Selung/Moken - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Maritime and sedentarized Moken depend on the sea, fishing and collecting strand life. Moken, who seem never to have been totally self-sufficient, depend on trade for food and other material needs. Most boat dwellers do not grow food, but White mentions sporadic planting of fruit trees. Sedentarized sea nomads (e.g., Orang Laut Kappir and Moken on King Island) do cultivate fruit trees and subsistence crops.

Although an otherwise advanced marine-oriented people, Orang Laut traditionally have used only simple technology. The practice of fishing with nets, lines, and traps, found among many non-Orang Laut strand communities and sedentarized Orang Laut communities, is absent among the seadwelling Moken. Spearing and harpooning of fish, turtles, dugong, trepang, and crustaceans at low tide are the most common techniques. Sedentarized and acculturated boat people (e.g., Desin Dolaq) use more elaborate fishing technologies learned from neighboring peoples.

Low-tide strand collecting is the most important activity. Shellfish, including oysters, clams, snails, and crabs, as well as other mollusks and crustaceans, turtle eggs, and sea slugs are collected along the beaches for subsistence and barter. Shallow-water diving for such bartering items as sea slugs, pearl oysters, rays, and sea snails is also important. Forest products collected include wild fruits, roots, honey, and wax. Moken hunt pig and deer with dogs and spears. Domestic animals typically include dogs used in hunting, and chickens; a few households also keep cats.

Traditionally Moken worked for traders, washing tin ore or gathering mangrove wood for charcoal. The Orang Sekana and Galang were both involved in piratical activities with support and promotion by Malay chiefs who had nominal political control over them. Pirate activities had economic, social, and demographic consequences not only for pirating groups but also for the Orang Laut communities being preyed upon. Pacification of many groups is complete, but some piratical activities still continue.

Trading. Much of the collecting Moken do is for barter. The sea products they exchange include trepang, tortoise-shell, mother of pearl, agar, pearls, sea slugs, and shark fins. They barter forest products including birds' nests, woven pandanus mats, and tree resins with Malay and Chinese dealers for rice, sago, cloth, tobacco, alcohol, opium, and iron tools. Bernatzik reported traders marrying Moken women so the women's kin would become their exclusive trading partners. Traders established an exploitative monopoly by putting Moken into debt and dependence through opium addiction. Traders also acted as intermediaries for Moken with the outside world.


Division of Labor. Women were as efficient boat handlers as men. Women gathered strand fauna and wove pandanus mats for sleeping and barter. Men hunted, built boats, and dived for marine life, which women processed by cooking or drying.


Industrial Arts. Wood, grass, liana, bamboo, and pandanus are basic raw materials. Men's boat-building skills are highly praised, as are women's skills in making pandanus mats. Women's potting and men's blacksmithing all but disappeared with the introduction of cheap trade articles.


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