Yao of Thailand - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Dry-rice agriculture dominates the economy: 86.2 percent of Yao grow rice for domestic consumption. In the past maize was grown for family and animal consumption, and the opium poppy was the only cash crop. At present, with opium cultivation considered illegal and the traffic in opium effectively suppressed, most Yao have turned to maize as the cash crop. They also grow chilies, eggplants, and lettuce. Domestic animals include pigs, chickens, horses, and dogs.

Industrial Arts. Most villages have at least one blacksmith who can make farm tools such as knives, axes, and hoes. These tools are also traded between villages. The traditional costume of Yao women is very elaborate and usually embellished with colorful embroidery. Some kind of coat over loose trousers is most common and many hours are devoted to stitching intricate multicolored patterns over the coarse blue or black cotton of these garments. There is some degree of specialization by silversmiths.

Trade. Small stores are found in most villages. Some Yao families also have shops in towns. For commercial crops, lowland merchants come to Yao villages to purchase maize, cotton, and chilies.

Division of Labor. There is some division of labor by gender. Men clear the fields, hunt, butcher, build houses, and make traps. Women weed the fields, gather firewood and wild greens, and care for the animals (mainly hogs). Both sexes participate in planting and harvesting rice. Only men engage in ritual and political activities.

Land Tenure. Everyone living in a Yao village believes in the concept of communal ownership. The land around the village belongs to the village and is under the authorized management of the village headman. The persons who cleared the land have the right to cultivate it, and it will be theirs for as long as they stay in that village. If a man leaves the village, his kin in the village have a prior right to cultivate the land, subject to the headman's decision. If nobody in the village uses the land, outsiders may be asked to cultivate it. Since the Yao have come to live in permanent villages, about 97.2 percent of families own the land they work and very few rent land in the reserved forest.

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