you when I have some money”, “later I will pay you”, “another day I pay you ”are the responses when someone rebukes them for their debts.18 The time for the payment of debts is relative, and depends on the priority and the possibility of raising money.

What we can label as debt is not always classified in this way. It can be a management of social relationships that are classified rather as a favor, a commitment, or a reward. Each one can be assigned a different specific weight, a cost in differential equivalence measures. Each one will be subject to particular restrictions regarding access, use and payment (Villarreal, 2008: 46).

Thus, the debts of the Aguarico Zionas imply commitments, redistributions and reciprocities. a priori through the act of ask-collect, and they do not necessarily have to be returned. Marcel Mauss (2009) argues that "giving a gift can be a powerful way of creating social ties, because gifts always carry something of the donor" (Mauss in Graeber, 2018: 162)19 and they wait to be returned; But what if the gifts do not always have to be returned, as in the case of the Ziona, what counts as a form of reciprocity? Within the abundance that their territory offers them and their requests-collections, these must be shared with the family to generate communal well-being.

Other uncertainties: expectations for the future

In the case of the Zionas, money transactions are mostly with settlers (mestizos) and are tinged with racism and mistrust, since ethnic classification is linked to economic classification. In the Ecuadorian East - as the Amazon is known in Ecuador - the idea has spread that the Amazonian natives "do not take care of money, spend quickly, do not save, or do not serve to do business and only ask." As stated by public officials and employees of the oil companies.

We do not give money to the indigenous people of the East, now we prefer to pay compensation in works or services, because they spend the money on anything, they do not save. In addition, the Amazonian indigenous people do not know how to take advantage of all the land to produce in large quantities, they only plant to sell little, they do not think of having more for their future, they only want us to give them everything as a gift (oil employee, April 2018).

As it was verified during the ethnographic work, the Siona families of the Aguarico receive money that, many times, is spent in the very short term, specifically in the purchase of goods (clothing, cell phones, motorcycles, food) without any concern about saving or accumulating money. surplus.

The future uncertainty of the Siona revolves around the loss of their territory and their customs, but not about what to do with the money or if they will have money in the near future. As long as they have territory they will not have economic uncertainty. Therefore, the Siona try to build their own spaces of cosmoexistence (Guerrero, 2018) and life that go beyond subjection and economic dependence.

Here in the jungle there is still hunting and fishing, although less than before, but there is. We have plants that heal and heal us. There is more in the Cuyabeno than in the Aguarico. We also have yucca and plantain to live on, that matters to us because, if we don't have territory, how are we going to eat, to heal, to live? (conversation with the grandmother of the community of Soto Tsiaya, January 2018).

The future expectations of the Siona are to protect and safeguard their territory, which, in its process of transformation into merchandise, is still a vital part of their cosmoexistence. That is, although it is true that the monetarization process allowed, to some degree, to transform their territory into merchandise through oil concessions, this becomes one of the main uncertainties for their subsistence from hunting and fishing, beyond the fact that they allows minimally an economic income.

Figure 6. Chonta fruit, which represents abundance for the Siona nationality. Community of Aboquehuira, 2017. Authorship: María Fernanda Solórzano Granada.

"The future we want is to have clean rivers, fish, hunt, have animals, that the language does not disappear, that young people learn from their grandparents" (conversation with the grandfather of Soto Tsiaya, May 2019). For the Ziona, the collection of goods or money does not mean accumulation of capital, but rather an expenditure on immediate needs, and this type of economy of collection generates communal welfare.

Additionally, I think it is important to mention that some families from the Aguarico communities also aspire to a future with an economic life similar to the Cuyabeno communities, which are immersed in tourism. In other words, they want to have the possibility of having jobs that generate economic resources.

Vital exchanges

Exchange is an important activity in the life of the Siona. The exchanges come in various forms, such as the exchange of food,20 of wisdom, exchanges in kind. In this sense, it is important to return to the concept of “exchange value” that Villarreal (2004: 29) proposes, “so that it is not limited to monetary values and the market”, since market transactions and mercantile production also They contemplate non-market relations and values that vary according to the field of activity (production, distribution, consumption, exchange), as well as the ways in which “different social domains intersect, for example, based on family, community or socio-political interests” (Villarreal , 2004: 29).

Prices on these exchanges are determined in both monetary and non-monetary terms. However, this "uneconomic" equivalence can be offset by the value placed on individuals and the community. This inserts exchanges into the welfare transactions of the family / community economy. Therefore, the notion of utility "is configured not so much as an economic and financial category but as a social category, since it is constructed in relation to the perceived and morality of the transaction" (Ferraro, 2018: 84), which it allows the survival of the Siona nationality, the continuity of their cultural practices and the communal well-being.

Thus, there are vital exchanges or loans to give continuity to being siona, such as negotiations between the yajé cuquë (wise healer) with the spirits of the airo (jungle) to guarantee family / community well-being. Because in the community of Soto Tsiaya no lives yajé cuquë, Grandfather Chala, a resident of the Orehuëya community, became the healer of all the Aguarico communities.

Here [community of Soto Tsiaya] there is no longer the yajé cuquë, because the older grandfather is evangelical and says he does not want to drink yajé, but we have Grandpa Chala who protects us from afar. He has already done the healing for all the Ziona communities and now we are protected (conversation with the grandmother, February 2018).

