Subsistence and Commercial Activities. A large proportion of Rotinese subsistence is derived from tapping and reducing to syrup the juice of the lontar palm ( Borassus flabellifer ). This syrup, mixed with water, provides the normal daily sustenance of most Rotinese. Solid foodstuffs, especially rice and millet, are eaten sparingly and usually saved for feasting, when they are consumed in great quantities with boiled meat. Some syrup is processed into thin square cakes of crystallized sugar. Syrup is also fermented to make a dark beer, which may be distilled to a fine sweet gin. Rice is the prestige food, but maize, millet, sorghum, a variety of tubers, various kinds of bean, green grams (or mung beans), peanuts, squash, sesame, onions, garlic, and several kinds of cucumber are grown in dry fields and also in household gardens fertilized with animal manure. The principal fruit trees are the banana, papaya, breadfruit, nangka, djeruk, mango, and coconut. The Rotinese also grow tobacco, cotton, betel (the nuts rather than the leaves of the plant are preferred for chewing), and areca. Located in a dry region with an irregular monsoon, the Rotinese are remarkably capable wet-rice cultivators who divert rivers and streams and use natural springs to water their fields. Although rice plots are individually owned, planted, and harvested, wet-rice fields are organized into corporate complexes whose members maintain a common fence and who appoint individuals to apportion water. Dry fields are usually cleared by burning in November. Over the past hundred years, wet rice and maize have predominated but have not entirely replaced dry rice, millet, and sorghum. Wet-rice fields are worked by driving herds of water buffalo through them after rain has softened the earth; other fields are worked with steel digging sticks and hoes.
Fishing is a common daily occupation in the dry season. Offshore stone weirs trap fish as the tide recedes, and rivers yield a variety of small shrimp and eel. Women fish with scoop nets; men use spears or cast nets. Basket traps, poison, and hook and line are used to a lesser extent. Hunting is confined to small birds, a few remaining deer, and an occasional domestic pig gone feral. Honey, mushrooms, seaweed, and agar-agar are gathered to supplement the diet. The Rotinese have herds of horses, water buffalo, sheep, and goats and most households have dogs, cats, pigs, and chickens.
Industrial Arts. Weaving of tie-and-dye cloths and basketry are the major domestic arts. Pottery, made in only a few areas with suitable clay, is traded throughout the island. Wandering Ndaonese goldsmiths attach themselves briefly to wealthy households, for whom they work gold and silver jewelry.
Trade. There is extensive trade between Roti and the town of Kupang on the island of Timor. On Roti, trade is mainly with Chinese and Muslim residents. Animals and foodstuffs are traded for broadcloth, cotton thread, kerosene, tobacco, and areca nuts. Apart from native pots, occasional flintlocks, and betel, the Rotinese trade little among themselves. The interisland trade with Kupang is becoming increasingly important. Clans possess rights to water and thus the right to appoint a ritual head over the corporation of individuals who hold plots of land irrigated by that water. Land, trees, and animals are the property of individual households. Native cloths, gold and silver jewelry, ancient mutisalah beads, and old weapons are the chief forms of movable wealth.