Chimbu - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The primary subsistence crop in Simbu is the sweet potato. Grown in fenced and tilled gardens, sometimes on slopes as steep as 45°, sweet potatoes provide food for both people and pigs. Sweet potatoes are the main food at every meal, comprising about 75 percent of the diet. Over 130 sweet potato cultivars, or varieties, are grown in different microenvironments and for different purposes. Sweet potato gardens are usually made in grass or forest fallow areas by digging ditches in a gridwork pattern to form a checkerboardlike pattern of mounds 3 to 4 square meters in size on which vine cuttings are planted. Gardens are planted throughout the year, with impending requirements for food, such as the need for more sweet potatoes for upcoming food exchanges and increased pig herds, influencing planting as much as climate seasonality. In addition to sweet potatoes, other crops grown for consumption include sugarcane, greens, beans, bananas, taro, and nut and fruit varieties of pandanus. Pigs are by far the most important Domesticated animal to the Chimbu and are the supreme valuable, sacrificed to the ancestors in pre-Christian times and blessed before slaughter today. Pigs, killed and cooked, are the main item used in the many ceremonial exchanges that are crucial to creating and cementing the many social relationships Between individuals. By giving partners pork, vegetables, money, and purchased items (such as beer) the contributors create a debt that the receivers must repay in the future in order not to lose valued prestige. These exchanges occur at various times, for various reasons—for example, to celebrate marriage, to compensate for injury or death, or to thank a wife's natal kin group for the children born into the husband's clan. By far the largest of these exchange ceremonies is the pig ceremony ( bugla ingu), at which hundreds or even thousands of pigs are slaughtered, cooked, and distributed to friends and affines at the final climax of events. Money has become an increasingly important item exchanged in these ceremonies. For most rural people, money is primarily earned through the growing of coffee in small, individually Controlled gardens. In addition to coffee, money is acquired through the selling of vegetables in local markets and, for a small minority, through wage employment.

Industrial Arts and Trade. Crafts of clothing and tool making are now largely abandoned, their products replaced with items manufactured beyond the local communities and purchased in stores. All subsistence work, before contact, relied upon the skillful use of local woods, fibers, canes, stone and bone materials, and a few trade items. In general, men made the wooden tools and weapons and constructed fences and houses; they also made artifacts of cane, bamboo, and bark.

Division of Labor. As in precolonial times, the division of labor remains based primarily upon gender. Men fell trees, till the soil, dig ditches, and build fences and houses; women do the bulk of the garden planting, weeding, and harvesting, care for the children, cook, and care for pigs. Men are also responsible for political activities and, in time of tribal warfare, defense of the territory. The production of coffee is primarily the responsibility of men, and the few Chimbus with wage employment are almost exclusively men. Predominantly, women sell items (mostly fresh vegetables) in the local markets.

Land Tenure. Each family's land is divided among a number of different plots, often on different types of soil at Different altitudes. Land tenure in Chimbu is marked by relative fluidity. Most commonly land is jointly inherited from a Father to his sons. But it is not unusual for associations with more distant agnates and with kin or affines in other clans to result in rights to use their land. Rights to land in fallow remain in the hands of the previous user so long as those rights are defended. Despite the high population densities in most parts of Chimbu, absolute landlessness is unknown because of the ability of individuals to acquire land through any of a number of different contacts. But the advent of cash cropping has led to a lack of land suitable for growing coffee and other tree crops. Therefore, although land for food is available to all, access to the means to earn money through commodity production has become limited. This lack of land suitable for cash crops has led to a large number of Chimbus, over 30 percent in some higher altitude areas, to migrate away from their home territories to towns and lower, less crowded rural lands.

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