Tiwi - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Prior to European settlement on the islands, the Tiwi had an abundant subsistence economy of hunting, fishing, and foraging in the bush, sea, and along the shore. Increasingly after European settlement, Tiwi became employed in a variety of jobs related to settlement life, including education, health, community service, and government. While each community has a shop where food and other material goods may be purchased, the majority of Tiwi are concerned with the maintenance of hunting and foraging skills among the young. With a preference for "bush" over "store-bought" foods, Tiwi make up much of their weekly diet with native foods.

Industrial Arts. A number of local industries have had commercial success: silk-screened textiles; clothing manufacturing; pottery; and, more recently, a large pine (timber) plantation—a legacy of the Australian government—and several tourist facilities.

Trade. External trade with the mainland peoples did not exist prior to the early twentieth century and the arrival of European settlers on the islands.

Division of Labor. In the precolonial subsistence Economy the division of labor was such that hunting in the sea or air was the exclusive domain of men, while extracting roots, seeds, fruits, etc. from plants rooted in the ground was the exclusive domain of women. However, aside from these particular exclusions, both men and women hunted and gathered ground- or tree-dwelling animals, shellfish, turtle eggs, and the like from the shore, and both sexes contributed equally to the daily diet. There were no full- or part-time specialists.

Land Tenure. There are a number of named local groups that hold exclusive responsibility for geographically distinct areas ( murukupupuni, or "countries") on the two islands. The number and boundaries of these countries are known to have fluctuated over the nearly one hundred years of recorded Tiwi history. Currently there are seven countries and each of these is represented by delegates to the Tiwi Land Council, which came into existence in 1976 when the islands were deeded back to the Tiwi under the Land Rights Bill. Currently one is considered an owner of one's fathers country although in the presettlement days one was an owner of the country in which one's father was buried. Owners of a country are collectively held responsible for maintaining that country (and its natural and spiritual resources) and for transmitting the knowledge of and responsibility for that country to the next generation.

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