Belau - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Fish and taro have long been the staple foods of Belau. Fishing by spear gun, line, hand net, and trap is carried out in the coastal Lagoons; high-powered speedboats are used for trawling outside the reef. The catch is pooled by local cooperative associations for retail sale in Koror. In preparation for funerals and festivals, men work the lagoon with huge nets. Women take pride in taro cultivation on "dry" upland slopes and in "wet" irrigated swamps; the backbreaking labor required has led many younger women to substitute cassava and imported rice. Young men raise pigs for slaughter at ceremonial events. Increasingly vast amounts of imported commercial goods are replacing locally produced items. In Koror the government is the largest employer, and little locally owned industry has flourished. Belau is completely dependent upon U.S. government funds and upon payments from other countries for access to Belau's marine, strategic, and recreational resources.

Industrial Arts. Skills such as wood carving, meetinghouse construction, and tortoiseshell-ornament production are becoming rare; basket weaving, however, is widely practiced by women. Most able-bodied men are expert fishermen, and individuals win renown by developing specialized techniques and by possessing expert knowledge of tides and spawning cycles. Young people strive to obtain advanced educational and business training at stateside schools. In the Villages, wage earners include schoolteachers, nurses, magistrates, land registrars, and religious officials.

Trade. Interdistrict trade in the traditional context involved not only daily necessities such as lamp oil, pottery, wooden implements, palm syrup, and canoe sails but also specialized prestige goods such as turmeric powder, tortoiseshell ornaments, women's shirts, red-ocher dye, and dugong bracelets. In the nineteenth century, European settlers established trading centers for the commercial extraction of trepang, pearl shell, and copra. Now, a few families in each village run small retail stores. A complex system of social exchange, involving the presentation of food and service in return for cash and valuables across the affinal bond, is the principal focus of daily economic life. U.S. currency is used in financial transactions; Belauan valuables supplement cash in customary exchanges.

Division of Labor. The most important division of labor is between fishing, emblematic of male virtue, and taro cultivation, symbolic of female productiveness. This split parallels the duel system of exchange values, women using locally produced hammered turtleshell trays and men using beads and cylinders of foreign origin. Women take charge of domestic activities, such as food preparation, child care, and laundry, and they also carry heavy responsibility in selecting holders of male and female chiefly titles.

Land Tenure. Prior to changes imposed by colonial powers, land was either "public land of the village" ( chutem buai er a beluu ), subject to the local chiefly council, or "land of the principal houses" ( chetemel a kebliil), controlled by chiefly titleholders and senior matrilineal relatives. Residential sites and taro patches were assigned to affiliated family segments rather than being passed down to offspring. These lands reverted to chiefly control for redistribution. German officials instituted patrilineal land inheritance and encouraged Nuclear families to move their houses and to plant coconut trees on unused village land. Today, land is divided into "public land" controlled by the national government, "clan land" controlled by chiefly houses, "village land" governed by Village councils, and private property owned in fee simple. The national government is forbidden by the constitution to use eminent domain for the purpose of helping a foreign country.

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