Tokelau - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Tokelau have always had coconuts and fish in abundance. Fishing is strictly a subsistence pursuit and the catches are widely distributed by both formal and informal means. Fishing techniques are ingenious and various, and knowledge of them and of the sea and its denizens is extensive and highly valued. Coconuts are harvested both for subsistence and for sale in the form of copra. Indeed, until the recent development of an extensively subsidized public-service sector, copra was the main source of cash with which to purchase imported essentials, such as kerosene, soap, tobacco, cloth, flour, rice, and sugar. With more cash from wages there are now more imports, which are purchased from a cooperative village store rather than from trading ships. For subsistence, aside from fish, Coconuts, and imports, there are breadfruit, pandanus fruit, and swamp taro ( pulaka ). For cash there has always been some handicraft production, primarily plaited mats, hats, fans, and baskets made by women.

Industrial Arts. Until the early 1970s, both canoes and houses were made almost exclusively of local materials. Early European accounts describe double-hulled, oceangoing sailing canoes and an extensive range of nets, lines, hooks, and other fishing equipment, including watertight wooden boxes ( tuluma ), as well as matting and other plaited wares. Imported substitutes are now widely used, although a number of traditional items are produced for sale.

Trade. There is no internal market for local products. People request what they need from others and give to neighbors and kin. A formal and versatile system of absolutely equal sharing, both in receiving and providing, operates in the Village. Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, copra has been the major export crop of the atolls.

Division of Labor. What is regularly done by men or women, young or old, is clear. Men fish and harvest, doing most of their work outside; women process and allocate food and oversee the home and family. Children fetch and carry; young adults undertake the most arduous tasks; elders are managers.

Land Tenure. Aside from land vested in the village or one of the churches, all land in Tokelau is controlled by recognized cognatic kin groups who jointly tend and harvest its resources and share its produce. Their land includes one or more house sites within the village, where mature female members of the group normally reside. Everyone in Tokelau has rights to land (or has a spouse with such rights) and thus shares the produce from one or more joint holdings. Since all offspring receive rights from both parents, a person's joint holdings are multiple and the people with rights to any one holding may be many. Such holdings are eventually divided and combined with others likewise divided, thus reducing people's multiple rights and the number of right holders.

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