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The Atoll of Funafuti, Ellice group : its zoology, botany, ethnology and general structure based on collections made by Charles Hedley of the Australian Museum, Sydney, N.S.W.



Landed property is here of three species; the town allotment or stand of a hut in the village street, the bush land planted with coconuts, and the garden land. The culture of the coconut, pandanus, and paper mulberry has been noticed under the preceding section on Vegetation. The whole chain of islets is parcelled out, usually divided by lines running across from ocean to lagoon, which boundary lines are strictly preserved. Considerable disparity of wealth exists, some families owning as page 61many as forty blocks, others but a single piece of land. In the past overtures for selling or leasing the coconut lands to copra traders were steadfastly resisted by the natives, and under British rule the title is inalienably vested* in them. Parents sometimes divide their estate to provide for their married children. Lands pass by will on the owner's death; instances have occurred where relatives have been cut off with the proverbial shilling, and being left to starve have been supported by public charity.

A space of about ten or twelve acres south of the Mangrove Swamp is occupied by the gardens, which in former times, when the population was more numerous, covered a larger area. The gardens are in excavations six or eight feet deep, the object of excavation being to reach the level of permanent swamp. At Nukulailai, where I saw the cultivation ground being enlarged, the natives were digging down ten or twelve feet. The gardens are irregularly divided into blocks of a couple of acres or more by embankments, which represent the original level of the land, and are three or four yards in breadth. These serve as paths, and are usually planted with Artocarpus, Thespesia, or Hibiscus.

Each family has at least one plot of garden land, and most have more, a plot may be as small as ten paces square. The plots of one owner are not necessarily contiguous, nor are the lands of various owners divided from each other by any boundary visible to a stranger.

The wooden shovel or turtle shell hoe of the past is now replaced by metal bladed spades, and these are their only agricultural implement. Like all semi-civilised people the Ellice Islanders keep their gardens beautifully free from weeds. An analysis of the soil from one of their gardens by my colleague, Dr. Cooksey, follows in another Section. The appearance of phosphate of lime I am unable to account for. The only system of manuring I observed was that of twisting palm leaves in a wreath, and laying them around the roots of the brokka, in a basin thus made were buried basketfuls of leaves of various bush trees gathered by the women,

The staple vegetable food of the Funafuti Islanders is furnished by the Alocasia indica, Schott, known to them as "brokka." It is said to require from six to eight years to reach maturity,

* By Proclamation in The Fiji Royal Gazette, 5th Sept., 1894.

Cultivation on Funafuti is also described by Whitmee—A Missionary Cruise, 1871, p. 12.

In the Hervey Islands (Gill—The South Pacific and New Guinea, 1892, p. 10) it is called "kape." Some writers refer to it as Puraka. Guppy (Trans. Vic. Inst., 1896) quotes numerous other names from the Pacific and Indian Ocean.

page 62when the leaves attain a height of twelve or fifteen feet, and the flower stalk six or seven, the root, a greater load than a man can carry, is then about four feet long and twenty inches in diameter. As the plant grows the root is "hilled up" to two or three feet. It is generally harvested about a year after planting, before it has attained the full size. The tuber is hard and unpalatable to Europeans, when cooked it looked to me like brown soap. The Islanders preserve it cooked and packed in coconut shells. At the time of our visit a quantity of brokka so prepared was collected to send to a Native Teacher on one of the Gilbert Islands where a famine was then occurring. Dr. Seemann thus describes this plant in Fiji: "The Via Mila, always growing in swamps, is a gigantic species, often twelve feet high, the trunk or corm of which—the edible part—is when fully developed, as large as a man's leg, a single leaf weighing three and a half pounds. The petiole was found to be four feet long, and ten inches in circumference at the base; the blade of the leaf three feet two inches long, two feet six inches broad, and thirteen feet six inches in circumference. The plant emits a nauseous smell, amply warning, as well as the various popular names it bears, against any incautious contact with it. Besides the name of Via mila, which signifies "acrid Via," we have that of Via gaga or poisonous Via. What may be the meaning of Via seri and Dranu, occasionally applied to it, I have not been able to find out. In order to remove the acrid properties, the trunk is baked, or first grated and then treated as madrai, or bread; yet, notwithstanding all precautions, the natives are frequently ill from eating it."*

With the brokka is planted the "taro" or "talo," as is indifferently called the Colocasia antiquorum, var. esculenta, of Botanists. Two varieties are distinguished, one with a green another with a red petiole. The leaves are cooked and remind a European of spinach, and the root is roasted or grated as in general use throughout the Pacific.

Besides brokka and taro there are two other species of aroids, "Ikamakini" and "Ikourourou," which I have not been able to identify botanically. I commend to future travellers the importance of ascertaining exactly the species of aroids cultivated in Polynesia.

Other varieties of these in cultivation, which have probably been introduced during the present generation from the Gilbert Islands via Nui or Vaitupu, are "Ikoroa," "Kairoro," "Ikamava," and "Teioumai."

Bananas (Musa sapientium) were planted by the natives in the ground excavated to grow brokka. These low lying swamps

* Seemann—Flora Vitiensis, 1863-73, p. 286.

page 63do not agree with the constitution of this plant, which never here attains ordinary height and thickness, and the yield was but a few meagre bunches. On the north-eastern islet there is a plantation on red soil and dry ground, and the bananas here grow more vigorously. In the old time but three varieties were known, the "Sai," "Fungiotagnia," and the "Ngiangia." Of later introduction are the "Fouamouarounga," "Butta," "Tamatamilema," "Fungipalangi" (lit. white man's banana), and "Fouamoualara." That the natives should plant bananas in the swamp suggests that their acquaintance with brokka preceded their knowledge of bananas. The people of Nukufetau possessed no bananas at the time of the visit of the "Peacock," but they recognised some they saw on board as "futi o rotuma."*

An avenue of breadfruit (Artocarpus incisus) runs down the length of the village street, whose well grown, leafy and symmetrical trees about forty feet in height add greatly to the beauty of the landscape. A few are also planted on the embankments that separate the fields of brokka, but these are straggling trees with small, scanty foliage, and generally unhealthy in appearance. I was shown by Mr. O'Brien a fruit of another variety introduced from the Gilberts, which he called jackfruit. The leaf I did not see, but I do not think that this Gilbert Island tree was A. integrifolia, or I should have detected its presence on the Island by its familiar leaf.

A recent addition from Fiji to the stock of cultivated plants is the sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum), which the natives have not yet learned how to grow properly. Instead of planting joints to propagate the species, a whole cane was sacrificed. The sandy soil yields poor, thin rattoons.

A few trees of Pawpaw (Carica papaya) planted by the Samoan Mission Teacher near his house, presented a healthy appearance.

* Wilkes—loc. cit., v., p. 45.