Rotuma - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The vast majority of households in Rotuma maintain gardens that supply their staples (taro, yams, tapioca, breadfruit, and bananas). Pineapples, papayas, mangoes, watermelons, and oranges are also grown in abundance to supplement the diet. Soil type varies from sandy to loam, and the soil is quite deep. While the entire island is exceptionally fertile, the eastern side is covered with stones and boulders, making it more difficult to work. The main implements in gardening are the bush knife, for clearing land, and the dibble stick, which is used to make holes in the earth for planting root crops. Rotation of crops is the common pattern; typically yams are planted the first season, followed by taro and then by tapioca and banana trees. Although only a few men engage in deep-sea fishing, the fringing reef that surrounds the island is widely exploited for a variety of fish, octopuses, crustaceans, and edible seaweed. Chicken, canned corned beef, and canned mackerel supplement the daily diet, while cattle, goats, and pigs are consumed on special occasions such as weddings, funerals, and welcoming ceremonies. The main export product is copra. It is Marketed by the Rotuma Cooperative Association, which dominates the commercial life of the island.

Industrial Arts. The main Rotuman handicrafts are Pandanus mats and baskets. Mats, particularly fine white ones, are central to Rotuman ceremonies, and they were Traditionally considered to be the main form of wealth. Canoe making still occurs on a small scale, but aside from foods made in two bakeries, Rotumans do not produce any goods for commercial markets.

Trade. An airstrip was opened on Rotuma in 1981, but few goods are transported by air. Shipping by sea is irregular, aggravating the problem of Rotuma's isolation from potential markets. This isolation has especially inhibited the development of agricultural exports. Rotuman oranges, for example, are famous for their quality and are extremely abundant, but as yet they have not been commercially exploited because of difficulties with storage and transportation.

Division of Labor. In general, Rotumans follow the general Polynesian pattern of women's work being close to home while men's labor takes them farther afield. Women are exclusively responsible for mat making, and they take major responsibility for child care, washing clothes, cleaning the household compound, and the preparation and serving of family meals. They also harvest marine resources on the reef. Men take primary responsibility for gardening, animal husbandry, cooking in earthen ovens, and house construction. The division of labor is not rigid, however, and couples Generally help each other when required.

Land Tenure. Land is important to Rotumans for its symbolic significance as well as for its subsistence value. The main landholding unit is the kainaga, a bilateral group based upon common descent from ancestors who resided at, and held rights in, a named house site ( fuaq ri ). Each person is considered to have rights in the fuaq ri of his eight greatgrandparents, although typically rights are exercised selectively. Associated with each fuaq ri are sections of bush land, and membership in a given kainaga entitles one to rights in this land. The person who lives on the fuaq ri acts as steward of the land and controls access. He, or she, is obligated to grant usufructuary rights to kainaga members for any reasonable request. At times land has been sold or given for services to specific individuals, but over generations it becomes kainaga land again. When the population of the island approached its highest levels, during the 1950s and 1960s, land disputes intensified and access was generally restricted to close relatives. In recent years, however, out-migration has relieved tensions and the main problem now is often to determine which of a set of siblings will remain behind to steward the land and care for aging parents.

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