Wovan - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The homestead ( hram diib, or "big house") is the basic unit of production and consumption. Swidden horticulture and pig herding, supplemented by hunting, form the basis of Wovan subsistence. Taro and sweet potatoes are the major crops but bananas, edible pitpit, sugarcane, beans, maize, and a variety of greens are also important in the diet. Tobacco is grown in almost all Gardens. A wide range of "wild" crops are harvested. Among the most important of these are betel nuts, marita pandanus, Pandanus nuts, and a wide range of fungi. Recently coffee has been planted, but it has not yet yielded significant harvests. The Wovan keep domesticated pigs, dogs, and fowl. Pigs are of central import both in terms of their contribution to the diet and in terms of their value as items of exchange. Dogs are used in hunting and are generally treated well. Recently introduced domestic fowl are proliferating but neither they nor their eggs are considered desirable food by the Wovan. Animal protein supplied by hunting or foraging is obtained from cassowaries, wild pigs, many varieties of birds and marsupials, frogs, various rodents, grubs, and megapode eggs. Eels are important both ceremonially and in terms of their contribution to the overall diet. Sago is obtained in trade from the Sepik River area but does not contribute substantially to the diet.

Industrial Arts. The most significant items produced include black-palm bows, arrows, net bags, pandanus-leaf mats, and elaborately carved bamboo combs. Wovan men invest considerable energy in producing elaborate dancing finery. This decoration includes large "busby" hats decorated with beetle shards, opossum fur, and, nowadays, cloth. These hats are crowned with rings of eagle feathers, cassowary plumes, and bird of paradise plumes. The Wovan produce kundu drums, small panpipes, and bamboo Jew's harps.

Trade. Trade has always been important both to provide access to desired goods and to solidify friendships and alliances. As well as trading items of their own manufacture, the Wovan acted as intermediaries in the long-distance trade networks that extended from the Sepik River area into the Central highlands. Wovan black-palm bows and net bags, as well as ax heads that the Wovan had obtained from their central highlands trading partners, were highly valued among Lowlanders to the north. They, in turn, supplied the Wovan with tobacco and shell valuables. These shells and a wide range of marsupial pelts and bird of paradise plumes were traded to the highlanders to the south for ax heads, for salt, and, increasingly in the postcontact era, for cash.

Division of Labor. A division of labor is evidenced in most activities, but, as in many areas, the Wovan tolerate considerable overlap. Men and women cooperate in gardening. Men fell the trees and build fences to prepare the plots. Men and women both plant crops. Women do the daily harvesting and garden maintenance. Coffee is almost exclusively a male-controlled crop. While men are the nominal owners of pigs, women tend them on a daily basis and no man would kill a pig for exchange without obtaining his wife's agreement. Females are more likely than males to be accused of witchcraft but both males and females may act as shamans.

Land Tenure. Theoretically, land is owned by corporate patrilineal descent groups. An individual's rights to both Gardening and hunting land are derived from membership in these patrilineages. Parallel-cousin marriage and flexibility in affiliation, however, allow the Wovan considerable room to maneuver. Actual gardening and hunting decisions are made at the level of the homestead rather than the patrilineage.

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