Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Swidden cultivation of taro and a number of subsidiary crops (including bananas, sweet potatoes, pandanus, and cassava) provide the basis of subsistence, supplemented by pig husbandry, hunting, and casual collecting. An important feature of the traditional economy was a series of taboos prescribing differential patterns of food distribution. These taboos were abrogated in the Rebaibal movement—a response, in part, to dilemmas posed by the anticipated influx of cash associated with copper mining. Traditional shell valuables tended to circulate mainly in bride-wealth and mortuary payments or in interethnic trade. Results of cash cropping (coffee and chilies) have been disappointing, largely because of poor market access (there are no road links to the outside). The chief source of cash for Telefolmin has been migratory labor, whether on plantations in other parts of the country or, more recently, at the Ok Tedi mine. Nowadays, village people (including women) raise cash through the sale of pork. Small trade stores are common, but only a few local entrepreneurs have had success in business.
Industrial Arts. Traditional industrial arts involve house building and carving. The houses are built on slender piles with elevated floors and thatched roofs, normally with a pair of baked clay hearths set in the floor. Techniques for fence building and house building are similar (walls are fences). Men make arrows that are carved and painted, as are war shields and door boards. In the past, men made woven cane cuirasses, as found in other parts of New Guinea. Most Villages have at least one or two returned mine employees who are skilled in carpentry, and many of these men earn supplementary cash by building new-style houses.
Trade. Most Telefol trade was conducted with the Faiwolmin (Fegolmin) to the south and the Atbalmin to the west, with the former playing a larger role. There was occasional trade with the Wopkaimin to the southwest, but only if Telefol traders first passed through Faiwol territory, since the direct route towards Wopkaimin country was blocked by the Tifalmin, enemies of the Telefolmin. For the Telefolmin, trade and warfare were generally incompatible, so there was virtually no exchange between Telefolmin and their enemies (Miyanmin, Tifalmin, Falamin, Enkayaakmin, etc.). After the cessation of warfare, Telefolmin began intensive trade with the Tifalmin and Wopkaimin, since the latter were on a direct route to the path of shells making their way into the Interior from the south coast via Ningerum.
Division of Labor. Both sexes participate in gardening, though to differing extents. Men are traditionally responsible for forest clearance and fencing, while women and children bear the major burden of weeding. Planting and harvesting are done by both sexes and by young and old alike. Pig rearing is primarily a woman's task, as is the collection of frogs and other small fauna; hunting is a male occupation. With the advent of Ok Tedi, however, hunting has virtually lapsed as a subsistence pursuit, while pig rearing has been dramatically intensified with the sale of pork for cash. Given the high level of male absenteeism, many previously masculine tasks are either being abandoned or are now taken up by women. Thus it has become common for women to clear their own gardens without male assistance, and gardens are only rarely fenced. Older people and women gain access to cash through pork sales, bride-wealth payments, and remittances from mine workers.
Land Tenure. Rights to garden land in named tracts of bush are conferred either by first clearance or bilateral Inheritance. Both men and women have independent land rights that must be maintained by repeated clearance and cultivation. These rights are individualized, and there are no collective blocks of land, although full siblings have similar patterns of holdings. Because Telefol agriculture puts a premium on cultivation in different altitudinal zones, most people have claims scattered in several different locations. Claims to land in respect to hunting are much more diffuse and apply to large stretches of bush vaguely associated with villages or clusters of villages. Disputes over hunting rights were traditionally a source of tension between Telefolmin and Neighboring peoples.