The transmission of the power of grandfather Chala21 to the apprentices of the ceremony of the yajé (the i´ti baaiquë) and the negotiation with the spirits of the forest (animals, plants, rivers), do not represent a simple transmission of knowledge, since they imply interrelations or biocosmic alterities22 (Guerrero, 2018), where agreements are reached to perpetuate life. At the ceremony of yajé (Ayahuasca), the power of the grandfather allows to protect the life of all the Zionas through the wisdom that the sacred plants offer to connect with other beings and negotiate access to fishing, hunting and healing.

Thus, in the economic life of the Siona, money, goods, species, values and wisdoms become an element to be exchanged among all to reaffirm their characteristics as gatherer beings. The Siona exchange is in a complex and varied relationship with the money with which it lives, and with its territory where these exchanges take place and are sustained.

Figure 7. Yajé ceremony in Soto Tsiaya, 2019. Author: Daniel Guerra Garcés.
Figure 8. Participation in the yajé ceremony, paintings that reflect the paths of the spirits, Soto Tsiaya community, 2019. Author: Daniel Guerra Garcés.

To continue talking

I affirm that the relationship between territory and economy goes beyond the notion of homo economicus, which supports a capitalist vision of life and reproduces dichotomous visions between material and symbolic economy, or where the economy is understood from economic accumulation, spending or saving. The economy of the Siona cannot be understood from those studies such as those of Scoot (1994) or Nash (1979), according to which the coexistence between money and the traditional forms of exchange of indigenous populations have been understood as the result of certain imperfections of “underdeveloped markets”, and where the capitalist global economy has penetrated the peasant and indigenous economy (Ferraro, 2018: 68). Nor can the economy of the Zionas be understood as a mixture between monetary and non-monetary transactions as one of the contradictions that would characterize “the incomplete integration of Latin America in the world market” (Nash in Ferraro, 2018: 68).

The first step in understanding the Zion economy is not to overlook its links with specific cultural and historical parameters (Narotzky, 2004). The monetarization process of the Siona is complex and is infused with the social, symbolic and cultural elements of the Siona. As Parry and Blonch (1989) mention, the importance of monetary exchange and the market has been underestimated in the ethnographic analysis of precapitalist economies, which is why it is important to analyze the historical processes of monetarization in Amazonian indigenous societies within the dynamics of coloniality, which implies understanding the relations between territory and economy.

Indigenous populations whose territories are within extractivist processes, as is the case with the Sionas, are not disciplined and docile subjects condemned to relationships of dependence and submission (Colleoni, 2004). Rather, they have developed diverse mechanisms of permanence, cultural change and cultural resistance. But this does not mean that asymmetric relationships are not recognized with attempts to continue coloniality. Even so, contradictory effects are maintained and reproduced that are expressed in cultural change and permanence.

The exchanges that occur between the Siona involve goods, as well as money, with prices set in monetary terms or not. Prices in exchanges are the result of the relationships that exist between those who participate in the negotiation. The exchanges carried out by the Sionas pay attention both to the goods exchanged and to the relationship between the commercial partners (Mauss, 1923), but also involves a collection system to generate family and communal abundance.

In my view, the transaction network reinforces the Siona's relationships with others, but it also has ambiguous relationships. The agreements include not only the price but the specific method of payment, whether in money, animals or goods, or a combination of these elements, as well as the time of payment, which is often uncertain, but also the need to “collect ”By asking anyone for money or species.

In the exchanges they carry out, the sionas mix many elements, not only those related to the negotiation of cost / value or price of the products exchanged. The Ziona have different interests and resort to meanings that go beyond the monetary or strictly economic questions of future accumulation. There are mercantile and symbolic values, associated with the domains of the family and its territory, which are intertwined and which are essential to the accumulation of money. As Magdalena Villarreal (2010) writes, decisions to collect money or goods are subject to the influence of the cultural, social, and emotional relationships in which they interact. And in this conjunction, your airo (jungle) is decisive in the economic life of the Siona, which implies a kind of food sustenance, source of monetary income, relationships of otherness with non-humans (spirits) that allow future well-being.

The Siona of the Aguarico, although they aspire to have clean rivers, no pollution in their territory, and the continuity of their identity practices, they also hope for a future where they can access economic income that does not imply stopping their self-sufficiency from their own jungle. The request-collection poses a control over the management of its economic and non-economic resources without an idea of capitalization; Although the Siona certainly aspire to have money, they do not capitalize it but rather consume it under their own cultural practices associated with a common welfare.

Finally, I consider that clinging to their rites and ways of life is a resistance to capitalism and the ideas of progress. With this I do not mean that they reject everything that capitalism implies, but that they make their own particular appropriation without letting it disrupt their ways of life. Resisting implies resignifying their own forms of economy within a global process, which determines their future survival.


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Maria Fernanda Solórzano grenade She has a doctorate in Social Sciences with a specialization in Social Anthropology from the Center for Research in Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (ciesas-West); Master in Social Sciences with a focus on Sustainable Development from the Autonomous University of Nuevo León (uanl); Degree in Social Communication for Development from the Salesian Polytechnic University of Ecuador. He has addressed different social problems associated with indigenous youth identities and politicity and their relationship with the territory, extractivism and developmentalism in Amazonian territories of Ecuador. She has experience in collaborative research work with indigenous girls, boys and young people in the Sierra and Ecuadorian Amazon. She currently works as a specialist technician with the Organization of the Siona Indigenous Nationality of Ecuador (onise) for Updating the Life Plan.

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