Marshall Islands - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In the urban centers wage labor provides one major source of income, though others live on the strategic-testing compensations mentioned above. On the outer atolls, the household is the fundamental unit of production, though larger extended Family units or sections of a village or islet commonly work Together to prepare for feasts. Collecting and fishing provide the staples and the complements. On northern atolls, fish and birds accompany arrowroot, pandanus, coconuts, and some breadfruit, whereas the southern atolls provide larger quantities of breadfruit and, in ideal circumstances, taro. In many instances, rice, flour, and sugar have replaced traditional staples and added significantly to the nutritional impoverishment of the diet. Copra production allows access to these staples and to cloth from which to fashion Western-style clothing for even the poorest of atoll dwellers. Pigs and chickens, foods often seen at feasts, provide an added source of protein to the local diet.

Industrial Arts. Sailing canoes, pandanus mats, bark-cloth and woven coconut-frond clothing, pandanus or coconut-leaf baskets, coir (coconut sennit), and post-and-beam dwellings thatched with pandanus fronds were among the most critical of traditionally manufactured items. Nowadays, tin and plywood dwellings are replacing thatch, outboard motor boats are fashioned from plywood, canoes have been reduced to handicraft size, and a plethora of other handicraft items made from coconut or pandanus fibers supply the tourist market.

Trade. Interatoll trade was mainly in spouses, magic, and quests for chiefly control, but during the copra-trading era the center and periphery pattern in use today was introduced and institutionalized. Copra moves toward the center (J aluij at first; more recently, Majuro), and the flow of Western foods, cloth, and small trade items is disseminated out in concentric rings of increasingly insignificant supply and consequence. Central Marshall Islands chiefs increased their power and stability by becoming the brokers who controlled incoming copra and outgoing goods.

Division of Labor. The division of labor is based on Gender and age, with males controlling activities in the sea and sky (fishing, canoe building, gathering drinking coconuts or coconut fronds) and females dominating activities on the land (digging arrowroot or gathering pandanus fronds). Females also control the domestic space and are associated with activities in the village, while men work in the outlying bush and travel freely to foreign lands. Children often watch over their younger siblings, though young girls begin training in domestic life quite early while young boys are given considerable freedom to develop their careers as fishers and roaming foragers. The old busy themselves with repairs, child rearing, and activities close to home as long as they are able. Larger cooperative groups—sailing groups, religious groups, or groups representing sections of an islet or atoll—often cooperate for more specialized purposes.

Land tenure. Like kinship organization, land tenure varies significantly from one part of the Marshalls to another. Enewetak, Ujelang, and Bikini customs, affected differently by the copra complex and also altered by relocation, are the least like other Marshall Islands groups. Land rights are held in perpetuity by all members of a clan, living and nonliving, and are inalienable. Living people have use rights to that land as long as they maintain and improve it. In the central Marshalls' chains, chiefs have a right to the first fruits of the land, are given a share of the profits on copra produced on that land, and are allowed to dispossess those who fail to care for the land. Local overseers ( alab), elders in a matriclan, manage the land in behalf of the chiefs. On Enewetak, chiefs are assisted with copra production on their own land but cannot dispossess landowners. Alab, extended family or Household heads, may advise a chief but do not manage land on his or her behalf. In the Central Marshall Islands primary land rights are vested in matrilineages, whereas on Enewetak land rights may be claimed through either one's mother or father, though care of the land is critical to maintain a claim.

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