Woleai - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The economy is primarily subsistence-oriented, although it has been linked to the outside world for at least a century through the sale of copra. The interiors of the larger islets are devoted to taro ( Cyrtosperma and Colocasia ) and breadfruit cultivation, while coconut palms and bananas are grown elsewhere. Pigs, dogs, and chickens are eaten. A wide variety of reef and pelagic fish are exploited. Green sea turtles are hunted and provide an important part of the diet on Lamotrek and Elato. In recent years some residents have become dependent on money they earn as employees of the state government (as teachers and medical services personnel) and money earned by emigrants who work on Yap and elsewhere.

Industrial Arts. Canoes, woven loincloths and skirts, and shell belts and necklaces are manufactured primarily for local use rather than export.

Trade. These islands have long participated in a number of interisland trading networks. A formal exchange and redistribution system ( chulifeimag ) links the eastern with the Western islets of Woleai atoll. Elato is tied to Lamotrek by another system called the "fishhook" ( hu ), and all of these islands (as well as others) were once linked to Yap in a "tribute" Exchange system called the sawei. These systems permit easy transfer of surpluses to alleviate shortages when an island in the network is damaged by storms or drought.

Division of Labor. Men are primarily fishermen and women are gardeners. Only men are permitted to fish from canoes or along distant reefs. Women can fish reefs adjacent to an island with nets if they can reach the area by walking and wading, but their primary activities are to cultivate taro, weave, and cook. Men tend coconut and breadfruit trees, build houses and canoes, and occupy themselves with tasks centered at the canoe houses, such as repair and manufacture of cordage, rope, nets, and other fishing equipment.

Land Tenure. Control of land is in the hands of the senior women of matrilineal subclans and lineages. These women assign plots for cultivation to their "sisters and daughters" and those rights are defended by their "brothers," the men of the lineage. At marriage a man gains some exploitation rights to the tree crops of his wife's lineage. Land can be gift transferred between lineages, but it is not sold. Reef and Lagoon areas are also owned by subclans, clans, or entire islets. Each lineage owns parcels of land along the lagoon and ocean shore and in the interior; this distribution ensures that each lineage has access to all environmental zones on an island. However, those lineages or subclans with the longest settlement histories usually control the largest number of parcels.

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