Wayfinding Women: The Generation of Landscapes and Societies through Female Entrepreneurship

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In the monsoonal archipelago of Eastern Indonesia, the seasonally arid island of Sumba is a very challenging place to live. How do the islanders who live in this region endure the harsh conditions? What economic strategies do islanders pursue to ensure their survival? This paper seeks to gain a better understanding of exchange activities among indigenous women and girls on the island of Sumba in Eastern Indonesia. Women entrepreneurs on Sumba produce and process natural products and handicrafts. Women work together with their kin and allies — in groups composed, for instance, of mothers, daughters, nieces and sister-in-laws — to create value, to produce tradable goods and to generate income in a limited environment. Sumbanese women exchange products informally among one another, formally with buyers who pass through their hamlets on trading excursions, and as vendors in biweekly marketplaces. This paper discusses female entrepreneurship in open-air markets and describes the characteristics of the female driven natural products and craft trades on Sumba. Ethnographic data are presented about the locations where trade objects are produced, processed and exchanged and these data are used to map the movements of female entrepreneurs through the island landscape. Geographic maps of entrepreneurs’ movements are the basis for an evaluation of the connections between exchange-driven wayfinding and the production of identities, social networks and landscapes. Evaluations of the wayfinding practices of women entrepreneurs reveal the power women have to form economic systems and ethnic identities.