Melpa - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Traditional Subsistence rests on the cultivation of sweet potatoes, in mounds or squares surrounded by drainage trenches. In fallow areas among trees the people also make vegetable gardens for cucumbers, beans, maize (introduced), sugarcane, and bananas (both for cooking and for eating ripe). These gardens are nowadays supplemented or even replaced by areas planted with coffee from which cash is earned. Vegetables are also taken for sale in Mount Hagen market. Trade stores dot the countryside, in which introduced clothing, foodstuffs, and household utensils can be bought.

Industrial Arts. In precolonial times, a number of stone-axe quarries were operated, and the rough-cut or polished stones were exported as well as being used locally. Europeans brought steel tools that replaced those of stone. Prehistoric mortars and pestles are found archaeologically, but these items were used by the Melpa as cult objects rather than tools.

Trade. Over time, exchange networks extended beyond the Melpa area in all directions, but particularly westward with Enga speakers, with whom stone axe blades were Exchanged for salt packs. Major religious cults also diffused into the area from the south and southwest via Tambul. The lowlying northern areas were sources of fruit, pandanus, and bird plumes. The Melpa moka ceremonial exchange chains linked together many groups in the area itself in a complex set of obligations to make prestations of pigs and shells between Exchange partners from different groups. Trade nowadays is in coffee, exported to the world market.

Division of Labor. The indigenous division of labor is by sex. Men create garden areas, fence them, and plant luxury crops. Women plant greens, the staple sweet potatoes, and taro. They harvest gardens and keep them free of weeds, and they are also largely responsible for feeding the pig herds that are essential to the prestige economy.

Land Tenure. Land is generally inherited by sons from their fathers as they grow up and marry. Daughters can be allocated portions to use even after marriage, but marriage is usually virilocal and a wife expects to garden mostly on her husband's land within his clan area.

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