Mae Enga - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Mae were and most remain subsistence gardeners. They employ an intensive and productive system of long-fallow swidden cultivation, which utilizes family labor, simple tools, and effective techniques of composting and draining to grow the staple sweet potatoes, supplemented by taro, bananas, sugarcane, Pandanus nuts, beans, and various leaf greens, as well as introduced potatoes, maize, and peanuts. Since the 1960s coffee, pyrethrum, potatoes, and, most recently, orchids have become the main commercial products of the cultivators. Domestic pig raising, important in the horticultural cycle, not only provides most of the meat in the daily diet but also the pork and live pigs that figure in public distributions of valuables to mark marriages, illnesses, deaths, and homicides. Small herds of introduced cattle, water buffalo, sheep, and goats are kept but have little commercial significance.

Industrial Arts and Trade. Traditionally Mae traded ash salt and occasionally pigs and pandanus nuts with neighboring societies in return for regional specialties, including cosmetic tree oil, stone axe blades, palm and forest woods to make weapons and drums, plumes, and marine shells. At home these and other valuables such as pigs and cassowaries circulated freely through the Te ceremonial exchange cycle and the prestations associated with births, deaths, and Marriages. Local crafts were (and still are) limited mainly to men's construction of houses and bridges and production of weapons, implements, and personal ornaments, while women made net carrying bags and men's aprons. Artisans competent in Western trades are scarce in Enga and most of these, especially mechanics, carpenters, and builders, work for the National Works Authority based in Wabag. Also located there are the few bank branches and general stores that serve the Mae. Scattered through the clan territories are scores of tiny and unprofitable trade stores that sell canned foods, kerosene, soap, cigarettes, etc., as well as a number of all-night dance halls where beer is sold and a few bush garages and carpentry workshops. Many women sell small quantities of vegetables at local markets that have sprung up in Wabag and near missions and schools. Some women with sewing machines make simple clothes for the market.

Division oí Labor. Division of labor by sex is marked among Mae. Men undertake the initial concentrated and heavy work of clearing, fencing, ditching, and deep tilling of gardens and coffee plots, after which their wives and daughters sustain the constant round of planting, weeding, repairing fences, and daily harvesting of food plants, plus picking and processing coffee in season. Women also tend family pigs, care for infants, prepare and cook food, and carry firewood and water. Men build all houses, while women gather grass for thatch and provide food for the workers. In short, women's work provisions Mae domestic economy and supports male and political and ceremonial activities.

Land Tenure. Within the 520 or so square kilometers comprising the Mae district, sharply localized patricians traditionally claimed rights to all the arable lands and other high forests and marshlands whose resources they could exploit; and neighboring clans frequently engaged in bitter warfare to defend or to extend their territories. Since the 1960s the combination of a rapidly increasing population and the diversion of arable areas from food growing to coffee and cattle production has exacerbated interclan conflicts over access to land and other economic assets, as well as to political office. The numbers of Mae emigrating to other provinces to seek urban or rural employment have not been so great as to ameliorate the situation.

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