Subsistence and Commercial Activities . At least 50 percent of Nivkh subsistence activity consisted of fishing (with nets and seines) along the coast and along estuaries for Siberian and humpback salmon. In the spring, the Nivkh usually also hunted sea lions and seals, using harpoons and clubs. Hunting for land mammals (bears, marten, sables, otters) during the fall, after the fishing season, was and still is a secondary activity. The only traditionally domesticated animal is the dog. It served mainly as a draft animal but still plays a ritual role in religion. The domesticated reindeer was introduced after intensive contact with the Tungus; it serves as a draft animal. (Reindeer terminology, including words connected with castration and the names given to individual reindeer, is still transparently of Tungusic origin.) There was a limited amount of activity (about 15 percent) devoted to the gathering of small plants and the trapping of animals. Agriculture was introduced at the time of the disintegration of the native economy toward the end of the nineteenth century. It persists along with limited cattle breeding.
Industrial Arts. The Nivkh have always built sleds, woven rope, fashioned weapons for hunting and the equipment used in fishing and sealing, and made cooking utensils. Even before contact with the Russians there were blacksmiths among them, who reworked and reprocessed Chinese, Japanese, and Russian knives and weapons. Metallurgy never developed into an art, but there was work with copper (inlaid spear tips) and silver.
Trade. Before contact with the Russians, the Nivkh (especially those on the continent) had close commercial relations with the Chinese, in all likelihood mainly through Manchu merchants. Some Yakut seem to have moved to Sakhalin during the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century a great many Koreans came there as well. At present much of the Nivkh economy is collectivized. They are only marginally integrated into the petroleum industry in the northern part of Sakhalin.
Division of Labor. Traditionally, the women processed the skins of fish, seals, reindeer, and dogs; worked with birch bark; gathered plants; and sewed. They prepared food, raised children, and, to a large extent, perpetuated certain artistic genres (songs, tales, ditties). Men hunted, fished, and built boats, canoes, and houses; during the late nineteenth century some men hired themselves out to Russian entrepreneurs. There was a limited amount of slavery: slaves were relatively free and mostly did housework (fetching water, chopping wood); they are mentioned in native epics.
Land Tenure. Land tenure concerned mainly fishing and grazing grounds that were used seasonally. These grounds passed from father to son.