Subanun - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Subanun practice swidden agriculture. Rice is the major crop but they grow a large variety of other grain, root, and tree crops for food, materials, and medicines. Each family cuts and burns a new rice swidden annually. No plow or hoe is used. The crop is harvested and processed by hand. The swiddens of previous years are given over to secondary crops and then, as these are harvested, to secondary growth fallow. After a period of up to fifteen years, when a good mature secondary forest has reestablished itself, the area can be recut. A group of kin and neighbors generally tries to cluster its swiddens each year to share some of the labor of watching and tending fields. This ideal cycle assumes relatively abundant forested land. In recent decades increasing pressure on the forest from commercial lumbering, cattle raising, lowlanders' encroachments, and population growth has led to shortening of the cycle or its abandonment altogether for dry-field plow agriculture in grassland. The Subanun raise pigs, chickens, and sometimes cattle or water buffalo. They hunt wild pigs and deer and fish mountain streams for small fish and crustaceans. They also gather a variety of forest products. They largely depend on their own agriculture, hunting, and gathering for subsistence and for technological materials. They also sell rice and forest products, especially rattan, in lowland markets. Cash is needed for purchasing market goods, especially clothing, utensils, and tools, and for a variety of internal transactions.

Industrial Arts. The Subanun practice weaving on backstrap looms, basketry, forging of iron knives and axes, and house and granary construction. The extent to which they engage in these crafts varies greatly from place to place and is decreasing everywhere. One very important Subanun product is rice wine, fermented in treasured old Chinese jars and brought out for any interfamily social occasion.

Trade. The Subanun have long been dependent on external markets for many of their tools, utensils, musical instruments, and precious objects. These markets are controlled entirely by outsiders: Christian lowlanders, Muslim traders, and Chinese merchants. In former times, when Muslims controlled external trade, access to trade goods was typically channeled through titled Subanun leaders, subordinates to Muslim authorities. Internally among the Subanun there is informal trade of agricultural produce, heirloom objects, and labor, transactions motivated by the perpetual need for cash to purchase goods, pay fines, provision rituals, and finance weddings.

Division of Labor. The formal division of labor by any criterion, even sex, is quite minimal for a human society. Men and women participate in agricultural and domestic activities. Men fell trees, burn swiddens, and dibble planting holes for grain. Women plant grain seed. Otherwise each does any chore: slashing undergrowth, weeding, and harvesting. Women are usually responsible for cooking and child care, but men freely take over when needed. Men, women, and children share in the daily task of pounding rice or grinding maize. Men tend to assume roles of legal and religious leadership, but both sexes participate fully in ritual and ceremonial life. There is little significant specialization by occupation or stratification by wealth and power. Everyone is a farmer. Everyone is poor and everyone is powerless.

Land Tenure. Traditionally land per se has been a free good. Crops are individually owned by the person who planted them and this right gives the planter (or in the case of tree crops, his or her descendants) control over the land on which the crop is growing. New swidden land is allocated among neighbors each year by negotiation and ritual divination. Claims of previous use are relevant to these negotiations but not as claims to "ownership" of the land per se. The traditional system of land allocation has, of course, no legal status in Philippine law. Subanun land frequently has been appropriated by outsiders with better access to the legal system. Some Subanun have succeeded in officially declaring a plot of land, but cultivating a single plot requires changing the method of agriculture and, thereby, one's way of life.

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