Mejbrat - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Mejbrat Subsistence depends heavily upon the cultivation of taro, the principal crop, which is grown along with yams and sweet potatoes in the swidden gardens. Most of the people's protein needs are met by gathering grubs and larvae, locusts, lizards, snails, frogs, eggs, birds, and mice. The Mejbrat hunt with blowguns and spears, killing flying foxes, wild boars, opossums, and kangaroos, but the meat gained from hunting is used primarily in ceremonial exchange, rather than constituting a major part of the day-to-day diet. Fishing in the lakes and rivers is more important in some regions than in others, depending upon the availability of fish. It is most important for the People living near the three central lakes of the territory, for these lakes have been stocked by the territorial government. Fishing is done with poison, with traps in dammed rivers, and with baited lines, as well as with spears. Nonsubsistence cultivation features the introduced cash crops of ground nuts, green peas, and beans. Maize has long been grown as a trade crop in the northern parts of the region.

Trade. Throughout their known history, Mejbrat peoples have participated in extraregional trade. Moluccan traders brought bush knives, black sugar, rice, and—most Importantly—cloth to the region from which they sought local bark, nutmeg, and slaves. This trade was by means of "advance payment"—the trade goods were left for local consideration, to be compensated for by later delivery of the desired local goods. By the time that the Dutch arrived in the seventeenth century this trading system was already in place, and they introduced finer cloth—of cotton—as well as chinaware and iron to the inventory of items imported into the region. By the nineteenth century gongs and glass beads, as well as guns and opium, had also been introduced into the local trade system. Trade within the region centered on ceremonial exchange, conducted under the auspices of feast cycles. The principal form of wealth circulated interiorly is woven, patterned cloth.

Industrial Arts. Items of local manufacture include bark cloth, generally embroidered according to patterns found on imported cloth, string bags, and the basic tools and utensils used in gardening, hunting, and fishing: digging sticks, blow-guns, fish traps, fishing lines, and the like. Men weave decorative armbands. Houses are made of wood frames with Pandanus-leaf thatching. Dams are built of brush.

Division of Labor. Men do the heavier tasks in house building: preparing the wood frames and attaching the thatch. Women, however, prepare the pandanus-leaf bundles used in thatching. While both men and women work at Preparing garden lands by burning off the ground cover, only men build the swidden fences, and the bulk of actual gardening chores fall to women. Men dam rivers and prepare the poison used in fishing, but aside from spear fishing, which is done by both men and women, it is the women alone who fish with lines, spread the fish poison, collect the stunned fish, and use the fish traps. Hunting—with snares, spears, or blow-guns—is done only by men. Gathering activities are considered women's work. Women, as wives, hold the wealth of a household, in the form of special cloths.

Land Tenure. Access to land follows the female line: a married man establishes gardens in the territory of his wife's father's maternal kin; unmarried men work the gardens of their mother's brother's wife. But since the bulk of gardening is done by women, and since the produce of the garden is considered to be women's property, it is perhaps improper to speak of "men's gardens" in any case.

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