Transformation of the Indigenous Economy: The Emergence of a Peasantry
Between the turn of the century and the 1930s the economic life of most Plateau Tonga communities changed dramatically, though the indigenous base was still easily recognized. The imperial presence was certainly a major stimulus for the change through its demands and extractions, its creation of markets, and its introduction of new technology. It was not the only source of change, however, and even where it was important, Tonga attitudes, decisions, and strategy affected the pace, style, and exact shape of the alteration.
The agricultural productivity--potential and realized--of Africans on the Tonga Plateau multiplied several times. This was true in an aggregate sense, that is, the total African production of agricultural wealth increased immensely. It was also true in a per capita sense: the productivity of individuals or households, per unit of labor input, greatly expanded. In the latter case the crucial factor was the adoption of animal power and new tools--specifically, the ox-plow and related ox- drawn tools and vehicles. Both kinds of increased production grew to be major concerns of European settlers, who rightly sensed in them threatening competition in commodity markets.
In theoretical terms the domestic mode of production described in Chapter 1 was articulated with an imperial economy, a variant of a capitalist mode of production. The result was a peasant form of production--the emergence of a Tonga peasantry. Admittedly "peasantry" is a broad category. Under one proposed typology, the Plateau Tonga case would fall in the category of "independent household production," as opposed to tenancy, sharecropping, serfdom, or other forms also often given the peasant appetation. 1 I would prefer simply to be more specific and descriptive: the Plateau Tonga were primarily rural cultivators engaged in independent household production for most of their subsistence, as well as for limited participation--on disadvantaged terms--in a wider, market-oriented economic system.
I will focus on five main areas in discussing the transformation of the Plateau indigenous economy: (1) population, (2) the effects of labor migration on cultivation, (3) wealth, conversion, and cattle, (4) the adoption of ox-drawn cultivation and transportation, and (5) peasant differentiation.