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Rotuma island, Fiji

Rotuma is an isolated volcanic island to the north-north-west of the Fiji group, with fertile, well-drained basaltic soils, an area of some 45 sq km, and a population of around 3,000. The majority of its indigenous Polynesian people (approximately 5,000) have emigrated to the main Fiji group, thus relieving pressure on Rotuman land.

Ecologically, Rotuma illustrates the human ability to design with Nature to create productive and sustainable agroforestry. The dominant staples - yams, Colocasia, Xanthosoma, and Alocasia taros, cassava, and a wide range of banana cultivars - are grown in a shifting system, with old gardens having been so commonly planted with coconuts, breadfruit, oranges, and other trees that most of the island

Table 6 Sampling frequency of mature tree species from 40 sites along a 2-km transect on Rotuma island, F'iji (bananas or plantains [Musa spp.] and papaya [Carica papaya], which were very abundant, have been excluded) appears to be part of a giant plantation - but decidedly a polycultural plantation, with many other useful trees interspersed with the coconuts, and small groves of secondary forest containing both indigenous and exotic species of great cultural utility. In order to convey an image of the orchard-like character of Rotuma's agricultural landscape, data collected on a 2-km transect are summarized in table 6. The transect was run from the coast inland along a line close to the trans island road. The survey technique used enabled 120 trees to be identified at 40 sampling points. Aside from the very common Musa cultivars and papaya, which were excluded from the sample, only 19 species of trees were identified. This uniformity, when contrasted with the greater diversity recorded in more comprehensive botanical studies of the entire island and of secondary forest groves, demonstrates how what would have been a considerably greater natural diversity has been transformed into a quasi-orchard, a sort of tamed forest of mostly useful trees. Only about a quarter of the trees recorded had grown spontaneously; the rest had been planted.

Botanical name (Rofuman; common names) Frequency Comments
Cocos nucifera (niu; coconut) 58 The coconut trees provide Rotuma's major export (copra) as well as a variety of materials and several nutritious additions to the Rotuman diet; planted and volunteer.
Artocarpus altilis ('ulu, ulu; breadfruit) 43 Major seasonal staple prepared and eaten in a variety of ways; made into traditional pudding or dessert, fekei; trunk favoured for canoes; medicinal;


Morinda citrifolia (ura; beach mulberry) 38 Small fruits pounded and mixed with water for children's cough syrup; leaves soaked in oil to put on boils; spontaneous volunteer; fruit eaten by older persons.
Citrus sinesis (mori; orange) 15 Plantings of the famous Rotuman orange - highly esteemed in Suva - have increased in recent years as demand for their export has grown; also used in renowned Rotuman "orange wine"; planted occasionally, usually spontaneous.
Inocarpus fagifer (ifi, Tahitian chestnut) 13 Frequently used as a boundary marker; edible seed; planted and spontaneous.
Macaranga spp. (sa'a) 10 Sometimes planted by seedling near houses; light wood used for canoes and house flooring; good firewood; medicinal use; spontaneous in fallow lands.
Hibiscus tiliaceus(hau; beach hibiscus) 8 The pan-Pacific beach hibiscus; traditionally an important fibre plant; important medicinally; spontaneous, occasionally planted.
Flacourfia rukum (firmoto; governor's plum) 5 A very abundant spontaneous naturalized tree in the forest, along roads, and in coconut plantations; wood used forhouse and fence posts and fuel; fruit eaten.
Mangifera indica(mago; mango) 5 Common tree; nutritious fruit; good firewood.
Pometia pinnata (fao, fava; oceanic Iychee) 5 Fruit eaten; excellent firewood and good timber; medicinal value.
Ceiba pentandra (sipi; kapok) 5 Silk cotton used for stuffing pillows and mattresses; occasionally used as a living fence; planted.
Spondias dulcis (vi; Polynesian plum) 5 Planted around houses for its delicious fruit; said to be spontaneous in the interior and in plantations.
Citrus hystrix (rough lemon, kaffir lime) 5 Fruit important for making drinks, spicing food, and marinading sea food; leaves used medicinally and in herbal teas; planted and spontaneous.
Pandanus sp. (sa'aga) 3 Planted for leaves, which are used to make fine white mats.
Psidium gunjava (guava) 3 Fruit a nutritious seasonal snack food; leaves medicinal; excellent firewood; spontaneous.
Theabroma cacoa (cocoa) 3 Cocoa, tried as an export crop, is not presently harvested; pulp surrounding seed eaten as a snack food; planted.
Pipturus argenteus (armea) 3 Wood, which is strong but light, is used for canoe paddles.
Swietenia macrophylla (ai hapa; mahogany) 3 A recent introduction; timber tree.
Erythrina orientalis (ratu'a; coral tree) 3 Planted as a boundary marker and living fence; used medicinally.
Metroxylon vitiense (ota; sago) 3 Planted for the thatch; starch from trunk used occasionally in puddings.

Other important tree species found in reconnaissance surveys of active garden areas, various stages of fallow vegetation, and protected secondary forest stands included Dracontomelon vitiense, Terminalia catappa, Elaeocarpus grandis, Syzygium spp., Sterculia fanaiho, Gardenia fijiensis, Diospyros spp., Dysoxylum spp., Intsia bijuga, and Neonauclea forsteri.

Closely connected with Rotuman agroforestry is the pig-rearing system, wherein the animals are kept in large communal stone-walled enclosures located separately from garden lands in protected secondary forest stands, often between villages and inland gardens. Trees provide much of the pig food, notably coconuts and the abundant papaya. Also of great abundance are a wide range of banana and plantain (Musa) cultivars, including the mountain banana (Musa troglodytarum), which are eaten both green as a starch, and also ripe as a fruit and in a variety of puddings. It has been suggested that banana cultivars may, along with Colocasia taro and cassava, be among the most universally important staple food crops in the Pacific (Thaman 1987). The diversity of banana cultivars (about eight) and their many uses on Rotuma bear this out.

Although it is difficult for an outsider - particularly if a whistle-stop central planner, let alone a trained botanical researcher - to inventory or fully to comprehend the Rotuman agroforestry system, it clearly contains much diversity in species and cultivars and contributes much that is of cultural, economic, and ecological utility. Although much of Rotuma's landscape is forested, it is a much modified landscape, laced with planted or preserved trees and designed to meet human needs. After their fieldwork on the island, Thaman and Clarke (1987) commented that walking through Rotuman forests is- appropriate changes being made - not unlike strolling in the gardens of Versailles, except that the Rotuman land use is so much more productive of foods and useful materials.

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