Magar - Economy



Banyan Hill's subsistence activities are carried out at elevations ranging from about 800 meters to 1,000 meters in a climatic zone classified as subtropical and characterized by deciduous broad-leaf trees such as Shorea robustus, as well as by banyans, pipals, bananas, and papayas.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The major crops on dry land terraces are maize, accounting for half of the harvest, wheat, and dry rice. With the exception of a small amount of maize, the irrigated terraces are planted to rice. Over the years the Magars have also made use of buckwheat, hulled barley, mustard, potatoes, sugarcane, bananas, arum lilies, radishes, sesame, lentils, beans, pumpkins, cucumbers, carrots, cauliflowers, cabbages, onions, tomatoes, yams, chilies, and tobacco. In addition there are many kinds of fruit and trees with leaves suitable for fodder, two plants providing leaves useful as plates, and three plants used for fencing.

All of Banyan Hill's tillage, dry or irrigated, is within a half-hour's walk from any house. The same is true of places where there are trees for firewood and grass for cutting hay or thatch. Water for irrigation and domestic use is spring-fed and plentiful. The cattle population includes buffalo, cows and calves, and bullocks. There are also goats, pigs, and horses, and a few familes keep beehives and chickens. Buffalo are stall-fed and are seldom taken from their shed except to be bred.

The saying in Banyan Hill that "everyone gets enough to fill his belly" does not mean that every family obtains enough grain from its own land to meet even its minimum needs. It means rather that if the family does not have a sufficiently large grain income, it can make up the deficit by borrowing or by sending one or more family members to work as hired laborers. In the 1960s, only seven of Banyan Hill's families had tillage so large and productive that it provided a salable surplus. This problem still exists today. Families who are not among the fortunate few with adequate land have to purchase or borrow grain in amounts varying from what is required to support an adult for a year to the very little needed to feed a guest on ceremonial occasions. Even households that are comparatively well-off because they have dry landholdings that are more than adequate may lack paddy land and Therefore have to buy rice. Most people prefer to sell jewelry rather than suffer the ignominy of serving riceless meals to guests. The majority of the families also need an income greater than their land can produce so that they can buy the services of specialists, cloth, supplemental ghee, salt, and occasional bazaar items such as powdered color, cigarettes, or soap.

The most important nonlocal source of income is army service. A young man wishing to enlist may join the Nepalese national army or any one of the regiments of Gurkha Brigade, divided in 1947 at the time of India's independence into four British and six Indian regiments.

Industrial Arts. Every household has rice-straw mats that women, and sometimes men, weave on looms pegged out in the courtyard. As a sign of hospitality and welcome such a mat is unrolled as seating for a Magar or other "Touchable" caste persons allowed on the veranda.

Sickles are one of the most widely used implements and are made by a neighboring man of the metalworker caste, but their wooden holsters are always carefully crafted by their Magar owners, who also decorate them with incised designs. Among other homemade articles of everyday use, the wicker carrying basket is one of the best-suited for an individual display of skill and appreciation for color patterning. The wicker can be more or less evenly woven, and color patterning can be obtained by varying the exposed side of the bamboo strips—green if exposing the outside of the strips, white if exposing the inside.

Banyan Hill Magars used to grow cotton to be spun and woven, but by the 1960s most clothing was of mill-made cloth. To show affection for a brother or favored young man, women often sew colorful embroidery on articles of their dressiest clothing.

Trade. Trade in livestock provides income for many Families, even if the sales involve only a few chickens or an infrequent buffalo, goat, cow, or pig. A few families sell ghee or honey, but the chief local source of income for poorer families is field labor, done either for wealthier Magars or for Neighboring Brahmans who believe plowing the earth is contrary to their religion and status. In absolute terms the most lucrative source of supplemental income in Banyan Hill is the interest earned on loans of cash and grain. By far the greatest part of such income goes to the headman because he makes the largest loans. Two other men who are pensioners have financed greater numbers of loans, but because the amounts of the loans are much smaller than those of the headman, the income from them is less.

Emergency sources of income are jewelry and land, Usually in that order. For marginal families these are the two items with which they can keep themselves going through a series of bad years or finance a necessary ceremonial expense such as a father's funeral.

Along with funerals and similar expenses, plus purchases of livestock and grain, the other major drain on a family's resources is the purchase of bazaar goods mainly manufactured in India. Butwal was formerly the largest bazaar regularly visited, but by the 1960s it was being superseded by Pokhara, a town on an outwash plain beneath the Annapurna massif that is two easy days' walk away from Banyan Hill.

Division of Labor. The most common kind of work group is formed on the basis of labor exchange. Various families' fields are ready for planting, weeding, hilling, and harvesting at different times, and what needs to be done has to be done rapidly, requiring more labor than one family alone can provide. Participants in an exchange arrangement work on a daily basis. Generally the return of an equivalent number of days' work is made within a year, and often, though not necessarily, in kind: a day's weeding, for example, for a day's weeding. Work groups also form on the basis of wage payments.

Poor families with too few adults to participate in labor exchange seek help from relatives, often from another Hamlet. The expected payment is a good rice meal, with meat and beer if possible, plus one tiffin (a light meal). Regardless of a family's wealth, roofs are almost always thatched on this basis.

A fourth kind of labor group is almost exclusively associated with carrying wood from the forest. Magars are reluctant to work on days of the full and new moon and on the day they do puja (worship) for the tiger deity, Mandale. But the ban does not apply to wood carrying, done out of neighborliness and for no return other than a tiffin. Nor does the taboo apply to community fishing, which requires enough people to dam and divert a large stream.

Work groups, especially those involved in labor Exchanges, tend to be composed of a nucleus of persons who habitually work together. The usual group cuts across Neighborhood and hamlet lines, as well as across caste lines from Untouchable to Brahman, and it encompasses wide differences in age. It also disregards gender, except in paddy and millet planting, where women do one task and men another, and roofing, which is done exclusively by men. Finally, it also includes members of families of varying wealth, from richest to poorest.

An exception to the flexible adaptation of the group size to its task is an occasional group that hires itself out as an unchanging unit. Its members work for payment in cash and at the end of the season use money they have saved to buy a feast. For example, a Banyan Hill group of this kind formed around a woman who was an exceptionally good singer.

Land Tenure. At the time of 1960s studies, only one Banyan Hill family did not own land. Most of the hamlet's tillage thus is owned by families individually. Exceptions are a small irrigated plot, the use of which rotates annually among the families of one particular lineage, and woodlots and places where thatch can be cut, which all lineages may use. Only well-to-do families purchase land. Obtaining land for use is much more common. Some is leased and paid for by a fixed sum. In other cases the user agrees to give the owner a share of the land's produce, usually two-thirds from a rice paddy and one-half from dry land.


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