Pukapuka - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Fish and taro were the traditional mainstays of the Pukapukan diet prior to Western contact. According to the Beagleholes, pigs and chickens became regular parts of the diet subsequent to Contact. Today, despite its isolation, the island is very much tied into a wider economic system. It imports large amounts of sugar, rice, flour, and canned meat as well as a host of other products such as building materials, outboard motors, and benzine lanterns. Still, despite its poor atoll environment, the island could in theory be nutritionally self-sufficient. The Island possesses roughly 15.2 hectares of taro swamps, more than 280 hectares of coconut palms, reasonable marine resources, and some papaya, banana, and breadfruit trees. As elsewhere in Polynesia, domesticated pigs and chickens Supplement the regular diet. A number of privately owned trade stores exist on the atoll. These stores produce a limited income at best. Ships call at the atoll three to five times a year with supplies.

Trade. The atoll's major exports are copra and people. Copra exports vary widely. During the 1970s they annually ranged from under 100 to a little over 200 metric tons. The income from copra production and remittances can be considerable, but the mainstay of the economy is government salaries and grants. On the atoll, sharing—of both a formal and an informal nature—is pervasive. While some food resources are shared by the island as a whole, most sharing occurs on a formal basis among village members and on an informal basis among friends and relatives. Copra income as well as food resources within a village's reserve, for instance, are shared out by village food-sharing units ( tuanga kai). Individual shares vary. But men and women usually possess equal shares, Children somewhat smaller ones.

Division of Labor. Division of labor is based on sex and age. Although flexibility exists, men tend to fish (inside and outside the lagoon), build canoes, gather coconuts, prepare pigs for cooking, conduct food divisions, and carry out major political responsibilities. Women tend to fish near the shore (or on the reef), plait mats, work in the taro swamp, cook, and carry out domestic chores. Young men climb coconut trees and do much of the heavy labor. With symbolic implication, Hecht suggests women tend to work in the wet center and men on the dry periphery of the atoll. Elderly men and women are both viewed as important sources of traditional knowledge.

Land Tenure. In modern Pukapuka, two alternative patterns of land tenure coexist. Village reserves ( motu ) are owned by the village as a whole. They are located on the northern portion of Wale (for Loto) and on the other islets (for Ngake and Yato). They involve more than half of the atoll's landmass. Traditionally, each patrilineage used a particular section of a reserve. But today only a slight tendency to continue this practice exists—primarily within Loto and secondarily within Ngake. Village-owned taro swamps are Divided annually among members for their personal use during the year. The second pattern of tenure involves cognatic groups termed koputangata. Their land is located mostly in the nonreserve portion of Wale. (Certain taro swamps in Loto and Ngake reserves, however, are also owned by koputangata.) While one must have genealogical ties to a particular ancestor (or ancestress) in order to claim land tenure, a host of other factors—including residential proximity to a site, need, and personality—also play a role. Importantly, a person usually belongs to a number of koputangata at the same time; considerable ambiguity surrounds the delineation of koputangata membership and ownership. From an anthropological perspective, such ambiguity provides a degree of flexibility in adjusting land/population ratios to meet various contingencies.

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