Nasioi - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Traditional Nasioi subsistence was conditioned by the differing ecological niches (coastal, valley, and hillside) in which the population settled, but the general pattern was that of typical Melanesian swidden horticulturalists. Taro was a staple crop until a plant blight swept through the island in World War II; thereafter, sweet potatoes became more important. Coconuts and sago were raised at lower altitudes. Nasioi men were employed on local plantations before World War II, but subsequently they began to take more interest in cash crops: first copra, then cacao. Although resentment of the copper mine kept many Nasioi from working there, a larger number were employed by the various contracting firms during construction of the mine, roads, and towns during the 1970s. Educated Nasioi are now employed in the modern, urban sector in Bougainville and elsewhere in Papua New Guinea.

Industrial Arts. Traditional crafts included carving, basketry, and, on the coast, pottery making. By the 1960s, few Nasioi practiced these arts; instead, they purchased comparable items in trade stores.

Trade. Items of produce were exchanged among people settled in different environments: coastal people produced pottery, sago, fish, and salt; valley dwellers grew coconuts and raised pigs; and hill dwellers traded baskets, bows and arrows, and game. Nasioi obtained shell currency from the Solomon Islands, via their neighbors in south Bougainville, but this currency was for special purposes (e.g., marriage) only. Nasioi on the coast began trading with European ships in the nineteenth century, in particular exchanging coconuts for metal tools. Early on, German administrators encouraged copra production as well as wage labor. Today all Nasioi participate to some degree in a modern cash economy.

Division of Labor. Subsistence work was divided according to gender: men did the heavy but intermittent work of clearing forests and fencing gardens, while women engaged in the steady production of garden foods. Men hunted possums, birds, and feral pigs; they also harvested betel nuts. Women collected freshwater crayfish, made baskets and mats, and bore the major responsibility for child rearing. Men were much more active than women as the economy became modernized, especially as wage laborers, and they are still more prominent in the cash sector. However, women today grow and market cash crops, and increasingly they go on to higher education.

Land Tenure. Land seems to have been plentiful in the traditional setting. Rights to land were in the first instance achieved by clearing virgin forest and were most often inherited through matrilineal kinship ties. However, rights could also be established through marriage, residence, individual kin networks, or ceremonial exchanges. Land could never be alienated beyond the local group. As elsewhere in Papua New Guinea, it was easier to establish than to extinguish claims to land. Nasioi entry into cash cropping, a rapidly increasing population, and, above all, the presence of the copper mine have created massive problems because of the incongruity of traditional land tenure with modern economic structures.

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