Wape - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Although the sago palm is not indigenous to the Torricelli Mountains, the Wape plant it in wet areas and process the pith of the trunk into a starch that is their major staple. Sago is extremely low in nutritional value and is eaten with various greens from their slash-and-burn gardens in which root crops like sweet potatoes and yam are also grown as well as bananas, coconuts, sugarcane, and tobacco. The Wape also forage for grubs, mushrooms, frogs, and bush eggs. Small fish are occasionally speared by youths but are insignificant in the Wape diet. A few domesticated pigs are kept for ceremonial purposes and, increasingly, a few chickens. Hunting for wild pigs, cassowaries, marsupials, and birds is of great ritual and social importance to men. Unfortunately, the introduction of the shotgun has further decimated the animal breeding populations, and so most Wape meals are very low in protein; this diet has adversely affected their rate of maturation and size. Most villages now have indigenously run trade stores but they are usually padlocked and contain little or no stock.

Industrial Arts. Wape men traditionally made wooden shields painted black with carved designs, wooden bowls, and shell decorations; they still make large wooden slit gongs, small dance drums, and bows and arrows. Women Traditionally made their string skirts and still make string.

Trade. Traditional trade was primarily with the coastal people on the other side of the Torricelli Mountains, with Imported and exported items usually being passed through nearby villages. The Wape traded sago, black-palm bows, and bird feathers, including those of the bird of paradise, for Pottery and the shells that Wape men then fabricated into ornaments used as bride-wealth and as personal and mask decorations in their large curing festivals. This trade has ceased and today the Wape are part of the international commodities market using scarce cash to purchase essentials.

Division of Labor. Men hunt, prepare gardens for planting, cut down the sago palms, build houses, perform curing rituals, and make their tools, ceremonial ornaments, and drums. Women forage, fetch water and firewood, make string, sell produce at the government market in Lumi, and cook. Men and women both participate in child care, garden weeding, and harvesting.

Land Tenure. Land is identified with lineages and transmitted patrilineally with the eldest brother generally having the most authority. The right to use garden land is sometimes given to others who come to live in the village. Men often plant a few food trees on another person's land, especially that of their mothers' brothers, and these trees are inherited patrilineally.

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