Tappers and sappers: rubber, gold and money among the Mundurucú

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Abstract

The following paper presents a description and analysis of social and cultural change among the Mundurucú Indians of the upper Tapajós River, Brazil, from Robert Murphy's 1952–1953 fieldwork through the 1979–1981 field trip of Brian Burkhalter. This is a period that saw a transition from a Mundurucú trade economy in wild rubber, exchanged through a barter-credit system, to digging, or sapping, of placer deposits of gold within the context of a cash economy. The change has had far-reaching effects on the Mundurucú system of social relations, which has seen a further erosion of institutions based on communality, commensality, and cooperation, and a growing prevalence of monetary objectification of persons and their labors. [Mundurucú Indians, South American ethnology, social change, monetary exchange, trade]

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