Ethnographic Database Description

Details regarding factors such as demographics and agricultural production and resource use

The first phase of the NIH data collection was an ethnographic study that ran from February to June 2001. Ethnographic researchers were placed in eight indigenous communities for a five-month period. The total number of households studied was 120 (although we do not have complete datasets for all households), representing 677 individuals. Ethnographic data collection focused on (1) demographics, (2) agricultural production and resource use, (3) time allocation, (4) household economics, and (5) socio-economic attitudes and values.


One of the first tasks assigned to the team of ethnographers was to draw a map of their study community and conduct a basic census of community members, ascertaining the names, sexes, and ages of family members, the relationship to the male head, education level, and language(s) spoken. Moreover, they asked whether individuals were born in the community, or if not, at what age they arrived. Women (over the age of 12) were asked the number of live births they have had, and the number of surviving offspring. These data were recorded for all 120 households included in our ethnographic sample.

In April of 2001, the ethnographers then implemented the demographic formal questionnaire with heads of households, which covered topics such as: marriage, kinship, adult mortality, fertility, breastfeeding, use of contraceptives, religion, and migration. As with all the formal questionnaires in this phase of research, each question or set of closely related questions was identified with a numeric code, and investigators wrote down responses in notebooks using this code. Of the 120 households comprising the ethnographic sample, 85 households completed the demographic questionnaire. Reasons for incompletion of this and other methodologies include: absence from the community, unwillingness to participate, or far away distance of residence.

Agricultural Production and Resource Use

Agricultural production and resource use were examined through a multitude of approaches. In March 2001, ethnographers implemented an intensive formal agricultural questionnaire matched with on-site inquiry of plots and direct measurements of plot location and area with global positioning system (GPS) units. These GPS points are being integrated into the GIS analysis. For each participating household, researchers drew a picture of the household’s property, showing the location of the house, all agricultural plots, and social and natural boundaries (e.g., neighbor’s land, river, national park boundary, etc.). Then, for each plot pertaining to a household, investigators ascertained current and former crop composition, age of chacra (garden), reason for selection of site, and future plans for the plot (fallow, continued cultivation, collection of fruits, hunting, etc.). Following this chacra-specific inquiry, the agricultural interview turned to more general topics, such as: the yearly agricultural calendar (tasks, timing, tools, and trabajadores); selection of soils; agricultural pests and disasters; labor inputs, sources, and organization; use of external inputs; involvement in cash cropping, prices and earnings; raising and use of domestic animals; land subdivision and inheritance practices; and changes in plot size, crop composition, fallow practices, and intergenerational commitment to agriculture. Ethnographers completed agricultural questionnaires for 89 households complete with GPS on-site measurements of chacras.

In addition to the household-level agricultural questionnaire, researchers sat down with a group of residents to conduct a community questionnaire, which mostly dealt with political practices in the village, communal work, conflict resolution, social relations of property. However, general questions about agriculture were asked in this interview as well, such as the main crops, selection of sites for agricultural plots, overall fallow practices, and arable land ownership and transfer.

For many indigenous peoples in the Oriente, garden foods provide the bulk of the quantity of the diet and the majority of the carbohydrates, but activities such as hunting and fishing supply needed protein and gathering of forest products supplement the diet with vitamins and nutrients (not to mention construction material, medicinal plants, materials for handicrafts, etc.). Thus, the longest of the formal questionnaires dealt with resource use, called C/P/R (for “Caza, Pesca, RecoleciĆ³n”). For the hunting portion, men were asked about hunting participants (both sex and age); group size; tools use, manufacture, cost and maintenance; prey choice, abundance, and game taboos; frequency and success of hunting; sale of meat and/or live animals; location of hunts and use of trails; frequency and characteristics of night hunting; and use of dogs.

A shortened version of the male hunting questionnaire was used to ascertain women’s participation in hunting: participation, frequency, prey and procurement technology choice, and yields. The fishing questionnaire was not applied in a gender-specific manner. Informants were asked about the different methods, their participants, yields, tools, time needed, and seasonality, in addition to the abundance and names of important fish species. The gathering portion began with questions about the use and sale of wood, important tree species and their abundance, and tool use (i.e., possession of chainsaws). Then informants were asked to list the most important non-timber forest products they gather, the uses of these plants and how they are collected, changes in abundance and the possibility of being replaced by other purchased products. In total, 80 interviews were done about resource use.

At both the level of individual household and community, people were asked about the existence of rules governing resource extraction practices, such as limits on number of game taken, the types of fishing methods used (especially dynamite and barbasco poison), the extraction of valuable hardwood for sale, or the ways in which gathered forest products are harvested (e.g., felling whole trees for fruit collection). These questions are linked to ones about perceptions of development and conservation, consumption aspirations and hopes for the future, which will be discussed more below.

In addition to the interview questionnaire, three data sheets were used to further investigate resource use. One ascertained the seasonality of climate, important fish and game species, and plant resources. Another asked informants to list food items, giving both Spanish and indigenous names, how it is obtained, what part is consumed, how it is processed or cooked, when eaten and by whom. Third, to collect data about hunting patterns during the field research period, a post-hunt data form was developed which ascertained: hunter, ethnicity, date, time left and returned, tools brought, and other participants in the hunt (people and dogs). Then for each animal encountered, investigators asked for the Spanish and indigenous name, type of animal (bird, mammal, etc.), distance from the community where it was encountered, whether it was pursued and for how long, if it was killed, the age and sex of the kill, and the procurement technology. A space on the form collected the equivalent information for animals killed using traps. In total, 364 post-hunt interviews were done for the eight indigenous communities, involving 1148 animal encounters.