Friday, April 20, 2012

Indigenous Families' Financial Practices in the Highlands of Chiapas

We are pleased to release our newest IMTFI working paper, by Magdalena Villareal and María Eugenia Santana, on indigenous financial practices in highland Chiapas. From the researchers:

When we set out to explore indigenous families’ financial practices and different forms of currency in the highlands of Chiapas, in Southeastern Mexico, we expected to face resistance to answering out questions concerning money. The region is, after all, considered one of the poorest in Mexico and is still largely based on the “milpa system”, barter and reciprocal hand, although the indigenous way of life is facing important changes. In fact, people were quite open in providing us numbers concerning income, costs and prices, but these did not always add up in a way that made sense to us. Frequently it was the time dimension of their calculations that we had to understand, but most often we had to come to grips with the social and cultural framework within which these were construed. Here, like in many other settings all over the world, arithmetic is signified in the light of beliefs, fears and hopes. 

Prestige and dignity mark transactions in an important way, as does their strong trust in God, the saints and their ancestors and their fear of envy and evil spirits. However, we encountered a complex interweaving of economies, some drawing heavily on tradition, others aiming at “development”, but most, pursuing mixed strategies in their struggles to get by. While in the traditional system, men are mostly dedicated to the production of maize and other subsistence crops, in the more “modernized” sectors they grow flowers in plastic greenhouses and sell to national and international markets. Women mostly do craftwork: in one of the villages it was the elaboration of clay pottery and objects for decoration. In the other, they weave with waist looms, using ancient techniques passed down from mothers to daughters for hundreds of years. The sale of clay craftwork and textiles represents an important cash income for their families. 

You can download it from our website.


  1. After exploring such families you might understand that most of your problems are of minor importance. We need to help each other by all means possible.

  2. Apart from the social significance discussed here, Milpa had lot of environmental and nutritional significance. The crops compliment the environment

    But yeah more than that, milpa is a sociocultural construct rather than simply a system of agriculture. It involves complex interactions and relationships between farmers