Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Orang Bonerate regard themselves first of all as agriculturalists. They practice a system of slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture. Owing to a lack of water, only one crop is possible per year. Primary forest is absent from the island. Secondary forest and bush land are cleared in the preparation of swiddens. Fields are usually cultivated for up to three years and then lie fallow from six to ten years. The technological level is low; a long-bladed bush knife and a digging/weeding iron rod are the only agricultural implements in use. Corn is the staple crop, backed by cassava. In addition, pumpkins, watermelons, and such vegetables as peas and beans are grown. Some fruits, such as bananas, papaya, breadfruit, and coconuts are also grown for local consumption. Domesticated animals are few, but include goats, ducks, hens, dogs, and cats. Most animal proteins in the diet derive from fishing and the gathering of marine animals such as worms and mollusks. At the island capital some men have specialized as shipbuilders. During the 1980s they managed to shift from the construction of sailships to motor vessels suited for local interisland commercial traffic. The boats are built on contracts for clients all over South Sulawesi and other parts of Indonesia. Most men in the age group of 19 to 30 years are absent from the island from six to ten months yearly, while they are sailing as crew members on Bonerate boats engaged in the copra and spices trade between the Moluccas and Java. The major effect of this trade has not been economic, in terms of the wages earned by the sailors. Only ship owners and captains make a profit, and few households are involved at this level. Rather, the most important effect of this trade is that the absentees reduce the pressure on food, which is yearly in short supply during parts of the dry season.
Industrial Arts. Except for the building of boats, which is carried out at a remarkably low technological level and without blueprints, the island has few artisans. One blacksmith resided on Bonerate in 1978.
Trade. Bonerate has one market, which is open once every week. There are a few small stores in the larger villages.
Division of Labor. With the exceptions of boat building, a few fishing activities, and the sailing of boats, division of labor by gender is poorly developed at Bonerate. Men and women engage in some fishing activities, and work together at the swiddens. The traditional home tasks are usually assigned to women, but men also cook, tend babies, fetch water, and wash clothes.
Land Tenure. Agricultural land is collectively owned by the villagers; plots for cultivation are allocated by the village headmen. Fishing and collecting of beach and shore resources are open to all.