Bau - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Bauan Fijians were subsistence horticulturists, raising root crops such as taro and cassava on a swidden basis on the drier Tailevu coastal lands, but planting swamp taro in carefully mounded and ditched plots in the Rewa Delta. Fishing and collecting the resources of mangroves and the nearby reefs provided important additional food. Trading with Europeans began when the latter discovered stands of sandalwood on the northern island of Vanua Levu in the first decade of the nineteenth century, and it greatly intensified when the technology associated with the drying of sea slugs (trepang) was brought to Fiji from China in the 1820s. The chiefs of Bau deployed their supporters in order to acquire the cash they needed to buy guns, ammunition, and, in the case of the Vunivalu Cakobau of Bau, a schooner for his personal use. Today, 60 percent of the total population lives in villages, largely still with a Subsistence economy and the continued obligations of communal life, but rural-urban drift is creating problems. More Fijians work for wages and seek employment in towns, resulting in a lack of housing, employment, and education opportunities and a weakening of the resources of the villages. Since the coups of 1987, the Fijian-dominated government has sought to redress imbalances that it perceives between Fijians and Indians, originally brought to the country by the colonial administration in 1878 to work in the plantation sugar industry that eventually became the basis of the colonial economy.

Industrial Arts. Traditional crafts of Fiji included the making of pots, woven mats, and fine bark cloth by the women, and, by the men, the carving of whalebone ivory (sometimes inlaid with pearl shell) and a wide variety of wooden artifacts, including spears and clubs, bowls for the ceremonial drinking of kava, and the great seagoing double-hulled canoes that permitted speedy passage between the Islands of Fiji and to Samoa and Tonga to the east.

Trade. Bauan power rested on the ability to maintain a wide network of tributary relationships that involved the supplying to it of all the resources of the land and sea, including the crafts mentioned above. Europeans were integrated into the system whenever possible, particularly in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Division of Labor. In traditional times, family units spread widely over the land, cultivating and collecting. The division of labor was acccording to both age and sex. Men produced a far greater proportion of the family's food, for agriculture was and remains the domain of men. Young girls might collect taro leaves, but otherwise they would not go to the gardens. Fishing by line or net and the collection of molluscs and other products of the reef are women's work, as is the fetching of water, most cooking, and the care of house and children. Young children of 8 or 9 might help their parents, but lack of responsibility usually lasts until 14 or so. The heavier tasks fall on the younger men and women. The domestic seniority system serves to organize household production; this arrangement was especially true of the traditional extended family.

Land Tenure. Land was held by the "family," which was defined more or less inclusively in different parts of Fiji. During the period of its rise to power, Bau struggled with Rewa for control of the delta and sought to impose a tributary relationship on those they conquered. The colonial government defined principles of land tenure retrospectively, creating homogeneity in place of a system built on dynamism and change. They based their system at least in part on Bauan norms.

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