Cultivating an ecological and social balance: Elite demands and commoner knowledge in ancient Ma‘ohi agriculture, Society Islands

Date and Time: 
Thursday, 5 May, 2011 - 16:45 to 17:00
LEPOFSKY, Dana - Simon Fraser Univeristy
Jennifer Kahn - Bishop Museum

Anthropological views of past human-environmental interactions are influenced by the data sets used and the subjects of study. In this presentation, we seek a balanced view of ancient human-environmental interactions in the Society Islands. We explore the social and ecological contexts of agricultural production by incorporating archaeological and ethnographic data as well as the motivations and actions of Ma‘ohi elites and commoners. Both the elite and commoners contributed to long-term agricultural productivity. The elite did so through periodic restrictions on harvesting; the farmers contributed ecological knowledge acquired through generations of on the ground experience. Our examination of the archaeological remains of agricultural systems in the ‘Opunohu Valley indicates that the roles of elite and commoner played out differently depending on their social-spatial proximity.  By refocusing our analyses on all players in the production system, a more nuanced understanding of the range of ancient environmental and social interactions emerges.