Barter Studies) Paddy and ash in Taisho Era Yaeyama, Japan
This paper is published online:
Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology
NII-Electronic Library Service
JAPANESE JOURNAL OF ETHNOLOGY
VoL 53 No.1: 1–30 (l988)
English summary for a Japanese text.
Interchange between High and Low Islands:
Barter of Paddy and Ash in Taisho Era Yaeyama, Ryukyus.
This paper aims at an ethnographic reconstruction of barter economies that flourished during the Taisho Era (1912-1926) between Iriomote and Kuroshirma, two islands in the Yaeyama group, the southernmost island group in the Ryukyus, Japan. Interviewing and observation of present day economic activities were carried out for 22 months in the islands between 1974 and 1986. Ethnographic studies on the barter economies that once existed in Japan are extremely scarce ancl fragmentary, in spite of the importance of these economles and their very rich regional variations. More than two decades ago, Einzig (1966) wrote on the gold dust money and rice money of Japan in his book entitled "Primitive Money." He stressed the urgency of ethnological studies of traditional economies, saying that practically every chapter of his book could and should be expanded into a full-sized volume. The present paper is one of the first attempts to do a systematic study of barter and primitive money in Japan, based on a long-term field survey.
Yaeyama people share a tradltional folk classification of the islands: tangun-sïma and nungun-sïma (Ishigaki dialect) .The former means "islands of paddy fields," and refers to islands having hills and rivulets that make wet rice cultivation possible. The latter means "islands of grasslands," and refers to low and flat coral islands where rice cultivation would be practically impossible. Iriomote is the largest of the four tangun-sïma, whereas Kuroshima is the second largest of the five nungun-sïma of Yaeyama.
Iriomote Islanders practiced the cultivation of wet rice, sweet potatoes and many other minor crops, as well as being largely dependent on gathering, fishing, and hunting of affluent food resources. On the other hand, Kuroshima Islanders practiced the cultivation of barley, Italian millet, sweet potatoes, etc., as well as fishing and raising of goats. People were not allowed any choice of residence during the period of severe capitation (1637-1902). This was enforced in Yaeyama and Miyako Islands by the Shuri Dynasty, a puppet government located in Okinawa controlled by the feudal clan of Shimazu in Kyushu. When capitation was abolished, full-time fishermen from Okinawa Island arrived in Kuroshima to form a fishing village named Iko. On a daily basis they bartered their fish for sweet potatoes from neighboring cultivator villages in Kuroshima.
The barter of rice and/or paddy among Yaeyama Islands was first recorded by Korean ship-wrecked travellers in the 1477 (Official Records of the Yi Dynasty) .They found that the two high islands of Yonaguni and Iriomote cultivated rice, and that three of the low islands cultivated barley and millet. They noted that Iriomote traded rice with these three low islands.
These observations suggest that such trade of rice based on the different ecological backgrounds between the high and low islands has a long history, and was started when rice was introduced in the high islands. However, aside from this record, there appear to be no documents that mention the existence of barter among the high and low Yaeyama islands.
In the Taisho Era, only two islands continued the barter of rice as was recorded in the 15th century: Iriomote provided paddy and rice to Kuroshima in exchange for ash as fertilizer for the paddy fields, supplemented by barley, several species of beans, and a seaweed, green laver. Ash from the cooking stoves of Kuroshima was the most important barter item. It was made from the leaves ef the Japanese sago palm (Cycas revoluta THUNB.) and from wild grasses. Ash from this treeless island abounded in the mineral components that were scarce in the soil and vegetation of a high island.
Barter rates were traditienally fixed: a marushi or 30 bundles of paddy (equivalent of 5 kg husked rice) were exchanged for a 36-litre basketful of ash. Other commodities, much smaller in amount than ash, were generally bartered for husked rice on the principle of one-to-one exchange by volume. These foods were frequently offered as gifts to Iriomote Islands, who in turn gave a counter-gift of rice in an approximate equivalence. Since the barter rates were fixed, bargaining was confined to the quality of ash: Iriomote cultivators sought the ash of sago palm leaves because of its efficiency as fertilizer, but Kuroshima people often mixed it with a greater amount of grass ash, which was more easily obtained.
Ash-paddy barter was seasonal, and was carried out at most three times a year on either of the islands. Iriomote cultivators commonly paid back their debt from barter tranactions at the end of the harvest season (May-June).
A participant had to row a boat over 40 kms to arrive at his partners' village, where he was cordially weleomed with some of the regional products: cooked rice in Iriomote and millet liquor in Kuroshima. This institutionalized hospitality seems to have been the major non-economic attraction of barter transactions. Despite these exchanges, intermarriage was not common during the Taisho Era.
