Tikopia - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. On the island, Tikopia are primarily agriculturalists and fishers. Crops include taro ( Colocasia ), manioc (cassava, Manihot ), giant taro ( Alocasia ), and sago ( Metroxylon ). In the settlements abroad their occupations include agriculture, plantation labor, police and hospital work, and schoolteaching. Several Tikopia men have become priests in the Church of Melanesia, and one has become bishop in the diocese of Temotu, in the eastern Solomons. In general, Tikopia have not engaged in commerce.

Industrial Arts. Traditionally, Tikopia men practiced crafts of canoe building and other woodwork, net making, and extraction of turmeric pigment, while women wove mats of coconut-palm leaf and pandanus leaf and beat out from the inner bark of a tree ( Antiaris toxicaria ) the bark-cloth garments and blankets used by both sexes. A few such objects are now made for sale to tourists who travel on the rare vessels that call at the island, but there are no industrial arts of significance.

Trade. Archaeological and ethnographic records indicate that since archaic times Tikopia residents have engaged in sporadic trade with neighboring island communities, receiving items such as arrows and shell ornaments from Melanesian sources and fine pandanus mats from the closely related Polynesian people of Anuta in return for turmeric pigment. Trade with Western visitors was historically by barter—steel tools, fishhooks, calico, and tobacco being sought in return for local artifacts and food. But nowadays money is used freely, even in transactions among Tikopia themselves.

Division of Labor. Men do woodwork and go sea fishing in canoes. Women do domestic work, but both sexes tend the earth ovens for cooking. Both men and women fish the reef, men with spears and seine nets, women with hand nets. In agriculture, men do the heavy work of breaking up the soil, both men and women plant, but women do most of the weeding. Specialization was recognised particularly among men (e.g., in canoe building). Men alone could be priests in the traditional religion.

Land Tenure. All the land of Tikopia is divided into orchards ( tofi ) of palms and fruit trees and into open gardens ( vao ), marked off into plots for annual cropping. Every orchard and garden plot is owned as of ancestral right by a distinct lineage group, with titular supreme rights exercised by the clan chief. (A similar system operates in overseas Tikopia settlements that have agricultural lands.) Within the lineage land, rights to produce are held by individual cultivators. By ancient custom, vacant garden land may be used for a season by other than its owners, on payment of a proportion of the crop. Permanent transfers of land from one group to another were rare, but historically transfers sometimes occurred when a chief gave some land to a daughter on her marriage. Sale of land is unknown. No land on Tikopia is held by other than Tikopia people.

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