Dyula - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Most Dyula were involved in trade or the production of commodities for the market on at least a part-time basis. Yams, maize, sorghum, or millet were staple crops, depending on the location, supplemented by groundnuts, tomatoes, okra, and other vegetables. Tobacco, processed as snuff, was grown as a cash crop. The Dyula were extensively involved in weaving; they enjoyed a complete monopoly over the production of cloth among the Senufo. The town of Kong, in particular, produced luxury cloths for export to other regions. The Dyula were also involved in long- and medium-distance caravan trade, as well as peddling to their neighbors imported commodities and the goods produced from them. Wealthier Dyula possessed slaves to grow their food, which afforded the traders the leisure to pursue commercial or other activities year-round. Dyula living in larger, more active commercial centers might also trade or weave all year, purchasing foodstuffs in the marketplace. Many Dyula, however, particularly those in smaller communities off major trade axes, were seasonally involved in subsistence horticulture.

Industrial Arts. The Dyula were heavily involved in the production of cloth and clothing. Spinning was a common household activity for women; in some Dyula communities, women also were involved in dyeing thread with indigo. Men wove the cloth in narrow bands, often with complex and intricate patterns, and sewed the sections into blankets or items of clothing. In the twentieth century, the Dyula were among the first in the region to purchase sewing machines. Dyula tailors are noted for their elaborate embroidery.

Trade. As specialized traders, the Dyula were involved in the buying and selling of whatever commodities were marketable. This included goods they produced themselves, principally cloth but also snuff. They were involved in the long-distance trade between the middle Niger and the forest: salt and horses were traded southward and gold and kola nuts northward, along with a variety of other commodities, including luxury cloths, shea butter, peppers, and slaves.

Division of Labor. The Dyula were part of a regional and interregional system of hereditary specialization. Broadly speaking, weaving, trade, and Islamic scholarship were the hereditary preserves of the Dyula, who were themselves divided into two hereditary categories: tun tigi ("warrior") and mory ("scholar"). These broad categories corresponded very loosely if at all with the specific occupations of individuals. Instead, specific local kin groups tended to specialize in one activity or another: a specific kind of weaving, advanced Islamic scholarship, a particular sector of trade. This system of specialization was not rigid, however, and individuals had a good deal of freedom in choosing their occupations. Weaving, warfare, and Islamic learning were specifically male activities; spinning, cooking, and child rearing specifically female. Both males and females engaged in trade. Individuals who possessed slaves assigned the relatively onerous or less remunerative tasks, but slaves did not perform any tasks that could not be or were not undertaken by free individuals.

Land Tenure. Resident members of any clan ward ( kabila ; pl. kabilaw ) of a village had a traditional right to obtain land for cultivation. Outsiders could also obtain such rights, even permanently, by attaching themselves to a clan ward as guests ( lunanw ; sing. lunan ). Rights over specific fields could be highly individuated, however, particularly if those fields were highly suitable for cash-crop production. Nowadays building plots in towns and, increasingly, in villages, are privately owned and registered and constitute a valuable form of landed property.

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