Jingpo - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Jingpo farming is of two types: sedentary terraced cultivation and shifting cultivation (swidden horticulture), with rice as the major crop in both. Although the Jingpo have practiced terraced wet-rice cultivation for over a century and it has become the main source of grain, shifting dry-rice cultivation still plays an important part in their economy. Today the Jingpo farm their paddy fields basically the same way as their grandparents: a buffalo draws a plow and a harrow to prepare the field, which is irrigated naturally by spring water. The major improvements so far are chemical fertilizers and improved varieties of hybrid rice. Traditional shifting cultivation is of two types: shifting field-forest cultivation and shifting field-grass cultivation. Each may be extensive, intensive, or semisedentary. When extensive, cultivation is only one or two years, the fallow period is ten to twelve years, and there is little hoeing; when semisedentary, cultivation lasts for two to four years, the fallow period is six to eight years, and hoeing and sometimes plowing are necessary. Today, field-forest extensive shifting cultivation ( yingwang in Jingpo) is mainly practiced by the Jingpo, while semisedentary field-forest and field-grass shifting cultivation ( dongyuo in Zaiwa) is done mainly by the Zaiwa, Lachi, and Langwo. Shifting cultivation has been declining because of the rapid decrease in forest and grassland. Crops grown in swidden land are diversified: dry rice of different kinds (glutinous and nonglutinous), maize, foxtail millet, Job's tears, soybeans, kidney beans, potatoes, etc. Before 1958 the Jingpo also commonly grew the opium poppy. They also grow various vegetables, such as chili peppers, ginger, garlic, cucumbers, pumpkins, and wax gourds. In recent years they have grown sugarcane on a large scale. The Jingpo use the slash-and-burn method of swidden cultivation. They clear the hill slope of trees and underbrush, burn it, and then sow their crops before the first rain, which usually comes in May. Farmers mix and broadcast seeds of rice, soybeans, foxtail millet, and cucumbers, and then they plant taro, Job's tears, kidney beans, and other vegetables on the edges of the plot. Weeding is mandatory, as weeds grow faster than the crops. The raising of buffalo, cattle, and pigs has also been of special importance to the Jingpo economy. Buffalo were introduced together with wet rice into the Jingpo society; cattle may have arrived much earlier—they seldom draw plows in the area but have long been used in ritual sacrifice and gift exchange.


Industrial Arts. The Jingpo buy all their metal tools from the state store or market. Men can make some wood and bamboo tools—such as plows, harrows, curved sticks (used to thresh rice), baskets, and winnowers—but these implements are mostly for their own use, not for sale. Women weave on belt looms, making beautiful tubular skirts, but they buy most of their clothing from shops.

Trade. The combined factors of Jingpo contact with more developed peoples, their location along caravan routes, and their opium growing had a dual impact on Jingpo society. While these factors restricted or replaced the division of labor and thereby crippled exchange within Jingpo society, they promoted trade with other peoples. The collecting of forest products, such as mushrooms, wild vegetables, timber, firewood, fruits, and herbal medicines, has always been an important cash-earning activity. It has become a major source of cash since 1958, when the Chinese government banned opium growing. Some households now grow tea and marketable woods such as the tung tree, walnut, and fir. In recent years, small-scale cross-border trading and labor selling on the Myanmar side have begun to flourish in the villages along the border. The former is a legacy of ancient Yunnan-Burmese caravan trade as well as a by-product of the government's open-door policy. Work as seasonal opium-field laborers in Myanmar's Kachin hills is closely associated with the cross-border trading and with the Jingpo's long history of opium growing.


Division of Labor. The basis of the division of labor is gender. Men do only heavy and technical work such as plowing, harrowing, and watering the paddy fields, slashing and burning dry plots, making tools, and hunting; weeding fields, harvesting, carrying and processing crops, gathering wild vegetables and fruits, and cooking are women's jobs. In the busy seasons of planting and harvesting, men also take part in women's work.


Land Tenure. Present-day land tenure is that of socialist collective ownership. The land, including wet and dry fields, vegetable gardens, woodlands, and hills other than those that are state-owned, are all collectively owned; the legitimate owner of all this land is the co-op (agricultural producers cooperative). In practice, each household cultivates the farmland. By the nineteenth century, limited private ownership of paddy fields already existed in Jingpo society. In some areas the landowners could sell, buy, lend, or mortgage their paddy fields under the condition that the plots must not be sold out of the village, but the Jingpo considered forest land to be communal property, and each village held the right for all the village members to use the forestland for swidden cultivation. In 1957, the land became socialist collective property, owned first by agricultural mutual-aid groups, later by the co-ops, and then by the production team of the people's commune. Since 1981 the Jingpo have used a household contract-responsibility system. Paddy fields are allocated by contract to each household but dryland remains shared by all households. Each contracting household pays an agricultural tax (in grain) and sells its quota of grain at the state-set price (about 40 percent less than the market price). While the households have the right of decision making in farming, they are expected to consider the plan suggested by the local government about the varieties of crops to be grown and where to grow them.

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