Lisu - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Maize, sorghum, and buckwheat are the main staple crops. The Lisu use slash-and-burn techniques on mountain upland fields. They grow vegetables and tangerines in the warmer rivervalley settlements. They also raise oxen, sheep, poultry, and pigs. Current cash crops include ramie, tung trees (for lacquer), and sugarcane. Hunting with a crossbow and gathering of medicinal herbs (fritillaria bulbs, goldthread) continue to be important. Since the early 1950s, the state has encouraged the development of a number of processing industries, including the brewing of a traditional liquor made from sorghum and maize.

Industrial Arts. Traditionally, there were no full-time artisans. Lisu made cloth, shell and bead jewelry, and bamboo and wooden articles during the slack seasons or in their spare time, and individuals rebuilt their houses with assistance from the village community. In recent years, some Lisu have become full-time workers in the manufacture or processing of bricks and tiles, agricultural tools, paper, and foodstuffs.

Trade. Formerly, the Lisu conducted trade on a barter basis; only gradually did they adopt the use of silver coinage. They reckoned the value of land in pigs, oxen, or grain. In recent decades, the Lisu have entered the market economy, selling poultry, livestock, vegetables, and liquor at the periodic markets.

Division of Labor. Both sexes participate in agricultural work. Men are responsible for firewood gathering, hunting, house building, and repairs; women carry water, weave cloth, make clothing, perform most domestic chores, and process grains.

Land Tenure. Most land was privately owned by households—there were no clan-owned lands in recent historical times. Some high mountain areas were public wasteland, available to anyone for cultivation. The Lisu did not allow any buying or selling of land. Sons inherited land from their fathers or received land at marriage, along with some tools and livestock. Daughters did not.

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