Kewa - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Kewa are subsistence horticulturalists and pigkeepers. Their dietary staple crop is the sweet potato, although native taro and introduced taro are planted as well. Sweet potatoes account for some 85 percent of the caloric intake. Harvesting of the sweet potatoes takes place 5-8 months after planting, depending on the soil and rainfall. The slashing, burning, and cutting of trees and the tilling of the soil are the duties of the men. Women assist in slashing and clearing of the grass, and they are responsible for the final clearing, planting, weeding, harvesting, and transport of the sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are baked in the ashes of the fire or in pots. The Kewa people have two main types of gardens: the maapu and the ee. The former is generally for sweet potatoes, cassava, sugarcane, and edible pitpit, although introduced vegetables may be cultivated as well. The sweet-potato vines are planted into mounds, circular or rectangular, which enhance drainage and use the natural compost from clearing and weeding. The ee is an overgrown maapu, or forest garden, and contains primarily greens and old sweet potatoes, which are also used as pig feed. Other common food crops are cucumbers, beans, corn, cabbages, onions, peanuts, and pumpkins. All of the foods mentioned as well as pineapple, bits of pork, and fried biscuits are commonly sold in the local markets. Two kinds of pandanus (the common screw pine), one with a large nut and the other with a long red fruit, are harvested. The main commercial crop is Arabica coffee, although tea, chili, and pyrethrum have been tried. The pig is the primary domestic animal and elaborate ceremonies and rituals are associated with it. Other animals include chickens, the occasional goat, a few cattle, and penned cassowaries.

Industrial Arts. Basket weaving is now common and rious patterns are known. The materials are local reeds and vines, patterned with brown or black for contrast. Along the northeast border the people also weave walls from wild cane, which are in turn sold to other groups. Local artists incorporate designs into the weaving. Some stone axes and arrows are also prepared for tourists. Decorative weaving to secure the handles of ceremonial stone axes has long been practiced. In addition, umbrella mats, net bags and aprons, and wig coverings (for the men) are commonly made by the women. The men weave arm and leg bands, small purses, and previously carved wooden bowls. They still make arrows, bows, and spears, but they no longer carve or decorate shields. Industrial and commercial tasks are performed in the towns at vocational schools, or at mission centers.

Trade. Gold-lip pearl shells ( Pinctada maxima ) are still used, along with pigs, as the main items of exchange for wives. Also common as trade items are packets of salt and tigaso oil from the Campnosperma tree, which is purchased in the Lake Kutubu area and carried in long bamboo containers. Every village has small trade stores owned by the local clan or subclans. They sell axes, knives (which are also used in trade), fish and rice, matches, pots and pans, batteries, some clothing, kerosene, and other items. Kewa men trade plumes of the birds of paradise, parrots, cockatoos, and cassowaries, from which they make elaborate headdresses.

Division of Labor. In addition to their gardening duties, women are responsible for the husbanding of pigs, looking after the smaller children, and cooking food in the family Residence or carrying it to the entrance of the men's house. The men collect and split firewood, plant sugarcane and edible pitpit, harvest pandanus nuts, hunt, and trade. Women are responsible for weaving net bags, net aprons, and thatching mats from pandanus leaves. The men weave the occasional armor legbands or fashion their own bark belts.

Land Tenure. Traditional claims on land are supported by the planting of pandanus trees and cordyline plants. Evidence of gardening and ditches are also a means of establishing clan and subclan ownership. Warfare has played an important part in present-day land claims and tenure. Upon arrival of the Pax Australiana all groups were given rights to the land where they were then residing. Tension exists in areas where land is less plentiful or where there are choice Forests or potential garden plots. In some areas, such as the Sugu and Erave, endemic malaria has restricted the use of much land. There has been some attempt to introduce large-scale cattle production into the Sugu territory on available land. The most effective claim for land tenure is planting trees, digging ditches, and building fences.

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