Tahiti - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Tahitians were horticulturalists raising a variety of tree and tuberous crops as well as plantains, all of which, except sweet potatoes, originated in southeast Asia or Melanesia. Domesticated animals included pigs, dogs, and chickens. Fish, caught by a variety of techniques, were a dominant source of protein. Contact with Europeans resulted in the addition of several American and Old World plants and domesticated animals. During the early nineteenth century a successful pork trade with New South Wales was carried on and this was followed later by exports of coconut oil, sugarcane, and arrowroot. Provisioning of European ships became a major nineteenth-century source of income.

Industrial Arts. Decorated bark cloth was a major aboriginal industrial art created by women and used as clothing, as formal gifts, and for export trade. Bark-cloth production continued into the twentieth century, but such cloth is no longer manufactured.

Trade. Regular aboriginal trading was carried on with the leeward islands of the Society Archipelago and the western atolls of the Tuamotus. The principal item for exchange was bark cloth, to which was added provisions in the case of the Tuamotu atolls. With the arrival of Europeans, iron became the dominant item traded to those atolls. In exchange, Tahitians obtained dog hair, pearls, and pearl shells from the Tuamotus and coconut oil and canoes from the leeward islands.

Division of Labor. Traditionally, general construction work and manufacturing of tools, weapons, canoes, and fishing gear was men's work, as was fishing, major ritualism, and warfare. Women created bark cloth, wove mats, and fashioned clothing from both materials. Farming was shared by both sexes.

Land Tenure. At the time of contact landownership with the right of inheritance was recognized for those of the chiefly and commoner classes, with only the lower class, known as teuteu, being excluded. Such lands were subject to taxation in kind by the ruling chiefs who could banish an owner if such taxes were not forthcoming. Missionary activity in the nineteenth century seems to have resulted in at least some of the teuteu class obtaining land rights.

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