Lak - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The household is the basic unit of production and consumption, though villages are also knit together in extensive food-sharing relations. The staple is taro in the northern half of the district, and a combination of manioc and sweet potatoes in the south. Every household plants two concurrent swidden gardens, one along the beach, which is devoted exclusively to manioc and pineapples, and a more diverse garden inland, which may contain taro, yams, sweet potatoes, melons, sugarcane, bananas, spinach-type greens, and a variety of newly introduced vegetables. Tubers are planted with a digging stick. Gardens are fenced and set with traps to prevent domestic and wild pigs from ravaging crops. Manioc is grated, mixed with coconut oil, and baked in earth ovens to form a kind of bread ( gem, komkom ). Individual-size portions of this bread are exchanged between households two or three times a week, along with plates of cooked food. The people also gather a great range of wild fruits and nuts. The major source of protein is pigs, especially those raised within villages, which are mainly killed as part of mortuary commemorations. These pigs roam freely through villages, despite efforts to fence them as a way to improve village hygiene. Wild pigs and cuscus are hunted with spears. Reefs provide a great variety of shellfish. Lak also fish and are adept at catching large ocean-dwelling turtles. Turtle eggs are collected from the beach and are highly prized. Each household also harvests coconuts and cocoa as a source of hard currency. As of 1986, this arduous work netted an enterprising household no more than $400 yearly. The major cash expense for households involves fees for schooling, and few are able to send children to high school.

Industrial Arts. Items produced include canoes, plaited mats and baskets, wooden bowls, and traps to snare feral pigs.

Trade. Intervillage trade currently centers on pigs, which are transported live between lineage leaders planning to host mortuary commemorations. In the precontact period, Lak traded foodstuffs and ritual paraphernalia in an interisland network that stretched between southern New Ireland and the outlying islands of Nissan and Anir.

Division of Labor. The sexual division of labor among the Lak is less pronounced now than in the precontact period. Men and women both clear garden land, plant, and harvest; and both string the nassa shells that are used as traditional currency ( sar). However, maintaining gardens is largely women's work, while men appear to have exclusive control over magic designed to improve garden yields and foster growth of pigs. Hunting is a collective male affair, as is all major ritual. Men alone fish. Women perform all domestic chores.

Land Tenure. Garden land among the Lak is inalienable. It is a possession of matrilineal segments, which is under the exclusive stewardship of the segment big-man, or kamgoi. All garden land currently under cultivation by a village is owned by the dominant segment in the area. The segment kamgoi allows all residents to plant on the land. This stewardship, However, does not allow him direct control over village garden production. Because garden land is abundant, disaffected Village dwellers can always resettle in areas in which their own segment controls land. While ownership of garden land is theoretically inviolate, tenure over land does in fact change. This occurs in two ways. First, segments (such as lineages, or kampapal ) do move between larger matrilineal units ( kamtikan oon). Second, if a big-man can convince his supporters to follow him, landowning segments can sell land to individuals, provided that this land is used only for cultivation of coconuts or cocoa (i.e., cash crops). Evidently, rent or lease arrangements are also possible.

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