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The Polynesian expansion across the Pacific: Resources and Environment


The small coral atolls and volcanic outcrops of the tropical Pacific islands provided the Polynesian people with the opportunity to farm and fish for their food. Most Polynesian communities continued to live more from the sea than from the land. But in settling New Zealand the Maori had to adapt to a new climate. They brought with them many of the plant and animal sources they needed to survive, but they also exploited the natural resources of the new land. Read more... [Chapter 8.7]

All Polynesian groups introduced new flora into the lands they settled. Crops such as coconuts, breadfruit, taro and bananas moved eastwards out of Melanesia as people migrated into Polynesia. Some of these were native to south-east Asia or India and had been carried with migrants during the earlier stage of the migration. Read more... [Pg 289]

Climate, Overpopulation and Environment

Around 1400 the Easter Island palm became extinct due to over-harvesting. Its capability to reproduce has become severely limited by the proliferation of rats, introduced by the Islanders when they first arrived, which ate its seeds...The Islanders, no longer with the palm wood needed for canoe building, could no longer make journeys out to sea. Consequently, the consumption of land birds, migratory birds, and molluscs increased. Soon land birds went extinct and migratory bird numbers were severely reduced, thus spelling an end for Easter Island's forests. Read more...

Two Hypotheses

One set of hypotheses, summarized in the book "Collapse", impute deforestation to direct and indirect human behaviour. Humans cleared actively the entire forest and hunted the local fauna until the brink of extinction. In a modified version of the human-impact hypothesis, the colonists were not the main and only culprits of the environmental collapse, but invasive plant or animal species brought by them on the isolated island, which in fierce concurrence with native species caused their rapid decline and extinction.

A second set of hypotheses deal with a possible massive impact of past climate changes, like prolonged droughts, on an already sensible and unstable island environment and society. Read more...

Extinction of native species

Across Polynesia, there was a limited range of land-based foods, apart from the food crops that the migrants brought with them. Some islands were infested with snails and infections, and some had large quantities of flightless birds...These birds did not have any predators before the arrival of humans, and by the sixteenth century, they had been hunted to extinction. Read more... [Pg 287]

Extinction of Moa

One early source of food for the Maori was the moa, a large flightless bird. There were originally 24 species of moa ranging in size from that of a turkey to one that was 3.7 metres high. All moa were herbivores and lived on twigs, shrubs, leaves and tree fruits...The moa were hunted to extinction soon after the arrival of the Maori. Read more...


Rahui is a form of tapu [taboo] that the Maori used to limit resource use. For example, rahui could be imposed over an area to prevent the gathering of food while the land recovered. It helped to conserve limited food supplies and other natural resources. All Maori tribes accepted the principles of rahui. Read more... [Chapter 8.7.4]

One way the Maori managed resources sustainably was through a particular type of tape known as rahui. Rahui involved banning the use of particular environmental resources for a specified time. For example, fishing might be forbidden in a particular lake in order to give the fish a chance to breed, or an area of land was set aside so that plants could recover. Read more... [Pg 363]


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