Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Islanders are slash-and-burn subsistence horticulturalists. After a post-World War II taro blight, yams replaced taro as the major crop. Islanders also grow sweet potatoes (introduced in German times), tobacco, sugarcane, and minor foods introduced with sweet potatoes (cassava, pumpkins, corn, beans, water-melons, tomatoes, and cabbages). Garden land lies fallow for years between plantings. Tree crops—some grown in gardens, others partially cultivated in the bush—include coconuts, plantains, bananas, papayas, breadfruit, Barringtonia, Canarium indicum, and Areca catechu, whose nut is an ingredient in a betel mixture (consumed as a stimulant). On Pinipir, which has extensive mangrove swamps, mangrove fruit is a local staple. Islanders also fish in the lagoon and sea using purchased lines and hooks, locally made spears and spear guns, nets, baskets, scoops, a stunning agent made of Pongamia pinnata leaves, and dynamite. Sea resources include fish, crabs, lobsters, shellfish, paiolo worms, and giant sea turtles. Domestic animals include chickens, dogs (eaten in some villages), cats, and, most importantly, pigs. Consumed mostly on ceremonial occasions, pigs, together with large manufactured rings of Tridacna shell, are the major form of traditional island wealth. Claiming that the activities of pigs interfere with copra production, some villages have eliminated their pigs in recent years. Although a few pigs are raised in villages, most are semidomesticated and approach humans only to be fed. Other pigs have become feral. Islanders hunt these pigs as well as the brown cuscus and, occasionally, birds and flying foxes. Purchased foods, such as coffee and tinned fish and meat, are also popular. Since German days islanders have raised coconuts for copra, deriving a small cash income; Recently islanders have also started producing cocoa. Since German times, islanders have left Nissan to find employment in other parts of the country on plantations, in towns (as Domestics), and on boats. Beginning in the 1970s, many have gone to work for a multinational copper-mining company on Bougainville. A few send money to relatives at home; others start new families outside Nissan.
Industrial Arts. Nissan men construct houses and singleoutrigger dugout canoes (replacing traditional double-outrigger canoes and seagoing plank canoes without outriggers) . Men also manufacture masks and other dance objects. Specialists make the large wooden slit gongs found in men's houses. Women plait coconut-frond leaflets into a variety of baskets and mats; they sew pandanus-leaf hoods and carrying straps. Islanders no longer manufacture stone axheads, Tridacna shell arm rings, and tools of war (bows and arrows, spears, clubs, slings, arm guards). Most technology currently used is of Western manufacture.
Trade. The people of Nissan Atoll once exchanged trading visits with the coastal villagers of northern Buka; those of Pinipir traded with the villagers of Anir off New Ireland. The major Nissan contribution to interisland trade was pigs. Bukans contributed clay pots, pipes, and bows and arrows; Anir gave shell rings, red ocher, tobacco, and riverine stones. Minor trade in foods between villages and districts on Nissan continues today. Exchanges of goods and services are particularly common within villages. Some islanders also engage in entrepreneurial activities associated with coconut and cocoa production or operate small trade stores on Nissan.
Division of Labor. Women undertake most domestic and child-care activities. Men take the lead in subsistence activities requiring strength, such as certain stages of gardening. Men are the primary actors at ceremonies, the women working mainly behind the scenes under male direction. Persons with special ritual or technological expertise assist others on a part-time basis. Various church and government employees on Nissan receive salaries.
Land Tenure. All land is divided into named sections. Each section, including settlement sites and stretches of beach, belongs to an individual or small group. Men inherit land and movable property from their fathers, sons inheriting land jointly but eventually dividing it among themselves. The men's sisters and their children have defined usufructuary rights to that land. Recent population growth and the diversion of garden land to coconut production mean that the size of cultivable properties is diminishing, a factor encouraging emigration.