Rapa - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. For the most part, Rapans support themselves by farming and fishing. Taro ( Colocasia esculenta ) is the staple, and is eaten at every meal. It is grown in irrigated terraces located in level areas adjacent to the village of Ha'urei, at the head of Ha'urei Bay, and on the outer bays. Rapans sometimes reach their taro terraces on the outer bays on foot, but the rugged terrain makes this difficult and they often travel by water in locally made canoes or whaleboats. These vessels are also used for fishing, which is done with spear guns or hooks and lines in the bays and (in whaleboats only) offshore. Oranges and watermelons are grown for local consumption. The main cash crop is coffee, although in 1964 potatoes were introduced for export to Tahiti. Some pigs are tethered on the outskirts of the villages, and goats, cattle, and a few sheep roam unattended in the hills. Goats are eaten when inclement weather prevents fishing; pork and beef are served at special feasts. Occasionally some goats or cattle are captured and shipped to Tahiti for sale. Goats are owned privately, but cattle belong to the Cooperative Society, an organization of shareholders that also oversees coffee exports and operates a small store on the island.

Industrial Art. Rapan men make wicker baskets in many sizes and often fanciful shapes. Some are used locally, but the more elaborate ones are made for export to Tahiti or for sale to passengers on ocean liners that pass close enough to the Island for whaleboats to go out to them. Some of the locally made whaleboats—graceful, narrow, and highly seaworthy—are themselves works of high artisanry.

Division of Labor. Men are charged with boat construction, most aspects of house construction, and fishing from boats and canoes. Women gather shellfish from the shore, prepare food, do laundry, and take care of small children. Both sexes pick coffee and engage in taro cultivation, although the men build and maintain the irrigation ditches and turn the soil in a terrace prior to flooding. Labor is divided at least as significantly by age as by sex. The heaviest work (boat rowing, turning soil, carrying heavy bags of harvested taro) is done by youths and young adults. After about the age of 40, people begin to leave these jobs to younger members of the household.

Land Tenure. Essential to the Rapan system of land tenure is the proposition that improvements (gardens, groves of trees, and houses) may be and usually are owned separately from the land on which they are located. Both territory and improvements are owned by ramages, known as Opu.

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