Wamira - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The household is the main unit of production and consumption, with swidden horticulture as the subsistence base. Wamirans Divide their food world into two categories: tia (animal foods) and lam (vegetable foods). Although seasonal differences exist in the food supply, there is no annual "lean" time. The category of tia, which constitutes about 3 percent of the total calories consumed, has fish as its most stable ingredient. This term includes saltwater fish, freshwater fish, and shellfish. Wild animals, which used to be caught by communal fire drives, trapping, and spearing, are now primarily hunted with shotguns. Although fishing is still practiced extensively, hunting is dwindling in importance. The main domesticated animals are pigs, of which there are about 200 in the village. Every major feast includes pork. Two government cattle Projects were established in Wamira in the early 1970s, and beef is also prized now. Lam make up about 97 percent of the total calories in the Wamiran diet. There are numerous wild vegetable foods, such as wild yams, arrowroot, pandanus fruit, licorice root, Cycas palm fruit, wild chestnuts, and numerous varieties of green leaves and seaweed. Many large leafy trees stand within the village and produce coconuts, breadfruit, chestnuts, Java almonds, Malay apples, and mangoes. All other fruit and vegetable crops are cultivated in one of two types of family gardens: banana gardens or taro gardens. The most common garden foods include bananas, plantains, taro, yams, sweet potatoes, tapioca, pitpit, sugarcane, squashes, corn, papayas, and numerous varieties of beans, peas, and greens. Taro predominates as the staple crop of ritual significance. To enable the year-round cultivation of taro, which requires much water, the Wamirans, as well as the people in several of the neighboring coastal villages to the west, devised a means of irrigating their taro. The Wamiran irrigation System consists of some 12 kilometers of unlined earth canals and subsidiary canals. At the sites of the canal sources (one at the Wamira River and two at the Uruam River), stone dams approximately 15 meters long and 1 meter high are packed across the river to direct the water into the canals. Moreover, in precontact times, the Wamirans alone created a hollowed-log aqueduct as part of their irrigation system to transport river water from the Uruam River across a dry riverbed and onto the plain behind the village. Each aqueduct is used for only four to five years, by which time it breaks and lies dormant until another one is constructed. In the past century, new aqueducts were built in 1892, 1904, 1914, 1928, 1948, and 1977. The 1977 aqueduct was financed by the Papua New Guinean government and constructed of metal pipe. In addition to the traditional foods mentioned above, introduced foods, such as oranges, lemons, limes, pineapples, watermelons, tomatoes, scallions, and peanuts, are grown now as well and are usually sold in the market. Due to the dry climate, the introduction of cash crops has been unsuccessful.

Industrial Arts. Utilitarian goods produced by Wamirans include houses, canoes, clothing, mats, wooden bowls, coconut-shell drinking cups, lime spatulas, baskets, fish nets, net bags, drums, rattles, headdresses, various dance paraphernalia, and weapons. The aqueduct, of course, is a major technological accomplishment and a distinguishing feature of the village. It is flanked by carved wooden figures who are said to be its guardians.

Trade. In the past, interviilage trade was common. Coastal goods such as coconuts and fish moved inland, while areca nuts and certain hardwoods used for digging sticks moved to the coast. Trade also occurred along the coast, where items such as pottery, bark cloth, and food were Exchanged among villages. Today, the main form of exchange occurs between Wamira and towns like Alotau, Lae, and Port Moresby. Wamirans send people to work in towns. In return, money and purchased goods, such as food, tools, clothing, and construction materials for houses, enter the village. The money is used to purchase kerosene, matches, tobacco, and food from the trade stores in Wamira and Dogura.

Division of Labor. The village as a whole unites to work for only one activity, the erection and maintenance of the aqueduct that feeds the large, fertile plot of land behind the hamlets. This event occurs every ten to twenty years, and it results in suspicion and antagonism when men from the two wards work side by side. Within each ward, people cooperate for women's communal riverine fishing and men's hunting of wild animals. Hamlet members cooperate on a number of activities. Residents of each hamlet garden adjacent taro plots and cooperation exists among the men when they repair the irrigation canals and turn the sod to make new gardens. The women of each hamlet work together to maintain the taro gardens, digging hollows around the plants to allow the irrigation water to seep in and weeding around the young shoots. Otherwise, people work cooperatively mainly by household, with sex defining who does which task. Men build houses, hunt, make gardens and tools, and climb coconut trees. Women carry foods to the market at Dogura, collect firewood, cook, clean the house, wash dishes, wash clothes, and sweep the hamlet area. Both men and women fish, although only women do so communally. Nowadays, women's clubs are active and each ward has its own club that works on rious income-generating projects. These projects include making sweet potato gardens, sewing uniforms for the hospital, and baking and selling bread.

Land Tenure. Rights to both residential and horticultural land are passed down from father to son. Although certain food trees are owned by individuals, anyone who walks by may pick fruit from the tree. Rights to trees do not include rights to the land on which they stand.

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