Suku - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Swidden gardens supply manioc, the staple food, supplemented by sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkins, beans, peas, maize, and peanuts, with occasional bananas and "European" vegetables. Several varieties of palm are tapped for "wine." Grubs and caterpillars are collected, and there is fishing and hunting and trapping of antelopes, monkeys, rodents, and birds. Dogs, goats, pigs, and chickens are the main domestic animals. Owing to the distance from markets, there are no food exports of any commercial importance. Cash to pay for imports has come from local employment, mainly at the missions and with the government, and the savings and remittances of migrant labor.

Industrial Arts. Houses, furniture, bows, and simple utensils are usually made by the users. Artisans supply the more specialized objects, such as baskets, mats, fishing nets and weirs, mortars, drums, hoes, knives, arrows, axes, adzes, and ritual objects. Pottery is made by women. These items are (and were traditionally) sold for shell money by the artisans. Importation of many largely nonutilitarian items began with the colonial period.

Trade. In the nineteenth century the Suku profited from a trade that channeled oil and raffia from the forested areas to the north in exchange for cloth, beads, guns and gunpowder, and shell money from the Angolan coast. With the imposition of colonial boundaries, this trading network lapsed, and Sukuland became an economic backwater, with only migrant labor as its main resource.

Division of Labor. Traditionally, except for miniscule tobacco and medicinal gardens and the tapping of palm wine, cultivation was entirely in the hands of women, who also made pottery. All the other crafts were men's, as were such professions as diviner, judge, kingroup and political chief, and the majority of ritual specialists. Men also hunted the larger animals, did most of the fishing and trapping, and kept dogs, pigs, and goats. All specializations were part-time, and every Suku was engaged in a range of activities. The modern economy expanded men's choices primarily; it brought laboring jobs, mostly in distant towns and plantations, and some new occupations, such as domestic servant for expatriates, clerk, driver, policeman, medical assistant, and teacher, and, since independence, higher political, bureaucratic, and professional positions.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, ownership rights in land (as in everything) belonged to kin groups. The open bush was subdivided into large sections bounded by streams, usually of a score or more square kilometers. Control over such a section had primarily to do with hunting: a leg of any large game caught in it was owed to its owner's lineage, and only the owners were entitled to fire the bush for the large collective hunts of the dry season. Installing a new village also required the permission and ritual sanction of the owner's lineage. Land was free for cultivation, involving only a very minor ritual tribute. Separate usufruct rights were held over palm trees (tapped for wine), fishing sites, and small patches of rich soil used for peanut planting. This system had remained intact during the colonial period and has undergone no fundamental changes since Zairean independence.

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