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The Growth and Collapse of Pacific Island Societies

The Growth and Collapse of Pacific Island Societies: Archaeological and Demographic Perspectives

Patrick V. Kirch
Jean-Louis Rallu
Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    The Growth and Collapse of Pacific Island Societies
    Book Description:

    Were there major population collapses on Pacific Islands following first contact with the West? If so, what were the actual population numbers for islands such as Hawai‘i, Tahiti, or New Caledonia? Is it possible to develop new methods for tracking the long-term histories of island populations? These and related questions are at the heart of this new book, which draws together cutting-edge research by archaeologists, ethnographers, and demographers. In their accounts of exploration, early European voyagers in the Pacific frequently described the teeming populations they encountered on island after island. Yet missionary censuses and later nineteenth-century records often indicate much smaller populations on Pacific Islands, leading many scholars to debunk the explorers’ figures as romantic exaggerations. Recently, the debate over the indigenous populations of the Pacific has intensified, and this book addresses the problem from new perspectives. Rather than rehash old data and arguments about the validity of explorers’ or missionaries’ accounts, the contributors to this volume offer a series of case studies grounded in new empirical data derived from original archaeological fieldwork and from archival historical research. Case studies are presented for the Hawaiian Islands, Mo‘orea, the Marquesas, Tonga, Samoa, the Tokelau Islands, New Caledonia, Aneityum (Vanuatu), and Kosrae.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6476-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Patrick Vinton Kirch and Jean-Louis Rallu
  6. 1 Long-Term Demographic Evolution in the Pacific Islands Issues, Debates, and Challenges
    (pp. 1-14)

    The final decades of the eighteenth century were a time like no other in the history of the Pacific Islands. Although the Manila galleons had been crossing the Pacific with their cargoes of gold, silver, and the diverse riches of the East for some two centuries, and while a few other voyagers (among them Tasman and Schouten and Le Maire) had ventured beyond the narrowly defined Spanish routes, the vast majority of islands in the Pacific had yet to experience “first contact” between indigene and European. The “discovery” of Otaheite (Tahiti) by Captain Wallis of theDolphinin June of...

  7. 2 Pre- and Post-Contact Population in Island Polynesia Can Projections Meet Retrodictions?
    (pp. 15-34)

    From the “rediscovery” of the Pacific Islands by Europeans, the debate has been constant—and sometimes raging—about the size of island populations at the time of contact. These controversies are based on the imprecision of first estimates of large populations by European navigators and on ideological aspects influencing reinterpretation of the numbers given by the only witnesses of contact, in comparison with much smaller populations enumerated in the nineteenth century. Initially, the debate was purely between historians and social anthropologists; demographers later entered the scene, followed by archaeologists. Recently other sciences—mostly biology and environmental science—have brought new...

  8. 3 Demography and Food in Early Polynesia
    (pp. 35-51)

    The study of prehistoric populations relies on heterogeneous and incomplete data—archeological, ethnographic, ecological, historical—that need to be interpreted and integrated using conceptual and analytical models. For the island populations of Polynesia, Kirch (1984, 1994) provides a synthetic summary and model of demographic and cultural evolution over a millennium. This synthesis frames history in a temporal demographic sequence: Founding immigrants begin a period of exponential numerical increase in time and of spatial spread; then follows a confrontation with Malthusian limits that is manifest in expansion into marginal areas and in the slowing or cessation of population increase; the latter...

  9. 4 “Like Shoals of Fish” Archaeology and Population in Pre-Contact Hawai‘i
    (pp. 52-69)

    Just before noon on Sunday, January 17, 1779, Captain James Cook brought the HMSResolutionandDiscoveryinto Kealakekua Bay on the southwestern coast of Hawai‘i Island.¹ Now on his third voyage of discovery in the Pacific and well acquainted with most of the major Polynesian archipelagoes and islands, Cook penned this remark in his journal:

    The Ships very much Crouded with Indians and surrounded by a multitude of Canoes.I have no where in this Sea seen such a number of people assembled at one place, besides those in the Canoes all the Shore of the bay was covered...

