Tonga - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Tonga were hoe cultivators whose staple crops were sorghums and millets until well into the twentieth century. Maize, cucurbits, groundnuts, ground peas, sweet potatoes, tobacco, and cannabis were additional crops. Livestock included cattle (in areas where tsetse flies were absent), goats, sheep, dogs, and chickens. Hunting, fishing, and gathering wild produce were important. Plow agriculture, using oxen, is now universal. Many Plateau Tonga have substantial farms of more than a hundred hectares, as well as large herds of cattle. Some own small tractors that they hire to neighbors. Maize has been the primary plateau crop since the 1930s, but farmers have also experimented with beans, cotton, and sunflowers. They began to keep pigs in the 1930s. The shift to plowing in much of Gwembe came in the late 1950s. Gwembe farmers raise maize, sorghums, bulrush millet, and, since the 1970s, cotton, now the main cash crop, which, like maize, is sold to governments depots. Income is also derived through the sale of cattle, goats, chickens, and out-of-season vegetables. Tobacco is no longer an important crop. Pigs were recently introduced. Hunting is now important only in some sections of Gwembe and on the western plateau. Commercial fisheries exist on the Kafue River and on Kariba Lake, where most fishers are immigrants. Rural diets continue to rely upon plants collected in the bush.

Industrial Arts. Crafts were part-time occupations despite being practiced by specialists, among them blacksmiths, woodworkers, potters, and basket makers. Work at a craft was validated by the belief that an ancestor required a given person to carry on the skill. Other specialists were diviners, herbalists, song makers, and hunters. Old crafts, in abeyance because of a preference for factory-made imports, were revived after the 1970s when the difficulty of transportation and the high cost of foreign goods made imports difficult to obtain. Production is now for the tourist trade as well as local use. New crafts include carpentry, brick making, auto repair, tailoring, and needlework.

Trade. Marketplaces and shops are twentieth-century phenomena; earlier, trade took the form of direct exchange based on equivalences. Marketplaces are located in townships, where women are prominent as traders. Shops exist both in townships and villages and usually have male owners. In the townships, shop owners are frequently Indians.

Division of Labor. Building houses, clearing fields, taking care of cattle, woodworking, blacksmithing, hunting, and most fishing are the responsibilities of men. They work in their own fields and usually do the plowing. They are hawkers and shop owners and work in a wide variety of paid jobs. Women are potters and basket makers. They do much of the agricultural work, gather wild produce, fish with baskets, process food, brew beer, care for small stock, do much transport, plaster huts, and provide most care of children. Increasingly, they plow. Some also work for wages, as shop assistants or house servants, but also in professional positions. Both men and women are ritual experts and both are politically active.

Land Tenure. Alluvial fields along the Zambezi were lineage property but were allocated to individual men and women. In general, rights in a field belonged to the person who cleared it and were transferable. Where shifting cultivation prevailed, land was not inherited. A man was expected to clear fields for himself and for each wife. Wives controlled the produce from their own fields, which they stored in their own granaries. The crop from the husband's field was his. Uncleared land is now scarce, and fields are kept in permanent cultivation. Sale of land in former reserve areas is prohibited, and land is obtained through loan, gift, or inheritance. Grazing areas are held in common. Claims to fishing and hunting grounds are now unimportant, except on Kariba Lake, where the government licenses kapenta ( Limnothrissa miodon ) fishing outfits and assigns them sites along the lake. Land pressure has led to emigration. The emergence of a landless rural class is imminent. Already, smallholders hire themselves to farmers who need additional labor. Cultivators are also being dispossessed as government allocates large tracts to multinational agribusinesses in hopes of spurring production.


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