Asmat - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Asmat traditionally were subsistence-based, relying upon a combination of hunting, fishing, and gathering activities, which continue today. Horticultural activity first was introduced in the late 1950s. Processed stipe of the sago palm remains the dietary staple. First under Dutch and then Indonesian auspices, a partial wage-based economy has been introduced. Exportable hardwoods and crocodile hides are among the most valued items, reaching Singaporean and Japanese markets.

Industrial Arts. Traditionally the craft emphasis was upon wood carving. The wowipits, "master carver," was renowned for his technical skill and creativity. Perindustrian, the Indonesian term for "cottage industry," has been introduced to aid production and marketing activities. Asmat carvings are sought by collectors worldwide.

Trade. During the precontact era most trade was intraregional, with the primary items being of ritual value (e.g., triton shells). One exception was stone for use in axes. This was obtained through an extended network reaching to the foothills of the central highlands. Current trade patterns now include manufactured items as well and also involve merchants (primarily Indonesians of Javanese and Chinese heritage), missionaries, and the occasional tourist.

Division of Labor. This largely is based on gender. Women are responsible for net fishing, gathering (assisted by children), the transport of firewood, and most domestic tasks. Men are responsible for line and weir fishing, hunting, most horticultural activities, the felling of trees, and Construction projects. Both sexes assist with sago processing.

Land Tenure. Local, autonomous sociopolitical aggregates of equal status are associated with more or less defined tracts of land. Rivers and river junctions constitute key points of demarcation. Boundaries are not rigid, changing as intervillage alliances and resources fluctuate. Sago palm groves, as well as individual hardwood trees, constitute inheritable and rigidly controlled resources. In recent decades major disputes have arisen with the government owing to differing conceptions of land tenure.

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