Tanna - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Tannese are swidden horticulturalists. Using hand tools, they clear and burn off plots for yams and taro, ritually the two most important staples. They also grow manioc, sweet potatoes, bananas, and a range of other fruits and vegetables. Thanks to fertilizing ash falls from lasur volcano, garden-plot fallow time is quite short. Domestic animals include pigs, dogs, fowl, and also introduced cattle and horses. Coastal villagers fish and gather reef products, although the Tannese are indifferent fishers. People are engaged primarily in subsistence production, although they also plant cash crops, especially coconuts, coffee, and vegetables. The average family's annual cash income, however, is less than $500 [U.S.].

Industrial Arts. Traditionally, island industrial arts were quite simple, consisting of stone tool making, the weaving of pandanus mats and baskets, and the manufacture of women's bark skirts and tapa belts that once held up men's penis wrappers. Today, a few men earn a little money in cement brick manufacture, automobile repair, etc.

Trade. The island's principal exports are copra and coffee. Its imports include Japanese vehicles, fuel, tools, processed foods, and clothing. Cooperatives and small-business owners operate a handful of trade stores, and women sell produce at several roadside markets. Rudimentary tourism, focused on the volcano, also brings some money into the island.

Division of Labor. Islanders practice a muted division of labor. Men do heavy garden clearing, plant yams, erect house frames, fish beyond the reef, and drive trucks. Women perform day-to-day garden work, cook, wash clothes, and weave baskets and mats. Men, however, also cook, weed gardens, and may wash their own clothes in a pinch. Both sexes, moreover, care for children.

Land Tenure. Every Tannese boy receives a personal name that entitles him to several plots of land near a kavadrinking ground. Women's names have no land entitlements. A name also may entitle a male bearer to perform various ritual acts, to control a section of traditional road, and so on. Every family possesses a limited number of names that are used each generation. If a man has no sons, he adopts boys (or other grown men) by giving them one of his names. In actual practice, the exact connection between a particular personal name and its associated lands is often disputed. Garden land, however, is plentiful, except in a few locales. Moreover, most people neither live nor garden upon their own lands; permission to use another's land is usually readily obtained.

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