Ethnology of Tongareva
The sources of food on an atoll form a marked contrast to those on the richer high volcanic islands. Most of the staple foods of Polynesia have been introduced at one time or another, but high islands, probably because they were more easily sighted by voyagers, received more visitors and thus shared more extensively in the distribution of introduced foods. The pig, the dog, and the fowl, which reached many islands, did not arrive at Tongareva. Wilkes (31, vol. 4, p. 279–280) states, “A bunch of what were apparently cock's feathers was also noticed….. It is believed that they have the domestic fowl among them, from its feathers having been seen as ornaments.” The feathers seen did not belong to the domestic fowl, but to some other bird, probably the man-of-war hawk (Fregata aquila).
On Tongareva none of the common Polynesian cultivated root plants were present, not even the puraka species of taro which grows in Manihiki and Rakahanga. It is difficult, therefore, to understand why Wilkes (31, vol. 4, p. 280) made the statement, “The yam was also observed, but not the taro.” Lamont (15, p. 148) speaks of getting a piece of yam from a woman, but definitely states that it was obtained from their wrecked ship. It is probable that the coconut uto was mistaken for yam by the Wilkes Expedition, for it is quite certain that the yam, taro, and sweet potato did page 107 not grow in Tongareva. In comparatively recent times the puraka has been planted and seems to be thriving. Of the fruit-bearing trees, only the coconut and the hala (Pandanus) were present, and both were traditionally stated to have been introduced by the ancestor Mahuta. Even the none (Morinda citrifolia) which grows wild in Manihiki is absent from Tongareva. For vegetable foods the Tongarevans were restricted to the coconut and the hala.