Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Prior to 1862, Easter Islanders subsisted mainly on cultivated crops, with sweet potatoes being the most important. Taro, yams, sugarcane, bananas, gourds, turmeric, and arrowroot were also grown while berries and seabird eggs were gathered. Fish provided some protein, although fishing was never a major Subsistence activity. Easter Islanders continue to farm small plots today, although maize is now the major crop and Chilean cuisine has replaced the native diet. Since the introduction of sheep ranching, sheep and cattle on the island have been the primary sources of meat. Most material goods are now obtained from the store on the island and from the Chilean government. In addition to farming and fishing, Easter Islanders now work for the government, in a few small businesses, and in the tourist industry.
Industrial Arts. Easter Islanders were highly skilled stone-cutters and stone-carvers, masons, woodcutters, and canoe makers. Today, some carve wood images for the tourist trade. The stone-carving tradition had already been abandoned at the time of contact, though the large stone statues survived and drew the attention of visitors to the island. Easter Islanders also made various utensils, implements, and tools from stone and wood, baskets, nets, mats, cordage, tapa (a cloth made from bark), and body ornaments.
Trade. Because of their isolation, Easter Islanders evidently did not trade with other groups in Polynesia. There has been conjecture that some culture elements developed through contact with South America, most notably the facial images on the stone monuments. These ideas remain unproven.
Division of Labor. Men were responsible for planting the gardens, fishing, and building the stone structures. Women harvested crops and handled most domestic chores. There was also a well-defined occupational hierarchy, with expert reciters of genealogies and folklore, stone-carvers, wood-carvers, and fishermen paid for their services with produce. Stone-carvers were a privileged group with the role and status passed from father to son.
Land Tenure. In traditional times, land was owned by lineages with dwelling and farm plots alloted to families. Since 1888 Chile has maintained ownership of all of Easter Island and has restricted the Easter Islanders to land in and around Hangoroa. Newlyweds are given a few acres of land for their use by the Chilean government.