Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The ample rainfall of the region makes possible a stable mixed economy of banana, plaintain, and grain cultivation, accompanied by cattle herding. Shifting cultivation is not practiced; the land is kept in condition by fallowing and green manuring. The cash cropping of rice, coffee, and tea has had a profound effect on the local economy and, because land has now acquired commercial value, contributed greatly to the demise of communal land tenure and the institution of the age village. Subsistence cultivation, however, remains the norm. With the exception of the marketing of cash crops, there is slight commercial activity.
Industrial Arts. Blacksmiths were present in precolonial society, but the iron was smelted by the Kinga (from whom the Nyakyusa chiefs were thought to be derived). Pottery making was in the hands of a non-Nyakyusa specialist group residing on the northeastern lakeshore.
Trade. In precolonial times there was regional traffic in iron, cloth, pottery, and salt and, among the Ngonde, participation in the ivory trade to the coast, an activity that enhanced the power of the Ngonde chief through the extraction of tribute. The giving and receiving of salt and iron (in the form of hoes) were important markers of social relationships. Salt came in from the Tanganyika plateau to the north. Rice from the lowlands near the lake is currently exchanged for highland produce such as groundnuts.
Division of Labor. There is ideally a gender-based division of labor: men and boys hoe and herd; women cook and attend the household. A son was expected to hoe for his father. Likewise, a son-in-law was expected to hoe for his father-in-law; in the absence of cattle for bride-wealth, this service was the only way a poor man could acquire a wife. Skill at hoeing was once a primary masculine virtue. Now, because of the absence of the many men who are pursuing outside employment, women have increasingly been obliged to hoe and tend the home fires.
Land Tenure. The age village was the landholding unit, and allotment of land was determined at the coming-out ceremony. The allocation of land within the village was its own concern, and there was much flexibility in practice. Villages of fathers and sons were usually close to one another, and, before the general redistribution, sons would often take over plots tilled by their fathers. With the collapse of the age-village system, land tenure became the affair of the nuclear family; even as early as the 1930s private ownership had been established over valuable plots in old volcanic craters. By the late 1960s, a substantial landless class had emerged.