Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Abaluyia are now primarily farmers who keep cattle, but in precolonial times men hunted, and animal husbandry was even more important. The Banyala and the Samia were known for their expertise in fishing, and quail and insects were eaten throughout the region. Finger millet, sorghum, sesame, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, yams, beans, and bananas were the most important crops in precolonial times. Nowadays the main crop is maize intercropped with beans; millet and sorghum are less common. In addition to the traditional crops, other important contemporary crops include green beans, red beans, bananas, groundnuts (peanuts), sukuma wiki (kale), cabbages, potatoes, and cassava. The major cash crops are tea, coffee, sugarcane, cotton, and sunflower seeds. Farms are tilled entirely with iron hoes in the hillier, more densely populated areas, whereas hoes are commonly used with ox-drawn plows and tractors in the northern and western regions. Cattle (zebu, mixed, and grade), goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, and turkeys are common.
Industrial Arts. Formerly, the important crafts were blacksmithing, pottery, basketry, woodworking (particularly, the manufacture of drums), and weaving. Blacksmtthing had been passed down patrilineally in some clans. The Samia (especially the Abang'aale clan) were particularly well known for blacksmithing and mining of iron ore. Manufacture of pottery was more often a woman's than a man's task—although Bukusu women of childbearing age could not quarry clay. Pots, which were usually traded and owned by women, were considered utilitarian. There was not much specialization in the manufacture of everyday wood tools (e.g., hoe handles), but specialists still make drums, lyres, stools, and wood carvings.
Trade. The subnations of the Abaluyia traded among one another during the precolonial era. Iron hoes, spear points, and ivory, for example, could be traded for grains or animals. Precolonial trade covered a distance of no more than 72 kilometers, but there were three precolonial markets where Luo, Nandi, and Abaluyia came together to trade baskets, wooden tools, quail, and various foodstuffs for cattle, fish, tobacco, and so forth. During the colonial era, various weekly regional and local market centers developed, where local and European goods could be bought or bartered. Wagner counted sixty-four recognized markets in 1937. By 1990, in addition to dozens of rural, market, and local trading centers, there were at least ten urban centers in Western Province, Kenya, where one could buy everything from Diet Coke to Michael Jackson tapes.
Division of Labor. In precolonial times, hunting and warfare were important men's work. Horticulture was mainly women's work. Men cleared fields, but women usually prepared soil, planted, weeded, and harvested. Only men planted trees, although women cared for them. Large animals were the domain of men and unmarried boys. Traditionally, the men milked the cattle in most of the subnations, but nowadays women often do it. Women owned and cared for poultry. Both women and men were involved in marketing: the women sold pots, products grown in kitchen gardens, dried fish, fruits, and grains bought from farmers in other regions. Only men took animals to market. House building has many stages, each with a division of labor; however, women generally repaired walls and floors, whereas men prepared thatching materials. Children contributed to subsistence: girls mainly in the home and fields, boys mainly with the herds. Boys and girls helped out with other tasks, such as tending younger children, gathering wood, and fetching water. Girls helped their mothers in selling. Nowadays men's and women's roles are more varied. Although the sexual division of labor at home has not changed much, both men and women have a broader range of occupational opportunities. Schoolteacher, agricultural-extension worker, and sugar-factory worker are common occupations of rural Abaluyia. The sexual division of labor in agriculture has changed somewhat as agriculture has intensified. Modern Abaluyia children usually attend school and are less available to perform chores.
Land Tenure. Traditionally, land was inherited patrilineally. Among the Kenyan Abaluyia, families owned land, and this land was referred to as the omulimi gwa guga (lands of the grandfather). A man apportioned his land to sons as they married but could not alienate the omulimi gwa guga. Women had use rights on their husbands' farms but could not inherit land. Mothers could, however, hold land in trust for sons. When his mother died, the last-born son would inherit the land she farmed. Communal lands, such as surplus lands or those used for grazing, were under the control of the clan and administered by the luguru (headman). Women are permitted to inherit land in contemporary Kenya but more often acquire land by purchasing it themselves. Communal grazing lands are now rare because of population pressure. Most land is registered, and buying and selling of land are individual affairs. Land disputes are handled in courts or in sublocation meetings convened by assistant chiefs.