Marquesas Islands - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Marquesans were and are horticulturalists, and they were distinctive in Polynesia for particular emphasis on the cultivation of breadfruit, which was preserved and fermented in large pits. Bananas, plantains, and various tubers were cultivated, and there was a limited amount of taro irrigation. Fishing was always of considerable importance, but pigs were kept mainly for ceremonial consumption. Since European contact, citrus, cassava, cattle, goats, and various other plants and animals have been introduced that broaden the subsistence base considerably. Now, however, imported foods such as rice and tinned fish have displaced locally produced vegetables. There are many coconut trees, from which the cash crop copra has been produced since the last century; this is generally of low value, and attempts have been made to broaden the islands' commercial base with coffee, timber, and various other crops, but these have not yet been extensively developed.

Industrial Arts. Before contact and during the nineteenth century, there was a broad range of specialist craft producers, who made wooden articles, ornaments, stone utensils, and weapons; women produced tapa (bark cloth) and mats. At various stages these crafts were abandoned, but wooden and stone articles are still produced for handicraft shops in Tahiti and the tourist resorts on the larger islands, rather than for the Marquesans themselves. Women on the island of Fatuiva now seem to be the only eastern Polynesians who still produce tapa, which is sold to visitors on yachts or to agents for Tahitian shops.

Trade. Although there appears to have been little preContact voyaging or trade between the Marquesas and other Eastern Polynesian archipelagoes, exchange in birds' feathers (for ornaments), adz stone, and turmeric took place within the group. Small stores, often run by Chinese, are found in most settlements and a great deal of food and manufactured articles are imported via Tahiti.

Division of Labor. In the early contact period food Production and consumption were segregated in various ways; fishing and house building were male activities, while women produced mats and bark cloth. Some male servants engaged in "female tasks," while high-ranking women were relatively unconstrained by sex roles and could, for example, go to war with men. Although the sex-typing of occupations is not sharp and women as well as men engage in a variety of forms of wage labor, Christian mission influences and the policies of the colonial administration have meant that women are primarily associated with the home and men with various external revenue-generating or food-collecting activities.

Land Tenure. In the early nineteenth century there was great emphasis on the rights of firstborn children (whether male or female) to inherit property, and those who followed often fell into some dependent status. However, the complexities of a cognatic system, and the fact that marriage often took place within valleys (such that individuals would not move far from their natal lands) meant that land rights were highly contested; even if the firstborn was the theoretical owner, others might have use rights that were, in effect, unconditional. Prominent warriors and others of high status often owned substantial tracts of land that were farmed by dependents who effectively exchanged their labor for security and access to the means of production.

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