Wantoat - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The people are horticulturalists, with the main crops being varieties of sweet potatoes, taro, yams, pandanus, sugarcane, and bananas. Traditionally, a deficiency in animal protein was partially offset by hunting marsupials in the forest; today, canned fish and meat are purchased. There were few wild pigs in the area, and the people practiced little pig husbandry. Consequently, both the Lutheran missionaries and the government agricultural workers had limited success in introducing European pigs for breeding. Attempts to introduce sheep and donkeys also met with little interest. The introduction of European vegetables for cash cropping failed because of the inaccessibility of markets. Some of the vegetables, such as maize, tomatoes, and cabbages, are still grown for local consumption. More successful was the introduction of the Singapore (Chinese) taro, which is now preferred over local varieties. The government introduced the cultivation of coffee, and with the construction of airstrips in the Wantoat and Awara valleys, coffee has become a viable cash crop. The recently completed road link to the coast should increase the marketability of all locally grown produce.

Industrial Arts. For the most part, each local group of people was self-sufficient and able to produce all the necessary tools and utensils from local resources. From bamboo they made containers for carrying water and baking by knocking out all but the last node. Men carved basins and war shields from wood, used the inner bark of a tree for loincloths and protective cloaks, carved bows of black palm, and used cane for arrow shafts with points made of bamboo, black palm, or animal bones. Women wove string bags from twine rolled from the leaves of an indigenous shrub. They made skirts from the fibers found on the inside of banana plants and plaited armbands from rattan.

Trade. What was not available from local resources was imported through trade contacts. Shells and other sea products came from the Rai coast to the north via the neighboring Nankina and Yupna peoples. Pandanus leaf mats came either from the coast or from the Atzera people of the Markham Valley to the south.

Division of Labor. Members of each sex manufacture the artifacts concerned with their roles. Men make the loincloths, drums, ornamental frames for the dances, items for hunting and warfare, lime gourds, and spatulas. Women make grass skirts and string bags. Whereas the men clear the land, the women prepare the gardens and care for most crops except bananas, sugarcane, pandanus, and yams. Women carry food, firewood, babies, and almost anything that can fit in a string bag. Men carry the heavier items such as beams and planks. The introduction of European material culture has not affected this dichotomy of sex roles.

Land Tenure. There is no concept of private Landownership, and apart from the limited amount of land purchased by the government to establish offices and schools, all land in the Wantoat area belongs to patrilineal clans.

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