Choiseul Island - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Prior to Colonization, subsistence was mainly by shifting, slash-and-burn horticulture; the principal food crops were taro, yams, and bananas. Also seasonally and ritually important was the ngari nut or Canarium almond, groves of which were privately owned. Meat sources included opossums and wild pigs; some domestic pigs were kept for ceremonial feasts. Sea fishing was not a major source of food, and the Choiseulese do not think of themselves as a sea people but as a bush people who now happen to live on the beach. Because there is a blight that attacks most forms of taro, the principal food (introduced by the missions) is now the sweet potato; it is supplemented by white rice acquired from Chinese traders and, again, by bananas, papayas, and wild but edible flora and fauna. Aside from working off the island as wage laborers, which only young men do, the only source of cash income is the sale of copra to Chinese traders. Ownership of coconut plantations is unevenly distributed and so also are cash incomes and desired commodities (tobacco, tea, pots and pans, tools, rice, tinned meat). The local economy is severely dependent on fluctuations in the world market for copra.

Industrial Arts and Trade. Ground stone and shell tools were replaced early on by metal axes and saws. A distinctive form of shell "money" known as kesa was attributed a mythical origin, but other shell rings and disks used as money or as ornaments were manufactured locally or were imported from the Roviana region to the south.

Division of Labor. Most domestic labor was and still is done by women and girls who do also much of the planting, weeding, and harvesting of the crops and the gathering of firewood. Men and boys do most of the work of preparing the land for planting, gather materials for houses, and Occasionally hunt and fish. Men occupy all positions of public significance—village headman, preacher-teacher, officer of the local court.

Land Tenure. Ownership of land is by kin groups known as sinangge, but ownership of trees is by single persons. Because only flatter strips along the shoreline suitable for coconut plantations are really valuable and because such land is in very short supply, land-tenure disputes are common and difficult to settle.

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