Ambae - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Swidden horticulture provides Ambaeans with subsistence crops. Gardens are maintained under a seven-year fallow cycle. Yams, taro, and bananas are the staple crops. Sweet potatoes, manioc, and island cabbages are also important. A variety of other indigenous and exotic fruits and vegetables supplement these crops. Kava ( Piper methysticum ) is grown in quantity for its roots. These are ground to produce an infusion that men drink to produce a state of relaxation. Men and women use kava medicinally. Some hunting of birds, fruit bats, and feral pigs takes place. Fishing plays a minor role in subsistence as fish poisoning is feared to be common among predatory fish species and smaller reef-feeding fish. Development projects have introduced some commercial deep-water hand lining for snappers. There is some cash cropping of cocoa. Coconuts, however, have been the major cash crop since the 1930s. The practice of planting coconut palms in gardens has taken much of the arable land out of the swidden cycle. Households make copra in small smoke driers. Production time is approximately nine person-days per ton and yields are about two tons per hectare annually. In 1978, per capita income from copra was $387 in the Longana district. Differential control of coconut plantation land has led to considerable income inequality.

Industrial Arts. Ambaeans once built sailing canoes with mat sails. Today, men continue to make kava bowls, Ceremonial war clubs, and a few items of regalia for use in graded Society ( hungwe ) activities. Women weave pandanus mats in a variety of lengths, widths, and degrees of fineness. Imported dyes have largely replaced indigenous vegetable dyes, but turmeric is still used to color mat fringes.

Trade. Trade in pigs occurs between Pentecost and East Ambae. In the past, there were trade links between East Ambae and Ambrym. West Ambaeans traded widely throughout the northern islands.

Division of Labor. The household is the basic unit of Production in subsistence gardening and cash cropping coconuts. Men fish and hunt, whereas women weave mats. Child care is a cooperative effort on the part of mothers, fathers, and siblings, with mothers being the primary care givers for infants. Male hamlet residents generally work together in house building.

Land Tenure. In West Ambae, there are concepts of Village and patrilineage land, but in both parts of the island Individuals rather than kinship groups are now the primary landholding units. Coresident brothers, however, often own and use land together. In the past, leaders were able to acquire their followers' land through intimidation as well as through customary exchange payments. Land use is Important in establishing land rights, but residential and garden use are not sufficient in themselves to determine ownership. Usufruct rights are available to any adult. Ownership, with rights of disposal and the right to plant coconut palms, is acquired primarily through contributions to funerary feasts ( bongi ) and occasionally through cash purchase. Landowners are Primarily male but women can and do own land in both East and West Ambae. A few landholders in East Ambae have been able to acquire plantation landholdings that are much larger than the 2.5-hectare average through inheritance, purchase, and contributions made at bongi ceremonies of poorer Families. Inequality of landholding in Longana is such that in the late 1970s, 24 percent of the population controlled more than 70 percent of available plantation land. Conflict over land is frequent and is often provoked by planting coconuts or undertaking other income-producing activities.

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