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Tikopia of Melansia

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Tikopia of Melanesia

Tikopia is a remote, isolated approximately six square mile island, made from a remnant of an extinct volcano and is located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It is an almost circular island with steep hilly terrain surrounding a fresh water crater lake and has a small flat coastal plain that supports the inhabitants. The Tikopia of Melanesia is one of the eighteen societies known collectively as the Polynesian Outliers. The population is approximately twelve hundred and in earlier times Tikopia had a strict reproductive policy that included the use of celibacy and infanticide. The inhabitants are Polynesians and their language, Tikopian, is a member of the Samoic branch of the Polynesian languages. Historically, until the mid 1950's, the Tikopia people occupied only this island. After that, stimulated by the pressure of the population on the food supply and Tikopians wanting to experience the outside world, they have since been settling in groups elsewhere in the Solomon Islands. This paper will discuss some of the culture of the Tikopia people that has allowed them to survive and keep their culture intact on this tiny isolated island for over three thousand years.

Tikopia is primarily an agricultural and fishing society in which crops such as yams, taro, manioc, sago, pulaka, breadfruit, bananas, coconuts, and tobacco are harvested for survival. Their agricultural practices are strongly tied to their population control and density; around 1600 A.D. the people agreed to have all of the pigs slaughtered on the islands because it was felt that those animals ate too much food that was needed for the people. Fishing was replaced as the source of protein for this island. Fishing is done primarily by the use of line or net fishing with the use of canoes, or by collecting fish in the nets by the many reefs. "The Tikopia way of farming uses a method referred to as the "slash and burn" method and planting is done with digging stick tools." ( There is also evidence that sporadic trade amongst others islands was conducted to gain other materials. Trade with Western visitors was historically by barter: steel tools, fishhooks, calico and tobacco were sought in exchange for local artifacts and food. Today, the Tikopia people freely use money, even in some transactions on their island. Tikopians constructed canoes to do their travel, which can be dangerous and deadly to other islands in their vicinity.

All of the land in Tikopia is divided into orchards of palms and fruit trees and into open gardens which are marked off into plots for annual planting. Every orchard and garden plot is owned as of ancestral right by a distinct lineal group, with supreme rights being held by a clan chief. Within each lineage, rights to produce on the land are held by the individual cultivators. Ancient custom states that vacant garden lands may be used by other than its owners in return for a payment of a percentage of the crop harvested. Rarely a clan chief would give land to a daughter on her marriage. All of Tikopia is owned then and now only by Tikopia people.

New Zealand anthropologist, Raymond Firth, who lived in Tikopia in 1928 and 1929 and revisited in 1950 and 1957, detailed the social life of Tikopia at the time. He described the society as one that was divided geographically into two zones and was further divided into four clans. Four chiefs reign over the four clans among the island of Tikopia and another small island, Anuta, where they hold court in their huts. Each clan is a collection of approximately six lineages and is headed by a hereditary chief. In the past, Tikopia chiefs held absolute power over their people and now as in the past are treated with respect and seen as sacred. In the past, clan chiefs only married within their own class, nowadays marriage between commoners and chiefs is common. Until earlier in the present century, all of Tikopia was pagan, believing in spirit gods. The aboriginal Tikopian religious system was oriented around rituals for various ancestors and gods, with the aim of obtaining such ends as favorable weather, crop productivity, success in fishing, and the curing of illness.

The core of the Tikopia domestic unit is a husband, wife and children. Sometimes a household might also contain additional kin such as an elderly widowed mother, and unmarried sister or brother, or a foster child from an affiliated allied kin group. Today, Tikopia marriage is solemnized by a religious service in a Christian church. Traditionally, it was initiated by the elopement or abduction of a woman from her father's house to that of her chosen or self-elected husband. As in the past, the marriage arrangement is an elaborate series of exchanges of food and other property between the lineages of bride and groom, occupying several days. The bride commonly goes to live with her husband, either in his parents' house or in a new dwelling adjacent to theirs. Polygyny was and still is permissible with men of higher rank often having more than one wife; however women were always limited to one husband. Sexual freedom before marriage was allowed by both sexes, divorce was very rare. Adultery by married women was rare; infidelity by married men often elicited a violent reaction from his wife. Social control by public opinion is very strong in Tikopia. Although children are raised permissively, children are aware of the discipline of their parents and are also trained by other kin group and by peer group association. In the past, education was done on the island, nowadays children go abroad for education and are exposed to a wide range of cultures and other influences. Major property for example: land, canoes, houses, and house sites are inherited patrilineally, with the eldest son acting as the main controller and his siblings sharing in rights of use and residence.

Men do woodwork and go sea fishing in canoes while women do domestic work. Adjacent, kin related domestic units may share in the preparation of meals, using a common oven house which is tended to by both sexes. Both men and women fish the reef, men with spears and seine nets, women with hand nets. In agriculture, men do the heavy work of breaking up the soil, both men and women plant, but the women do most of the weeding. Tikopia men practiced crafts of canoe building and other woodwork, net making, and extraction of turmeric pigment, while women wove mats of coconut-palm leaf and pandanus leaf and beat out from the inner bark of a tree, the bark-cloth garments and blankets are used by both men and women. Men alone could be priests in the traditional religion. Archaeological and ethnographic records indicate that since archaic times Tikopia residents have engaged in sporadic trading with



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