Koya - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. A village consists of four culturally defined areas: houses and hamlets; cultivated and fallow fields; wasteland; and sacred places. Permanent fields are located near the water supply, below a dam, for example, where rice can be grown in fertilized and irrigated paddies. Away from the water source are the dry fields watered only by the monsoon where millets and legumes are grown. Each family typically has fields in both areas. Permanent wet field cultivation requires not only land but capital for plows, oxen, and hired labor at critical planting and harvesting times. It also necessitates extra labor in keeping up the dam, embankments, and irrigation channels. In the hills and jungles there are no permanent fields. Crops are grown in small clearings for two or three years; the clearings are then allowed to revert to jungle. The soil in these abandoned plots regenerates itself in about fifteen years and the plots can then be cleared and planted again. Axe, hoe, rake, and dibbling stick are the only tools required for this swidden cultivation. Koyas living in the permanent field areas of the riverine plain are nostalgic for this form of cultivation. They connect it with their tales, myths, gods, rituals, and freedom from moneylenders and government agents. As the Hindu population in Koya territory increases, Koyas are forced more and more to shift from swidden agriculture and subsistence production to permanent field agriculture and market production. Rice and tobacco are the main cash crops. Millets and legumes are the major subsistence crops even in the plains villages. Koyas cannot afford to eat much of the rice they grow. Koyas are herders as well as cultivators and pasture fairly large herds of cows, buffalo, and goats on the wasteland and in fallow fields. Cattle are kept for their dairy products, meat, fertilizer, and ritual uses. Goats are hardy, require little attention, and are important as sources of milk and meat. Wherever opportunity affords, Koyas supplement their food supply by hunting and gathering, and one of their chief complaints against outside government is its restriction of access to reserve forests, which Koyas regard as their own. Honey, roots, tubers, leaves, leafy plants, fiber, fruits, salt, spices, herbs, wood, nuts, fish, and small game provide a substantial addition to the diet and are the source of a variety of useful products that would otherwise have to be purchased from itinerant traders or in local weekly markets. Hunting, though much restricted, figures largely in Koya imagination, and a ritual hunt is an important part of the annual spring planting sacrifice performed for the village mother, even though the forest is somewhat outside her realm, being ruled instead by the "Lords of the Jungle," and the "Lord of Animals," who are the husbands of various disease goddesses. Inclusion of these jungle and animal deities in the planting ritual points again to the importance of swidden cultivation in the minds of Koyas.

Industrial Arts. Blacksmithing and weaving of baskets and mats, along with twine making, are the principal manufactures. Blacksmiths still make and repair traditional iron implements and tools such as plowshares, hoes, sickles, spear points, and wheel rims, but most other metal products are purchased from Hindu peddlers.

Trade. Most trade is carried out at weekly markets held in villages accessible by good cart tracks or roads. Itinerant Hindu peddlers bring cloth, oil, metal pots, and sundries to trade for cash or produce, usually the latter. Koya women also sell vegetables, twine, baskets, mats, and forest products independently, simply spreading their wares on a cloth in the Market area. Where there are large Hindu villages nearby, Koyas trade these items with the Hindu merchants and shopkeepers in the bazaar.

Division of Labor. Koya society is divided into three hereditary, endogamous occupational groups: blacksmiths, bards, and funeral drummers and singers. These groups have no lineages of their own and assume the lineage name of a patron. Bards are not genealogists, but they sing the traditional lineage history and mythology during the lineage sacrifices. Funeral singers are panegyrists who sing songs of praise for the deceased and his or her family during funeral ceremonies. Blacksmiths, bards, and funeral singers are only part-time specialists, and they make most of their livelihoods from cultivation. Except for blacksmithing, plowing, hunting, village governance, and sacrificing, which are restricted to men, the sexual division of labor is not strict. Women do most of the cooking, washing, rice husking and pounding, weeding, and rice transplanting, but both sexes share in child care and in such activities as harvesting, fishing, gathering, twine making, basketry, and mat making. Women do much of the smallscale marketing of vegetables, forest produce, and household manufactures. Children are actively employed by age 4 or 5 as baby-sitters, rice huskers, food gatherers, errand runners, and crop watchers. By age 6 or 7 boys herd goats and cattle, and by age 10 they help in plowing, planting, and harvesting.

Land Tenure. Villages contain several different local Lineages, one of which is usually recognized as the founding Lineage, and all others are regarded as in-marrying affines. This practice may point to an earlier system of lineage territoriality, but nowadays rights to land are based on title and revenue is assessed on individual rather than corporate holdings.


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