Tortoiseshell, an important article of commerce, is derived from the Thalassochelys caretta, a sea turtle.
The exports are mahogany, rosewood, cedar, logwood and other cabinet-woods and dye-woods, with cocoanuts, sugar, sarsaparilla, tortoiseshell, deerskins, turtles and fruit, especially bananas.
The cultivated products include coffee, the Coco-nut palm, tobacco, sugar-cane, cotton, vanilla, sorghum, earthnuts, sesame, maize, rice, beans, peas, bananas (in large quantities), yams, manioc and hemp. Animal products are ivory, hides, tortoiseshell and pearls.
Whalers, sealers and traders followed in the wake of explorers, the traders dealing chiefly in copra, trepang, pearls, tortoiseshell, &c. The first actual settlers in the islands were largely men of bad character - deserting sailors, escapers from the penal settlements in Australia and others.
The exports, which comprise coffee, bananas, cocoa, cabinet-woods and dye-woods, with hides and skins, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell and gold, were officially valued at £1,398,000 in 1904; and in the same year the imports, including foodstuffs, dry goods and hardware, were valued at £1,229,000.
Fishing for the tortoiseshell turtle gives employment to a large number of natives in the season, and considerable quantities of the shell are exported.
The turtle is also found, the carapace being exported as tortoiseshell, the animal being gently roasted or boiled alive over a slow fire to facilitate the separation of the shell from the flesh.
The produce of the Eastern Islands is also collected at its ports for re-exportation to India, China and Europe - namely, gold-dust, diamonds, camphor, benzoin and other drugs; edible bird-nests, trepang, rattans, beeswax, tortoiseshell, and dyeing woods from Borneo and Sumatra; tin from Banka; spices from the Moluccas; fine cloths from Celebes and Bali; and pepper from Sumatra.