Sengseng - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The starch staple is taro, but because it has been affected by a blight since about 1960, manioc has become increasingly important. Other cultigens include bananas, various greens (especially Hibiscus manihot ), yams, sugarcane, and, near the coast, sweet potatoes. Because of a traditional pattern of planting a single large garden in one day, often no taro is available for long periods. Then the Sengseng rely on wild foods, particularly wild yams ( Dioscorea spp.) and, in season, breadfruit. Year-round, perhaps 50 percent of their calories come from wild foods. Coconuts do not grow well in the interior and are reserved for feasts. Domestic animals are limited to pigs and dogs. When a pig's upper canines are removed, the lower ones eventually grow in a complete circle, and the killing of such a tusker is a major event. Domestic pork is eaten only at feasts; most protein comes from wild sources. Birds, bats, and arboreal marsupials are hunted with long blowguns, and wild pigs with dogs and spears. Other creatures are collected when encountered. They include pythons, bandicoots, frogs, and insects, especially the grubs of longicorn beetles and tent caterpillars, supplemented by an occasional wallaby or cassowary. Eels are highly prized, and during dry weather streams are dammed and bailed dry so as to obtain large supplies of shrimp and other crustaceans. Many wild fruits and nuts Supplement the diet. Men go away to work to obtain money and particularly to buy cheaply elsewhere in Papua New Guinea one of the main forms of wealth in Sengseng, gold-lip pearl shells. Locally the Sengseng earn money by selling shells to foreigners, who use them to manufacture their own money.

Industrial Arts. Technology includes wooden spears, shields, hourglass drums, flutes, panpipes, bark cloth, and bags made of vine. The most important wealth items—pierced, polished disks of black and white stone, called niklak —are of unknown origin. Ornaments are made of plaited vines, dogs' teeth, shells, and cassowary pinions, as well as circular pigs' tusks.

Trade. Tobacco and betel nuts grow particularly well in the interior and are traded towards the coast in exchange for coconuts, lizard skins for drumheads, and bivalves. Prepared salt and wood for spears are received from the Miu to the west. Local trade includes pigments such as manganese for blackening teeth and red minerals for painting shields. Now that they are no longer made on the coast, shields and bark cloth manufactured in the interior are sold to coastal Sengseng, the shields being used in dancing.

Division of Labor. The planting of a new garden is the main communal task, being carried out by a group of men. Men also may cooperate in building a men's house and in hunting wild pigs. Family houses are usually built by husband and wife. Because men believe that taro will not grow well if planted by a woman, and unmarried men also fear being "poisoned" if they eat food cooked near where women sleep, Sengseng men do many tasks that, in other societies, are carried out by women. Women prepare food for themselves and their children, and men for themselves. Purely masculine jobs are usually the heaviest: cutting down trees, damming streams, fencing gardens against pigs, and hunting, as well as butchering and cooking domestic pigs. Men also manufacture weapons, drums, and bark cloth. Particularly female tasks are the weeding of gardens, the manufacture of bags and baskets, the rearing of domestic pigs, and the care of young babies.

Land Tenure. Surprisingly for horticulturalists, gardening land is not owned, though the site of a men's house and the trees planted nearby are. It is believed that taro grows best near where an ancestor is buried, but any descendant of a Person who once lived in a settlement can make a garden in the vicinity. There is no shortage of land.

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