  10. 5 Modeling Agricultural Development and Demography in Kohala, Hawai‘i
    (pp. 70-89)

    Population size, density, and changes are often invoked in anthropological interpretations of cultural organization and change (Boserup 1965; Hill et al. 2004; Read and LeBlanc 2003). For archaeologists, measuring prehistoric populations on the basis of archaeological materials represents something of a methodological challenge, since we cannot directly census individuals but must rely upon proxy measures (Hassan 1981; Peterson 1975). Archaeologists have also debated the specific role of population parameters in cultural change—that is, whether they are independent or dependent variables relative to other domains such as subsistence, warfare, and complex social organizations (Cowgill 1975; Read and LeBlanc 2003).


  11. 6 Paleodemography in Kahikinui, Maui An Archaeological Approach
    (pp. 90-107)

    When Captain James Cook arrived at Kealakekua on Hawai‘i Island in January 1779, he and his companions were struck by the multitudes of Hawaiians who filled the bay with their canoes and lined the shores (see Kirch, chapter 4 in this volume). Seven years later, the French explorer Jean-François de Galaup de la Pérouse, in command of the frigatesBoussoleandAstrolabe,was the next European explorer to arrive in the archipelago. His initial experience was quite unlike that of Cook. Deciding to visit Maui rather than Hawai‘i, La Pérouse first passed Hāmoa Point in Hāna and coasted about one...

  12. 7 Reconstructing Hawaiian Population at European Contact Three Regional Case Studies
    (pp. 108-128)

    My research interests have long focused on the development of complex societies in Polynesia and Micronesia (Cordy 1981, 1985b, 1986, 1993, 1996a, 2000), by investigating relevant related variables such as polity territorial size, polity population size, population density, amount of food cultivated and amounts in intensive cultivation vs. extensive cultivation, amount of livestock produced, size of temples, off erings at temples, and so on. Demographic variables are clearly important. A key demographic measurement needed in such research is an estimate of population sizes at European contact. This chapter looks at three regional datasets within the Hawaiian Islands: the districts of...

  13. 8 Pre-Contact Population in the ‘Opunohu Valley, Mo‘orea An Integrated Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Approach
    (pp. 129-159)

    Ellis’ (1831) observation of the Society Islands, only forty-some years after contact, supports the mounting evidence that pre-Contact Pacific Island populations were much larger—and the impact of Western contact more disastrous—than what has traditionally been thought (e.g., Sand 1995, 213–254, 281–309; Spriggs 1997, 253–254; Stannard 1989). Clearly, a detailed assessment of pre-Contact population size in the Society Islands is in order.

    The ‘Opunohu Valley on the island of Mo‘orea has one of the only pre-Contact Society Island settlement patterns that still remains intact, and thus it serves as an ideal locale for investigating pre-Contact population...

  14. 9 Estimating the Population of Hokatu Valley, Ua Huka Island (Marquesas, French Polynesia) According to the Archaeological Remains
    (pp. 160-176)

    An assessment of Marquesan population at different moments in its history (before and after contact with Europeans) is of great interest for understanding the organization of the pre-Contact society and for estimating the drastic impact of post-Contact epidemics on the demography of the archipelago. Several sources, including narrative accounts of European navigators and first censuses by the missionaries and administrators, constitute important historic documents (Rallu 1990). In addition, archaeological remains in the valleys of the Marquesas document their spatial occupation and allow a synchronic approach that may complement the historic data. It is necessary to use specific case studies based...

  15. 10 Archaeological Demography and Population Growth in the Kingdom of Tonga 950 bc to the Historic Era
    (pp. 177-202)

    Considerations of pre-European population size, other aspects of demography, and the methods by which these are measured have long been of concern to Oceanic historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists. As Kirch (2000, 307–313) further asserts, research concerns with potential interest and importance on a global scale are based on an understanding of long-term demographic patterns and principles on islands of the Pacific. In this chapter, I examine the issues and data bearing upon these types of questions in the principal islands of the Tongan archipelago of Western Polynesia. Beginning with the pioneering studies of Gifford (1929) in the 1920s, there...

