Mailu - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . On Mailu Island, while some cultivation is done, the gardens are of far lesser significance than in mainland communities. Rather, the island economy centers around pottery making, fishing, and seagoing trade. Fishing is done with spears and nets, by individuals as well as in groups of two or three. Pottery is made of coiled ropes of clay. Gardens are of the swidden type, with long fallow periods between crop cultivation. Among the produce grown are bananas, taro, yams, and sugarcane. Coconut and betel palms are planted near the village but not in the fenced gardens. Sago palms are cut down and processed for their starch. Europeans have introduced papaws and pumpkins to the gardening repertoire. Pigs are raised in the village, but only sows are kept—these are permitted to range into the forest and mate with wild boars. Hunting is an important component of the mainland subsistence economy—game customarily sought includes wallabies and wild pigs, which are driven into nets and speared, and a variety of birds that are caught in traps. Along the coastal reefs, shellfish are gathered.

Industrial Arts. Mailu manufacture, beyond the construction of their houses, includes the building of fences for the gardens, the weaving of mats from pandanus leaves and reeds, basket weaving, the making of arm shells, and the forging of stone implements. On Mailu Island, the two most significant items of manufacture are the coiled clay pots and, of course, the canoes upon which the island economy is based.

Trade. The Mailu Islanders, with their big, oceangoing canoes, participate in a wide-ranging trade network that extends beyond their own territory. Trade is a seasonal occupation: from July through August, Mailu travel westward with locally manufactured pottery in order to trade for betel nuts with the Aroma. On the return voyage they will stop to fish for shells with which to make the shell armbands that are used throughout the region as trade items. From September through October they sail west again, carrying a cargo of surplus sago to trade for pigs and dogs. During November and December, they voyage eastward with the pigs and dogs to trade for arm shells, ebony carvings, baskets, and (prior to the introduction of steel axes) polished-stone axe blades. Traditionally, Mailu also traded boar tusks, shell disks, and Imported netted string bags. This trade was not only the centerpiece of the islander's subsistence economy; it also provided the necessary wealth to support the big feasts ( maduna ) held by the village clans every year.

Division of Labor. Pottery making is done only by women; arm shell manufacture, seagoing trade, canoebuilding, house construction, and hunting are all done only by men. Garden clearing and the construction of garden fences are men's tasks, while all weeding is done by women. Women do all the day-to-day cooking. Except for limited night fishing with torches, women do not fish. Pig tending is primarily a woman's task. Men make their own tools or trade for them. Child care is the province of women.

Land Tenure. Ownership of garden lands and canoes is vested in the local clan section, under the direction of the headman. Dwelling houses belong to the household head, and ownership passes from him to his eldest son, while in the past the men's houses were held corporately by the clan. Rights to individual coconut and betel palms are held individually.

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