Yap - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Most Yapese today combine some wage work activities with subsistence farming. Many Yapese are employed by the government, and private trading companies and service industries provide additional jobs, so that more than half of the adult male population—and up to 20 percent of the adult female population—earn wages. In addition to wage employment, nearly all Yapese engage in some subsistence food production. Swamp taro is the primary staple crop of the Yapese, and most villages have large taro swamps that have been constructed as village projects in the past. Individual families own parcels of the Village taro patches and also have garden plots in the surrounding hills on which they produce yams, bananas, breadfruit, and other supplementary fruits and crops. A few farmers produce copra as a cash crop, and a handful of entrepreneurs raise chickens, pigs, and other cash items for the domestic market.

Industrial Arts. The primary tools for traditional Yapese production included the shell adz, bamboo knives, and digging sticks made of mangrove. Steel adzes and knives have replaced their traditional counterparts, and contemporary Yapese continue to use these tools in their daily subsistence activities. Sennit made from the coconut husk is used for nearly every type of construction task. The blades of the adzes, the beams of the houses, the outriggers on the canoes, the bamboo of the fish traps, and the thatch of the roofs are all tied together with this coconut sennit. Skilled artisans include canoe builders and house builders. Canoe building has nearly disappeared in contemporary Yapese culture, but the experts in house construction continue to play an important role in Yapese villages.

Trade. Two eastern villages in Yap, Gachpar and Wonyan, hold traditional trading rights to the atoll groups in the Central Carolines, including Ulithi and Woleai. For the atoll dwellers, trade with Yap provided a source of lumber and food not available to them in their restricted environments. The Yapese in these two villages gained supplies of sennit, valuable woven mats, fiber loincloths, and shell valuables that were important for ceremonial exchanges and political Prestige and power in Yap. Yapese sailors often made extended trips to Palau and to Guam where they quarried stone disks, which also were of value in the ceremonial exchanges of Yap. These stones were not technically items of trade since they had no value in Palau or in Guam where they were quarried. Yet, as a special-purpose money, they were very important in the internal relationships and political struggles in Yap.

Division of Labor. In the subsistence economy, Yapese women care for the swamp taro patches and the yam gardens. Men aid their wives and sisters in the clearing of fields and in heavy agricultural work, but the primary subsistence role of men is in fishing. Reef fish, caught with spear guns, nets, and fish traps, are the predominant source of protein for Yapese families. Men who engage in regular wage labor buy canned fish and canned meats to provide their portion of their Subsistence diet for the family.

Land Tenure. Rights to land, lagoon, other fishing and agricultural resources, and village authority are held corporately by the patrilineal estate group. The heads of estates in consultation with their junior members exercise authority over these rights on behalf of the members. Male members have use rights to estate resources with which they may support a wife and children. Succession to headship is based upon generation and seniority.

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