Hori, one of the cultivator villages of Kuroshima, practiced barter with Sonai and Hoshitate, two villages situated on the remotest end of the western half of Iriomote Island from Kuroshima. The eastern half of Iriomote had only a small number of inhabitants as a result of the disastrous tidal wave of 1771 that killed a third of the Yaeyama people, and due to malaria of the tropical fever type (the most dangerous of the three types), which had become endemic in Iriomote and the northern Ishigaki islands. The interdependence of the villages could also be explained by the kinship ties that had been established during the age of capitation.
Until the year 1902, about half of the Sonai and Hoshitate families belonged to the upper social class of yukaripitu (corresponding to Japanese samurai, and subject to lower capitation and higher esteem during religious festivals). Most of the Hori villagers, on the other hand, were buza (commoners). Some government officials from Iriomote, who were chosen out of the yukaripitu families of Sonai and Hoshltate, were appointed in Kuroshima, and always kept a makanyaa (concubine) chosen from the buza women of Kuroshima. The officers often brought back their gunboofãã (children born from such concubines) from Kuroshima, thus enforcing the kinship ties established through an unequal social relationship between the two islands.
One can conclude that paddy (and rice) played the role of money in the traditional barter systems of the Yaeyama islands. It was exchangeable with all other commodities, was used to settle debts, was a standard of the values of commodities and of services, and was the princiqal store of value. It was the Iriomote cultivators who produced this money, and the yukaripitu (officially called shizoku 士族 after 1903) continued superior to the buza (heimin 平民 after 1903). Thus, participants from Kuroshima were put in a more or less subordinate position in trading activities, notwithstanding the hospitality and apparent egalitarianism.
Although cash was introduced in Yaeyama at the beginning of the 20th century, the gradual increase in its use did not necessarily cause the atrophy of the traditional barter system, The barter of ash and paddy continued until the 1930s, when the introduction of improved varieties of Hōrai rice (蓬莱米) from Taiwan in combination with the use of chemical fertilizers made the ash no longer necessary for Iriomote cultivators. Nevertheless, rice did not cease to be used for payment in Iriomote until the year 1955, long after the barter between high and low island wasterminated.
By contrasting the Yaeyama barter system with that of the Songola, who have many barter markets in today's Republic of Zaïre (ANKEI,1984. "Fish as Primitive Money". Senri Ethnological Studies 15), we can arrive at the following tentative conclusions which will facilitate future field surveys on the economic anthropology of Japan and elsewhere.
The symbiotic relationship (or close socio-economic interdependence established through barter ties of daily necessities) between two groups living sicle by side is based not only on the contrast of different ways of utilizing their different habitats, but also on the historical and political situations that govern these groups. Full-time fishermen practice barter more frequently, and hence have a closer interdependence with their cultivating neighbors (Iko fishermen bartered every day, and the riverine Songola, twice a week) than the virtually self-sufficient cultivating groups (at most three times a year between Iriomote and Kuroshima).
The difference in barter frequency could be used as one of the criteria for comparlng the economlc system.
Barter may survive in the face of increasing cash use so long as regional difference in the ecological background are left untouched.
The arrival of malaria in Iriomote after the 15th century, the introduction of capitation in the 17th century, the tidal wave in the 18th century, and the introduction of improved rice varieties in the 1930's were historical events that strongly affected the barter systems of the Yaeyama islands.
Barter of daily necessities evolved into a symbiotic relationship except in cases where inter-group marriage was disturbed (as was the case in the Yaeyama islands where inter-village migration was prohibited). Such intermarriage may accelerate the convergence between the languages and dialects of the groups, as in the Songola and the Mbuti Pygmies, demographic minorities in the African tropical rain forest (both hunter-gatherers and fishermen) are assumed to have lost their mother tongues by the adoption of the languages of their partner cultivators.
On the other hand, the difference between subsistence activities may be accentuated as a result of increasing barter transactions. Thus, barter ties in a symbiotic context may contribube both to the fusion of ethnic groups by linguistic conversion, and to their fission through occupational diversification.
Barter rates can be easily standardized if there is a practice of one-to-one exchange of customary fixed units of commoclities as in the Yaeyama islands and among the Songola. In such conditions there is little short-term fluctuation of barter rates despite fluctuations in supply and demand.
A particular commodity may have greater purchasing power than others because of a universal demand for it. When such a commodity has a fixed unit in transaetions, as is the case of fish in the Songola barter markets and of Yaeyama paddy, it deserves the appellation "money."
Those who have access to the production of such "monies" often tend to enjoy a dominant status vis-à-vis other groups despite the apparent egalitarianism of barter transactions.
Finally, I would like to stress the urgency and the importance of a comparative survey of traditional and recent barter systems both in Japan and in the rest of the world before it ceases to be possible.