Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Temne have long been predominantly farmers of upland/dry rice, intercropped with a variety of secondary crops. Some swamp/wet rice was grown from at least the nineteenth century in inland swamps and seasonal ponds and in cleared overflow areas along the lower Scarcies River, a development pushed by the colonial administration from the 1930s. Rice surplus to household needs was exchanged. Peanuts, cassava, and other crops were planted on the previous year's rice farm, and around and behind the house were gardens. Oil palms and fruit and other trees provided additional foodstuffs. Through most of the nineteenth century, wooden farming tools (hoes, digging sticks, and knives) continued to be used, although they were progressively being replaced by iron hoes, cutlasses, and knives made by local blacksmiths and, subsequently, imported. Most village households keep chickens; some also keep ducks, sheep and/or goats, dogs, and cats. A few maintain cattle, at least part of the time. Nearly all of the cattle are bred outside the Temne area. Hunting, formerly of some significance, has decreased as the human population has increased. Fishing in the interior rivers and permanent ponds is more important, and a wide variety of techniques is used; off the coast, the western Temne engage in fairly intensive fishing activity, dry the catch, and trade much of it inland.
Industrial Arts. Other than a few long-distance traders, itinerant Poro and Ragbenle society officials, traditional diviners/healers and Mori men, and mercenary warriors, almost no Temne made a living by specializing in an economic activity other than farming. Some farmers, male and female, possessed one or more specialized skills and made some supplementary income from them. For men, the main specialized skills were those related to iron smelting and working, weaving, woodworking, leatherworking, fishing, hunting and trapping, and drumming. The twentieth century brought new forms of specialized knowledge (e.g., carpentry, stonemasonry, sewing, tailoring, literacy) and imported manufactured goods that precipitated the loss of some traditional craft skills.
Trade. Some western Temne were involved in export trade from the late fifteenth century on, whereas many eastern Temne were little involved before the late nineteenth century. Trade, the exchange of goods and services by bartering and/or selling, operated on basically three levels in the nineteenth century: first, horizontal exchanges between households in a village or a group of neighboring villages; second, interchiefdom/regional trade; and third, long-distance trade. The latter two were usually bulking and break-bulking marketing chains. Spatially, long-distance trade patterns were usually dendritic in form. Nineteenth-century trade depended upon canoes and porters head-loading goods over footpaths. The colonial administration brought changes to facilitate a growing volume of trade goods. The construction of a narrowgauge railway (the SLGRR) brought the establishment of towns along the route, which served as bulking and break-bulking centers and locations for marketplaces. The building of feeder roads extended the areas served by the SLGRR; the completion of an integrated, nationwide road system subsequently led to the closing of the railway. Government programs to increase agricultural productivity were begun; the rice research station at Rokupr and government-run oil-palm plantations and oil mills were the most important of these efforts. The establishment of the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SLPMB) was of pivotal importance for exports and for income possibilities for the government. Gold, most of it produced further inland than the Temne are, had been traded from Sierra Leone since the fifteenth century but had its last peak in the 1930s; iron was first exported in 1933, from the mine at Marampa, by the Sierra Leone Development Company (SLDC/DELCO); and diamonds were exported after the formation of the Sierra Leone Selection Trust in 1935. Although the diamond areas were outside Temne country, large numbers of Temne migrated as wage laborers in this initially illegal business.
Division of Labor. In farming, the traditional gender division of tasks, which never held for domestic slaves, has substantially broken down in the twentieth century, although men still do most of the clearing and hoeing, and women do most of the weeding. Basically, Temne have always had—and have today—a household mode of production: most farmwork is done by members of the household on its own farmland. At times of peak labor input, cooperative work groups are utilized when possible, for hoeing (Kabotho) harvesting (Ambira), and so on. Domestic slavery in Sierra Leone ended in 1926, but, before then, wealthier Temne used slave workers as well. A household's food and income production is augmented by selling or bartering surplus products locally, in the marketplaces of provincial towns, or to builders. Remittances from household members who have migrated also help. Little wage labor is used in agriculture.
Land Tenure. The chief of each chiefdom is said to "own" the land comprising it, given that he "bought it" and the people on it during that part of his installation ceremonies usually called "Makane." The land/chiefdom was originally secured by the chiefly kin group by occupation of vacant land or by conquest. According to tradition, chiefs "gave" portions of land to immigrants to farm, and the receivers reciprocated with a lambe, a return gift, to the grantor-chief as seal on the agreement. The receivers, in turn, could reallocate portions of their land to others, receiving a lambe from them. Such transfers were regarded as permanent. After 1900, as the best farmland became shorter in supply, temporary land-use rights were negotiated with a lambe to seal the deal. Land-use rights became temporary and lambe, now of real economic and not merely symbolic value, had to be given annually; lambe thus increasingly resembled "rent," in our terms. Outright, permanent sale of farmland does not occur.