  16. 11 Protohistoric Samoan Population
    (pp. 203-231)

    Drawing upon reconnaissance surveys of prehistoric and early historic sites throughout Western Samoa and on settlement pattern surveys in selected project areas, archaeologists have demonstrated the territorial extent of former settlement (with fairly continuous occupation) inland from the coastal zone, as well as its antiquity. These patterns furnish an obvious contrast to modern settlement, where the distribution was overwhelmingly coastal. This modern distribution, which we know from historical studies, dates back to the ad 1840 period, although not necessarily earlier. Villages(nu‘u)in the traditional nucleated Samoan pattern that are known to be from this early historical period (from 1840...

  17. 12 An Accent on Atolls in Approaches to Population Histories of Remote Oceania
    (pp. 232-256)

    Atolls, which did not emerge as stable landforms suitable for human habitation until the late Holocene (after sea-level stabilization), represent more recently occupied landforms dispersed across Remote Oceania. High Pacific isles were well populated by communicating groups of settlers before tropical atolls were sought out and transformed into habitable environs for the voyagers whose kin became atoll people. Nonetheless, last need not be least in their contributions to our understanding of population trajectories in Remote Oceania during the decades preceding and encompassing the early European contacts. The primary purpose of this chapter is to accent atoll populations, using the case...

  18. 13 Prehistoric Population Growth on Kosrae, Eastern Caroline Islands
    (pp. 257-277)

    Understanding prehistoric population dynamics, including size and growth rates and their changes over time, without question should be one of the major goals of archaeology. Few archaeologists would dismiss the subject of population dynamics as a major system state variable driving adaptation and the evolution of human cultural systems. Recognition of the fundamental significance of population characteristics (e.g., size and density) to the behavior and ecology of nonhuman biological organisms has been a major theme in ecological literature for a long time (e.g., Kingsland 1985; Turchin 2003). There is no reason to believe that population attributes would be any less...

  19. 14 Population in a Vegetable Kingdom Aneityum Island (Vanuatu) at European Contact in 1830
    (pp. 278-305)

    Aneityum or Anatom (20°10' south latitude, 169°50' east longitude) is the southernmost inhabited island of Vanuatu (Figure 14.1) and is situated within TAFEA Province (an acronym referring to the five main islands of southern Vanuatu: Tanna, Aniwa, Futuna, Erromango, and Aneityum). It is a high island formed from two coalesced Pleistocene volcanoes. It is 160 km² in area, with the highest peak reaching 852 m. The geology is mainly basaltic volcanics with one small area of Pleistocene raised reef and extensive areas of recent alluvium that in part overlie reefal materials laid down just above present sea level in the...

  20. 15 What Were the Real Numbers? The Question of Pre-Contact Population Densities in New Caledonia
    (pp. 306-325)

    For the past century, anthropological studies have emphasized major differences between the western and the eastern Pacific. Relying on ethnographic accounts and a number of field studies, the proposed synthesis has highlighted in Polynesia a series of sophisticated political systems related to chiefdom organizations controlling large populations (Sahlins 1958), whereas Melanesian societies were supposedly structured in less hierarchical and politically looser and egalitarian “Big Man” systems, partly because of low population densities (Sahlins 1963). This “Big Man versus Chief” dichotomy proposed by Sahlins in a landmark paper, although remaining deeply influential, has been criticized through a number of arguments in...

  21. 16 Concluding Remarks Methods, Measures, and Models in Pacific Paleodemography
    (pp. 326-338)

    In the introduction (chapter 1), we canvassed some of the disagreements over estimates of Contact-era populations that have driven debates in Pacific historical demography. The fourteen intervening chapters present a diversity of Pacific Island case studies, along with a variety of theoretical models and methodological approaches aimed at bringing some empirical rigor and new insights to the vexing questions of human population numbers, rates of growth, and severity of demographic collapse following contact with the West. In this concluding chapter, I attempt to draw together some common threads in these contributions, with respect to three major themes: themethodsused...

    (pp. 339-374)
    (pp. 375-376)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 377-391)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 392-392)