Kiwai - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Kiwai are a horticultural people who get most of their food from their Gardens. The alluvial soil of the Kiwai area is very rich, and they cultivate yams, taro, sweet potatoes, bananas, coconut and sago palms, sugarcane, and betel nuts. The Kiwai also hunt pigs, cassowaries, wallabies, snakes, lizards, crocodiles, and birds with bamboo bows and arrows. Larger game animals such as pigs, cassowaries, and wallabies are usually hunted with dogs. Dugongs and turtles are hunted with harpoons, and the Kiwai obtain fish with hooks and lines, spears, and traps. Fishing nets were not traditionally used by the Kiwai, but commercial nylon nets are now available. According to Landtman, a great many magical observances are associated with gardening and hunting, including the hunting of dugongs and turtles.

Industrial Arts. The Kiwai remain largely preindustrial. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, they used only stone tools, but by the time Landtman arrived in 1910 most Kiwai men had steel axes and knives. Any adult can produce the implements necessary for day-to-day living from materials found in the local environment.

Trade. Traditionally there was an extensive trade network among the Kiwai and their neighbors. From the people who lived further inland, the Kiwai obtained bird of paradise feathers, live cassowaries, bows and arrows, and garden produce, and from Torres Strait Islanders to the south they obtained harpoon shafts, shells, dugong and turtle meat, and stones for axes and clubs. In exchange, the Kiwai traded canoes, garden produce, sago, bows and arrows, mats, belts, grass skirts, and feathers. By far the most important Kiwai trade items, however, were the canoes that were traded Primarily to the people of the Torres Strait in exchange for finished and unfinished stone tools. Landtman notes that it is not clear to what extent traditional trade took the form of barter since most things seem to have changed hands through mutual gift giving. Today, the Kiwai are able to buy steel tools, metal pots, Western clothes, radios, European-style foods, and other European articles from locally owned trade stores.

Division of Labor. The Kiwai have a loose sexual division of labor. Women's work includes taking care of children; carrying firewood and water; making sago; preparing food; making baskets, mats, and clothing; and fishing with hooks or traps in small creeks. Men's work includes building houses, making canoes, hunting, and open-water hunting and fishing with harpoons and spears. Both men and women garden. Men fell the trees and build fences, after which women prepare the garden. Planting may be done by either sex, although it is generally seen as men's work, and harvesting may be done by either men or women. The only exceptions are yams, which are planted and harvested only by men. In sago making, men chop down the palm and remove the bark, after which women chop and squeeze the pith. Beyond this rough sexual division of labor, there is rudimentary division of labor based on differences in skill in producing objects such as canoes, harpoons, and drums.

Land Tenure. Land is divided among the different Villages, and, within the land owned by a village, land is divided among individual men, except for large swamps which belong to the entire community. While land is said to be owned by individuals, there is a strong notion that land actually belongs to a family or kin group. This prevents the alienation of land to outsiders and prevents women, who marry outside their kin group, from actually owning land. The Kiwai make a clear distinction between ownership and usufruct, however, and landowners are free to grant usufruct rights for the purpose of Gardening to whomever they wish. Hunting and fishing are not restricted by landownership.

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