Eipo - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Eipo and the Mek in general are skillful horticulturalists and make their gardens in various places: sometimes on steep self-draining mountain slopes, but also in flat, wet areas where ditching and building mounds are particularly important for the main staple crop, sweet potatoes. Mulching is widespread. Fallow periods are fifteen years or more; sufficient regeneration of the soil is judged by the size of a tree ( Trema tomentosa ) that soon starts to grow in old gardens. Numerous varieties of taro, some of which reach considerable size and weight, are also cultivated. They are reserved for ceremonies, especially feasts for guests. Other cultigens include leafy greens (which contribute most of the vegetable protein, especially for men), bananas, sugarcane, edible pitpit, native asparagus ( Setaria palmifolia), various pandanus species, and other wild foods. Beans, cheyote ( Secchium edule), cucumbers, maize, cassava, and peanuts have been introduced and successfully cultivated. The few domesticated pigs do not contribute much to the diet, only about one gram per day person; they are carefully raised and usually used only in ceremonial contexts. Small marsupials are snared or hunted, often with the help of dogs, but hunting is done more to satisfy emotional needs than to provide meat. Women and girls obtain valuable animal protein in the form of frogs, tadpoles, lizards, snakes, spiders, and other insects as well as the eggs and larvae of these animals. Tradition and religious taboos reserve these foods as well as most of the bird species for infants, girls, and women. In the past decade, the Eipo have become dependent on mission stations as sources of modern tools, clothing, tinned food, and other goods, which are purchased with money received from selling services or products to the mission.

Industrial Arts. The material culture is poor, even compared to other highlands groups, and when research was begun in 1974, the Eipo and many of their neighbors were still using stone, bone, and wooden tools. Their worldly belongings include string bags, bows, arrows, stone adzes, stone knives and scrapers, wooden digging sticks, boars' tusks and marsupial teeth used as carving tools, bone daggers and awls, lianas for starting fires by friction, bamboo or calabash containers for water, penis gourds for the men, and grass skirts for girls and women. The Mek cook in hot ashes, bamboo containers over the open fire, or in earth ovens for larger groups of people, especially guests.

Trade. The Eipo and other Mek groups may seem self-sufficient now, but traditionally they relied on various goods from the outside. Unpolished stone adze blades were produced by specialists in the Heime Valley and exchanged mainly for string bags and garden products. Other items that had to be imported included black-palm wood for bows, feathers of birds of paradise and cassowaries, and various highly valued shells.

Division of Labor. Traditionally, the only specialists were producers of stone adze blades; all other work activities were carried out, sometimes in sex-specific ways, by everyone. The clearing of virgin forest (rarely done traditionally), the felling of larger trees, and the building of houses or log and cane bridges are all male tasks. The physically demanding work of clearing secondary vegetation for new gardens is done jointly by men and women, as are various activities in the gardens, such as preparing the ground, planting, weeding, and harvesting. With regard to the latter, the women have a heavier workload than do men and are known to carry their own body weight (about 40 kilograms) for several kilometers at a time. Hunting and snaring, as well as killing domesticated pigs, is done by the men. Women make most of the handicrafts, Especially string bags of various sizes.

Land Tenure, All land, with the possible exception of that in the very high mountains, belongs to individuals (mostly men) or clans. In the latter case the corresponding rights are usually exercised by the clans' most influential male Members. Some clans, namely those who are said to have "always" lived in a certain area, may own much more land than others; in a few cases "latecomers" may not have any land property at all. Still, enough garden land is made available to everyone in a process of formal distribution. Among the Eipo it is possible to gain use rights to land that one has made into a garden if it has been unused or unclaimed for a certain period of time. Individually owned or clan-owned garden land is marked by specially planted Cordyline shrubs, the connecting lines of which designate the sacrosanct borders. Despite this, disputes over land are quite common and can lead to armed fights.

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