Lesu - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Lesu are slash-and-burn horticulturalists, with taro being the staple crop grown in fenced gardens a kilometer or more inland from the village. Yams are also grown, though they are less important than for other New Ireland groups. Fish are taken with nets, traps, or spears; crabs, mussels, and coconuts are gathered; and wild pigs are hunted. At various times, subsistence activities have been supplemented by income derived from the sale of land, wage labor on coconut plantations, and work for colonial governments. Specialists are paid for their services with shell money ( tsera ) or European currency. Magicians and healers command high fees for their services, although all service providers—such as dancers at ceremonies and house builders—are paid.

Industrial Arts. Baskets are plaited from coconut-palm leaves, fishing nets are woven from plant fibers, and carving is done in wood and tortoiseshell. Canoe building had disappeared by the 1930s. Malanggan, ritual carvings used in death rituals, are the most important crafted objects. They are made by specialists working under carefully controlled conditions; in the past only men were allowed to see them.

Trade. Exchange between individuals and groups was based on reciprocity and the purchase of goods and services through the payment of tsera. A unit of tsera is one arm's length of strung flat shells. Tsera were made by specialists on the island of Lavongai, north of New Ireland. Items were never sold at a profit (i.e., for more than they were first purchased for). With the establishment of Australian control, the shilling replaced the tsera as the medium of exchange.

Division of Labor. Most tasks are assigned on the basis of sex. Men clear gardens, plant trees, gather sago, fish, hunt, prepare meat for cooking, build and repair houses, and make masks, canoes, nets, spears, and ornaments. Women plant taro and yams, gather crabs, feed pigs, haul water, keep house, and carry most burdens. Both men and women make mats and baskets, care for children, and serve as healers and magicians. Women are restricted from certain categories of knowledge such as some myths, some types of magic, and some supernatural beliefs. Magicians, healers, carvers, and net weavers traditionally were paid part-time specialists.

Land Tenure. The Lesu distinguish between two types of land. Clan land, which is in small parcels, is where the clan totemic animals live and is owned by the clan. All other land and rights to use of the sea are owned communally by the entire village. The custom is for people to plant gardens on land previously used by their parents, preferably the wife's parents. Ownership of trees and plants on the land rests with the individual gardener, who is usually the woman who works the plot. Purchase of land by colonial governments has complicated the question of ownership.

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