Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Maize is the staple crop of the Iraqw; it is supplemented with beans, sorghum, and millet (the latter two are used primarily for brewing beer). Other food crops are pumpkins, sweet potatoes, European potatoes, onions, and various legumes. Households generally have about 1.2 hectares of land. In areas of high rainfall, such as in the wards of Kainam, Murray, and Karatu in central and northern Mbulu, households can obtain a harvest twice a year. The Iraqw intercrop maize and beans, and maize and sorghum, and sow pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and gourds between the rows of each crop. Millet is usually planted in separate areas. Cash crops include wheat, maize, beans, onions, garlic, European potatoes, and pyrethrum. Typically, an Iraqw household keeps several cows, a few sheep and goats, and chickens. Pigs are often raised for sale, and donkeys are kept for transportation.
Grazing land is divided into private and public pastures. Private pastures are limited to land around the homestead, but the public grazing land of the village can be at some distance from the homesteads. Cattle are a symbol of a family's wealth and are one of the principal investments of the household. As it is difficult for one family to keep a large number of cattle, a system of lending has developed that both reduces the risk of spread of disease and establishes a patron-client relationship with those who have fewer cattle. In exchange for taking care of another's cattle, a family has the right to the milk of the cows and to some of the newborn calves. Livestock are also sold in the market.
Industrial Arts. Blacksmiths and potters were the only full-time specialists in precolonial Iraqw society. Smithing, which is practiced by very few Iraqw, is a male profession. Pottery making is the domain of women. Unglazed earthen pots are fashioned in various shapes and sizes without the use of a wheel. Women also make reed mats, which are sold in the towns. Various articles such as beer filters, furniture, hatchets and hoes, leather goods, and musical instruments are also made by the Iraqw.
Trade. Cattle markets are an important locus of economic activity in Mbulu District. Many Iraqw earn the greater part of their income from these markets. In addition to livestock, the Iraqw sell agricultural products, both at local markets and to Asian merchants.
Division of Labor. Gender and age are the bases for the Iraqw division of labor. On the Iraqw homestead, women sow the fields and harvest the crops, although men may assist if there is a shortage of labor. Hoeing, weeding, and threshing of sorghum and wheat are men's tasks. Young girls are responsible for taking the livestock out of the house in the morning, collecting the night's manure, and spreading it in the sun to dry. Children and married women take care of the calves and the wounded cattle, goats, and sheep; the young, unmarried men are responsible for herding. Women cook, keep house, and care for the children. They collect firewood, draw water, milk the cows, and plaster the house walls. Possessions and space within the house are strictly divided by gender. Men own—and are the only ones allowed to touch—spears, bows, arrows, and shields. Only women may touch the cooking pots, the hearth, and the stone mills. In addition, there is one room inside the house that men are forbidden to enter. Elder men are the principal actors in the political and social spheres. Although the majority of religious specialists are men, women do serve as diviners and rainmakers. The roles of county leader and elder are accorded only to men.
Land Tenure. Cropland and small grazing plots are held by individual heads of families. Villages and sometimes larger political units have control over more extensive areas of communal grazing land. Individuals maintain their rights to land by keeping it under cultivation. If a family migrates to another area, the head of the household may transfer his rights to his land on a permanent or temporary basis, or he may lend land. Transference of rights requires a public agreement before the elders, but lending is carried out informally. If a man returns to his land, the other occupants must leave. The first man to move to new, unoccupied territory is responsible for allocation of land to all incoming settlers. He is not considered the owner of the new territory but, rather, its overseer and protector. After all the land is distributed, the original pioneer no longer has any control over it.