5 - Subsistence  pp. 120-142


By Patrick Vinton Kirch and Roger C. Green

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The immediate plant origins of the most important cultigens, the starch-producing staples … demonstrates three major characteristics of Oceanic agricultures: 1. Their derivative natures … 2. The importance of vegetative reproduction in the plant roster. 3. Arboriculture as a significant part of subsistence patterns.

yen 1973:70

We have seen that the PPN speakers indexed their biotic world with a rich and complex terminology for plants, birds, shellfish, fish, and other life forms. On these ecologically varied low and high islands extending along the Tonga–Samoa lineament, they created distinctive modes of food production and extraction. How might one reconstruct the subsistence economy of Ancestral Polynesia, applying the triangulation method? In triangulation it is not necessary to always privilege linguistic evidence. A well-developed tradition of ethnobotanical research within Polynesia and Oceania – one thinks of Merrill (1954), Barrau (1965a, 1965b), and Yen (1971, 1973, 1991) – has long sought to reconstruct ancient forms of Oceanic cultivation and food production. More recently, historical linguists such as French-Wright (1983), Ross (1996a), and Osmond (1998) have concerned themselves with the reconstruction of Oceanic crop plant and horticultural terminologies, although this has been primarily at the POC rather than PPN level.

For fishing and marine exploitation, a similarly long tradition of comparative ethnography includes the works of Beasley (1928), Anell (1955), Reinman (1967), and others, supplemented by studies of fishing gear incorporated within many of the museum ethnographies of the 1920s–1940s (e.g., Hiroa 1930, 1944; Beaglehole and Beaglehole 1938).