Mendi - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. About 50 percent of garden produce is fed to herds of domesticated pigs, which are treated as "wealth" and are central to everyday and ceremonial gift exchanges. Sweet potatoes, which are both the human staple and pig fodder, are planted in mulched 3-meter diameter mounds, located in fenced garden plots, and harvested daily, year-round. Gardens are commonly kept in production continuously for thirty years or more; individual mounds may be fallowed for a few months between harvesting and replanting. Greens and sugarcane are planted in and around the sweet potato gardens, as are a wide variety of European vegetables (which may be consumed locally or, more often, offered for market sale). Especially since the mid-1970s, Mendi have experimented with coffee production, small-scale cattle projects, and other marketing endeavors. Mendi also run small retail stores and transportation companies, as well as seeking employment in town and farther afield.

Industrial Arts. People produce many of their own tools, and also rework items of Western manufacture into their tool kit. The two most important rural tools are wooden digging sticks or spades (used for clearing and planting gardens) and steel axes (for clearing forest and preparing house-building and fencing materials). Women turn fiber into twine for making apparel and net bags. People also make other containers, culinary implements, and hunting equipment.

Trade. While their social field has expanded enormously in the last generation, even in precolonial times Mendi traded regularly with peoples living outside the valley. Women and men walked four or five days northwards to Kandep to obtain salt (used for trade and consumption) from their distant matrilateral kin. Kandep high country was also a source of pigbreeding stock. For these things, Mendi exchanged southern products like pearl shells and tigaso tree oil (used for gifts and adornment), which they obtained from trade partners in Erave, Kagua, and Lake Kutubu. Mendi used to be key conduits for the movement of peart shells from the south coast northwards into the highlands.

Division of Labor. Gender and age are the key dimensions. Men do ax work (like forest clearing and fence making); women do most of the everyday gardening (planting, weeding, harvesting) and pig care. Individuals control the disposition of the food they plant, so women are responsible for most everyday cooking and hospitality. While there are no strong taboos on crossing these conventional lines, men appear to do women's work more frequently than vice versa. Clan events are strongly gendered: men alone are responsible for collective feast making (butchering pigs, cooking port and vegetables, and providing sugarcane and exotic refreshments like beer and store-bought meat) as well as parade performances, wealth exchanges, and oratory.

Land Tenure. Men usually reside and garden in their father's locality; however, they may maintain active use rights to gardens in their mother's place as well whether or not they relocate there. Most women continue to garden in their natalclan territory after they marry. Insofar as "place" partially defines clanship, clans retain inalienable control over both garden and forest lands; nonclanmembers may gain temporary use rights but may not make long-term claims on the land (for example, by planting trees). Fallow land (or the unused land of declining groups) may be claimed by any member of the local clan.

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