Ionians - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities; Industrial Arts. In the early 1900s, over 56 percent of the Ionian population was regularly engaged in full-time agriculture; the figure now is estimated at between 10 and 15 percent. Income is likely to be supplemented by migrant remittances and/or short-term employment in construction or seasonal agricultural labor. Agricultural production focuses on olive oil, wine grapes, and wheat. Bees are kept, and honey is produced and sold. Isolated pockets of currant cultivation are still found, particularly on Zante. Cephalonia has been known for centuries as an island of sailors, navigators, and captains, and as many as 70 percent of the men in some villages on that island and on Ithaca are or have been employed in the merchant marine. Migrant remittances and revenue generated through the sale of goods and services to tourists and emigrants returning to the islands during Christmas, Easter, and in the summer stimulate and maintain the local middle class of entrepreneurs. Rapidly increasing tourism has brought relative prosperity to the islands and has begun recently to stem the tide of emigration. Tourist shops proliferate, as do bars, discotheques, restaurants, and hotels in the larger urban areas. Many migrants returning to the islands for the summer open businesses or drive taxis during these months. Cottage industry for the production of local arts and crafts exists as well.

Trade. Small specialty shops with limited types of merchandise predominate in both urban and rural areas; stores carrying like products tend to cluster together. The past glories of the currant trade have vanished, and the Ionians now export human labor as a primary product.

Division of Labor. The male/female dichotomy is particularly evident. The women are associated with production in and around the home, while the men labor in the fields, on ships, or in shops. Increasingly, women are left in charge of family stores while the men of the household seek employment or conduct personal business elsewhere.

Land Tenure. Since Napoleonic times, partible Inheritance has been both the ideal and real practice in the Ionian Islands. As the population grew, increasing fragmentation of land plots plagued the islands; the situation has been reversed in modern times through depopulation. While legal records still show numerous owners of small, dispersed plots, actual access to land for those actively engaged in agriculture is greatly facilitated through leases from owners who have emigrated and no longer desire or require the use of agricultural land. Historically, large landowners held sizable fiefs throughout the islands; numerous land redistributions in the twentieth century have made small peasant landholdings more typical.

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