Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Subsistence is based primarily on agriculture, fishing, and trade, with some livestock raising (cattle, chickens, ducks). The Tausug practice plow agriculture, growing dry rice on permanently diked, nonirrigated fields, using cattle or water buffalo as draft animals. Rice is intercropped with corn, cassava, and a small amount of millet, sorghum, and sesame. There are three annual harvests: first, corn and other cereals; second, rice; and third, cassava. The harvesting of cassava continues until the following dry season. Farms are typically fallowed every third year. Other crops, generally planted in separate gardens, include peanuts, yams, eggplants, beans, tomatoes, and onions. The principal cash crops are coconuts (for copra), coffee, abaca, and fruit. Fruit, some of it wild, is an important source of seasonal cash income and includes mangoes, mangosteens, bananas, jackfruits, durians, lanzones, and oranges. Today many coastal Tausug are landless and make their living from fishing or petty trade. Fishing, as either a full- or a part-time occupation, is carried out in coastal waters, mainly using nets, hook-and-line, or traps.
Industrial Arts. Most farm and household items are made of bamboo. Iron implements are forged locally and the manufacture of bladed weapons has historically been an important local craft. Women produce pandanus mats and woven headcloths for both home use and sale.
Trade. From the founding of the Sulu sultanate until the mid-nineteenth century, the Tausug conducted an extensive trade with China in pearls, birds' nests, trepang, camphor, and sandalwood. Historically, considerable interisland trade has also existed within the archipelago. Today copra and abaca are sold primarily through Chinese wholesalers, while most locally consumed products are handled by Tausug or Samal traders. Smuggling between Sulu and nearby Malaysian ports is an important economic activity to many with capital and commercial connections and is a major source of local differences in wealth and power.
Division of Labor. Both sexes share in farm work, men doing much of the heavier work such as clearing, plowing, and fencing fields; planting, weeding, and harvesting are done jointly. Women tend the smaller vegetable gardens and gather fruit. Both sexes engage in trade. Fishing, metalwork, interisland trade, and smuggling are largely male occupations, although, in the latter case, women often manage the financial side.
Land Tenure. Landholdings typically are dispersed, with a man having rights of usufruct or tenancy in farms in several different locations. These rights are individually held. In contrast water holes, pasturelands, and beaches are by tradition unowned and available for common use. In the past, titular rights were held by the sultan over all land within the state and secondarily by local or regional leaders acting as his representatives.