Tolai - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The household is the basic unit of production and consumption, with swidden horticulture as the subsistence base. Fertile soils encourage the growing of a wide range of crops. In inland Communities taro, yams, and sweet potatoes are all grown in abundance; bananas, reported to be known in seventy varieties, are grown everywhere as another major staple. In coastal communities there are also seine and basket fishing, depending on the season. The bush turkey deposits its eggs in the warm soil close to the base of the volcanic craters, and these are a particularly prized item of the local diet. Above all there is the coconut palm, serving a variety of needs: the nut itself is food and drink as well as a basic ingredient in cooking, while husks can be used for fuel, and fronds for shelter and the weaving of mats. Very quickly too, following the arrival of the first European traders, the palm became the prime source of a new cash income through the sale of copra. In the 1950s cocoa was introduced and soon came to rival copra as a source of revenue. In addition to horticulture, Tolai have also been engaged in wage labor for many years. In the immediate post-World War II period, Tolai emerged as an occupational elite. They served as teachers, worked in administrative offices, and worked at carpentry and other trades in many parts of the country materially much less developed than their own. Nowadays many have received higher education and have earned professional qualifications as doctors, lawyers, architects, and the like; others serve in senior posts in the administration in Port Moresby, the nation's capital, or other urban centers.

Industrial Arts. Items produced include canoes and the huge basketlike fish traps known as a wup, as well as a wide variety of mats and baskets of coconut and pandanus leaves. Finely carved and painted staves and specially designed masks are made for particular dances.

Trade. Despite its tiny size, the Gazelle Peninsula is marked by a high degree of ecological diversity. Production is thus often highly localized. This combination of diversity and specialization has provided the basis for a complex system of internal trade. Even in precontact times a series of markets crisscrossed the area, goods passing by way of intermediaries from the coast to inland villages and vice versa. The economy, moreover, was highly monetized: all transactions were conducted through the medium of a shell currency called tambu. Nowadays the main markets are at Rabaul and the other township in the area, Kokopo: the Rabaul market is now open daily, offering a colorful and varied array of produce to a cosmopolitan clientele. Most market transactions are for cash, but tambu is still legal tender.

Division of Labor. The pattern of cooperation varies with the task. In general, however, where men cooperate, as in housebuilding or helping to launch a fish basket, those assisting have to be rewarded either by payment in shell money or by a small feast given by the person who has called them together. There is a fairly clear-cut division of labor along sexual lines. Broadly speaking, the heavy work of preparing a new garden falls to the men, with women following later to do the weeding and collecting. But husbands and wives are often seen working together in their gardens. Only men fish—the beaches set aside for activities connected with fishing are taboo to women—but women quickly gather when a catch is landed in order to buy: they cook the fish and sell it at the market. Women also accompany men when they go digging for megapode eggs: they sell snacks to the men and also buy eggs, again for sale at market.

Land Tenure. In theory all land is "owned"—that is, it is vested in perpetuity in the group called a vunatarai, a matrilineal clan whose members may be dispersed through many villages. In practice, effective control vests in a local segment of the clan or local matrilineage also called vunatarai. The estate is owned jointly, but the leader of the group may subdivide or grant rights of use to individual members of the lineage. In fulfilling his duty to care properly for his children, a man is also entitled to make a gift of matrilineal land to a son. The land is supposed to revert to the matrilineage on the father's death, but it frequently happens that with the passage of time details of the arrangement are forgotten and heated disputes are commonly generated in this way.

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