Lakalai - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The traditional starch staple was taro, harvested and replanted daily. Because of a taro blight, beginning about 1960, this crop has been largely replaced by introduced crops, particularly manioc and sweet potatoes, and increasingly by purchased rice. Many other crops, both traditional and introduced, are grown; breadfruit, coconuts, bananas, papayas, Canarium almonds, and a variety of greens are the most important. In the past, various wild foods supplemented the cultigens, but now the only important one is sago. The hunting of small wild game such as marsupials and birds has also been abandoned, but wild pigs are still an important contribution to the diet, being netted, trapped, or nowadays killed with shotguns. The everyday protein supply comes from fish, shellfish and, during most of the year, megapode eggs laid in holes in a thermal Region that the nearby eastern villages try to keep for their exclusive use. Those who have the cash often buy canned fish or meat, but no one is dependent on food from trade stores. Some tobacco is grown, and many betel (areca) nuts. Markets just beyond Lakalai are now accessible by road, and women sell surplus coconuts, betel nuts, megapode eggs, and fruit to foreigners living near government posts. Some of these Foreigners also buy fish from Lakalai men. Cash crops are now a major source of income. The principal ones are coconuts (from which copra is made), cacao, and, most recently, oil palm.

Industrial Arts. Traditionally, these included highly decorated canoes, spears (some covered with shells for use in Marriage payments), carved shields, slings, a variety of nets, coiled and plaited baskets, bags, pandanus sleeping mats, and bark-cloth slings for carrying babies. Elaborate painted bark-cloth masks and carved objects were made for ceremonies, and dances were accompanied by wooden slit gongs and hourglass drums. Specialists made ornaments of tortoiseshell, shell, and plaited fiber. The manufacture of ornaments, bark-cloth slings, traditional weapons, and special canoes used for racing has been abandoned.

Trade. This was regarded as highly dangerous, necessitating contact with clan mates who lived in enemy territory. The Lakalai received obsidian, red paint, and tortoiseshell from the Willaumez Peninsula, and they passed on shell beads traded from the east by the Tolai, who bought the shells from which they manufactured their own shell money ( tambu ) in Nakanai-speaking regions. Tambu shells are still sold to the Tolai, nowadays for cash.

Division of Labor. Cooperation in such enterprises as house building and canoe manufacture typically involves hamlet mates together with affines and consanguineal kin from other hamlets of the village. For small-scale enterprises, men are likely to cooperate with partners specially selected to share a particular activity. They often exchange food with each other. Men clear bush, fence gardens, build houses, fish in the sea, and hunt. Until warfare over control of the egg fields ended, they also collected megapode eggs; now women do. Men manufacture fish nets and pig nets, canoes, and the coiled baskets used by women. Men and women cooperate to make sago. Women plant and harvest all garden crops, cook everything except food for special men's feasts, fish with hand nets in streams, collect shellfish in swamps, and care for Domestic pigs. They manufacture bags, pandanus sleeping mats, and skirts, some of which are used as dowry and marriage payments. Child care is increasingly shared by both parents. Of the cash crops, men plant and harvest coconuts and oil palms, though women may help in the preparation of copra. Both sexes plant and harvest cacao.

Land Tenure. Land is vested in the clan, and use rights to garden on it are granted by the senior resident male to nonclan members such as children and grandchildren of men of the clan and phratry mates. With the expanding population and much land permanently under cash crops, clan segments have begun to be less generous to other outsiders. Trees are inherited separately but revert to the landowners if no direct descendants of the planter remain in the area. Some productive reefs are also claimed by clans.

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