Mekeo - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Mekeo are primarily slash-and-burn agriculturalists. They subsist chiefly on sweet potatoes, taro, coconuts, plantains, yams, bread-fruit, sugarcane, and a variety of other indigenous and introduced crops. Pigs and fowl are also domesticated, but they are usually reserved for ceremonial occasions. Nonetheless, Villagers are able to supplement their vegetable diets substantially by hunting wild game (bush pigs, wallabies, cassowaries, and other birds) and fishing. Since contact, many commercial ventures have been launched by the government and missions or at the people's own initiative, involving rice, copra, coffee, cattle, and cocoa production, as well as trucking, fishing, canoeing, and trade-store retailing; most have proven unsuccessful in the long run. In recent years, a few families have benefited from mechanized dry-rice production. The most significant sources of cash for many villagers remain the lucrative betel-nut trade in Port Moresby and the wages sent home by salaried relatives living in urban centers.

Industrial Arts. Most adult men and women are competent in all gender-appropriate activities as defined by the Culture, although differing degrees of individual skill are acknowledged. Men and women both possess carpentry skills, but different and complementary ones. Men perform the tasks of canoe construction, wood carving, and tool and weapon manufacture. Women spend much of their leisure time weaving string bags.

Trade. The Mekeo region is crisscrossed by a network of hereditary trade partnerships between individuals and groups. Fellow tribesmen and women exchange food, pigs, pots, string bags, valuables of shell, feathers, and dogs' teeth, and nowadays money at marriage, death, and various other occasions. Along intertribal trade routes in the past, pottery, salt, pigs, dogs, dried meat, lime, betel nuts, shells, tooth and feather valuables, bark and bark cloth, canoes, black palm for weapons, stone axe heads, carved cassowary-bone implements, and pandanus nuts were commonly traded. Weekly markets are still held where Mekeo women exchange their garden produce for fish and shellfish caught by the coastal Roro peoples.

Division of Labor. Tasks are assigned chiefly according to age and gender. Men do the heavier cutting and clearing of food gardens, women the lighter clearing, planting, and harvesting. Only men hunt, but both women and men fish according to distinct methods. Women are responsible for the cooking and serving of food, whereas men specialize in Preparing and secretly wielding their various types of magic and sorcery ritual. Young and old help in child rearing, but it is grandparents and elder sisters who tend to young children when the parents are occupied. From the age of 10 or so (nowadays, upon completion of school) until they marry, adolescent males are freed from the demands of work and concentrate on courting and love magic. In the past, the young men also served as the community's warriors.

Land Tenure. All land is owned by patrilineal clan groupings. The "peace chief" of each clan has nominal control of its lands, but for important decisions he must consult the entire clan as a unit. All members of the clan, male and female, possess rights to particular tracts for gardening, hunting, fishing, and house sites, primarily according to where their fathers had worked and lived. Usually, though, it is only the male members who actually exert these rights and pass them on to their children. Persons of other clans are often allowed access to garden land, but they are forbidden to plant permanent tree crops (e.g., coconut or betel palms) as these are owned separately from land and serve as boundary markers. The Recent adoption of commercial rice farming in some areas has economically favored those families and clans with claims to large tracts of land.

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