Ndembu - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Ndembu practice hoe cultivation in small garden plots. Cassava is the Ndembu staple crop. It is grown on cleared upland and left in the ground for more than a year, then harvested during the following year or two. Owing to shortage of forest land near the now permanent villages, rotations of thirty years have given way to very brief ones of a year or two, resulting in lighter yields. Some rice is grown in wetlands. Pineapples are raised in the more fertile upland gardens, as are some peanuts, potatoes, and cucurbits. Beans and maize are grown in stream-side gardens, along with tomatoes, onions, and cabbages. Bananas and mango trees grow in the villages. Very occasionally, hunters obtain game. Fishing contributes a small amount of protein. Mushrooms, white ants, fruits, and medicinal plants are gathered. The main cash crops are pineapples and some maize and rice. A type of gin is produced, which accounts for much trade locally. Cattle raising is spreading; herds number up to fifty head. Some goats, pigs, and chickens are also raised. Most cash is acquired from jobs at the district center or from labor migration. There is a high rate of unemployment.

Industrial Arts. At the district center, tailors, carpenters, and blacksmiths operate small businesses, and others are engaged in the modern occupations of mechanic or electrician. In the villages, most men are builders and some are mechanics. Mats are made locally.

Trade. There are markets at the district center and chiefs' courts. Local stores have given way to the centralizing tendency encouraged by government policy. The missions also run trading trucks through the villages, selling South African maize meal to the many who cannot produce sufficient cassava. There is informal local trade in beef and gin.

Division of Labor. Because of their traditional role as hunters, Ndembu men still do not engage in agriculture except to clear the ground for a new garden. They weave mats and make children's wire toys. Women plant and tend their own gardens and those of their husbands, sometimes traveling with a baby as far as 16 kilometers away from their homes to garden sites with less exhausted soil. They also cook, fish, and fetch water. Owing to unemployment, a man often has no role.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, the first to settle in an area was named "owner of the cultivation." He would allow all comers to cultivate also. There is no buying and selling of land, although owing to pressure on land near the nucleated settlements, there have begun to be disputes about rights to the land when the head of a family dies.

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