Kiribati - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The only crop that I-Kiribati cultivate regularly is the atoll taro Cyrtosperma chamissonis, which is grown in gardens dug down to the level of the freshwater lens or in natural swamps. The slower-growing varieties are often fertilized for years with mixtures of humus and leaf compost sprinkled into "pots" of plaited coconut fronds or braided pandanus leaves, until the leaves are as much as 3.5 meters high. The huge corms that develop as a result of this treatment are suitable for feasts and formal Presentations. Smaller varieties, allowed to clone and not usually fertilized, are an everyday food on the northern islands. The only other important native vegetable foods are tree crops—coconuts, pandanus, and, mainly in the north, breadfruit. The coconut palm is also the source of toddy, the juice of the unopened flower spathe which is collected in a coconut shell as a fresh drink, boiled into molasses, or allowed to ferment. The numerous fishing methods include trolling behind a canoe furnished with a sail or an outboard motor, unrolling a line with baited hook into deep water from a smaller paddling canoe, catching flying fish with a coconut-leaf torch or kerosene lantern and a scoop net, searching the holes and pools of the nighttime reef with a scoop net and machete, netting on the reef at high tide, angling from the edge of the reef, and trapping fish behind a stone weir. Domestic animals, all of which are eaten, include dogs, chickens, and introduced pigs.

Industrial Arts. There are part-time builders of canoes, houses, and meetinghouses in every village. These men, like the few remaining navigators, enjoy respect and deference, but they receive no pay except their food while at work and perhaps a waist cloth when the job is finished.

Trade. Most adults hold shares in their village cooperative store, which is affiliated with a national federation. There are many even smaller general stores belonging to individuals, partnerships, and clubs. Women sell or give away all of their husbands' catches of tuna, flying fish, and shark that exceed household requirements.

Division of Labor. Men cultivate and harvest Cyrtosperma in the south, where the corms are a luxury food. In the north women do most of the routine fertilizing, and the custom that only a woman may dig up a corm is used as an argument for marriage. The I-Kiribati also believe that only men should climb trees. Men do the bulk of the fishing; women collect shellfish and catch land crabs, but occasionally they engage in other kinds of fishing as well. Work with leaves is restricted to women, who make mats, baskets, and thatch and produce cordage from fiber obtained from coconut husks. Men build houses and canoes and make smaller wooden objects. Women normally fetch water, cook meals, and wash clothes. The division of labor is not rigid, but persons who habitually perform tasks associated with the opposite sex are regarded as having changed their gender identity, like North American Indian berdaches .

Land Tenure. Both men and women inherit land rights from both parents, rights that are inseparable from one's Status as a blood relative and a member of the community. The colonial administration abrogated the old rules, under which sons received larger shares than daughters and an eldest son (and sometimes an eldest daughter) more than younger Children, in favor of an equal division. Parents customarily divide their lands in a way that assures each of their children of rights in as many of the parental descent groups as possible. 1f someone dies without leaving natural or adopted children, his land will be divided among his siblings or, lacking these, will revert to the estate of his father and mother. Most of the lands (though not the Cyrtosperma gardens) on Butaritari and Makin are the joint property of descent groups, necessitating a system of annual or weekly turns for collecting coconuts. A widespread Micronesian distinction between provisional titleholders or caretakers (who actually work the land and utilize its products) and residual titleholders (whose claims must be acknowledged by gifts and assistance) is the basis for several social relationships, such as those between brother and married sister and between guardian and ward.

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