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Maenge gardens

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Françoise Panoff

Chapter 2. Maenge treatment of domesticates

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1Following Conklin’s definition (1957: 44), I call domesticates “all plants which may be, and at least sometimes are, artificially propagated”. Cultivates are those plants “which require some form of special treatment (cultivation) between planting and harvesting but which do not necessarily require artificial propagation to survive”. Cultigens “are fully dependent on man for survival”. Semi-domesticates are protected, for instance when weeding or burning.

The status of horticulture among the Maenge

2The Maenge are primarily gardeners. Their main crop has traditionally been taro (Colocasia esculenta) while yams (Dioscorea esculenta and Dioscorea alata) have played a marginal part in their diet. Today, other staples replace taro more and more: sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) and “Chinese taro” (Xanthosoma sagittifolium). Horticulture is still the main economic activity since cash-cropping is not greatly developed. Other traditional activities such as string and net making, the manufacture and decoration of shields, masks, weapons and ornaments, and the preparation of bark cloth, have either disappeared or occur only occasionally. Together with house and canoe building, which have been much modified, horticulture remains one of the most important features of traditional life. A nuclear family spends an average of 20 hours per week in its gardens, about seven or eight hours for males and 12 or 13 hours for females. These figures correspond roughly to those found by Waddell and Krinks (1968) in their study of two Orokaiva villages.

3Pig rearing was never an important activity among the Maenge. Today, one finds just a few adult pigs in each village. In 1967, there were only three adult pigs in Malakuru village (97 inhabitants), 4 in Ngavale (185 inhabitants) and 6 in Parole (123 inhabitants). Their flesh is consumed on festive days. The highest number of pigs recorded to have been killed at one feast was 10. Fishing and hunting are less important today than they were in the past. The Maenge have ceased hunting pigs with nets. Nowadays, they only fish once a week, if that, while in the past they fished every four or five days. Women and children gather crabs and shellfish on Thursdays and Sundays. While there is a known protein deficiency, the people on the coast exhibit no sign of malnutrition, unlike the mountain people.

4It is reckoned that the introduction of steel axes has resulted in a 66% to 75% time-gain, as work could be done three or four times faster than in the past (Salisbury, 1962). This change has mainly benefitted men. It must also be noted that this reduction in work-time concerns only a limited number of tasks such as felling trees to make a new garden, build a house or maybe when seeking firewood. Figure 1 shows shell and stone tools traditionally used by the Maenge. Waddell and Krinks (1968) underline that the time thus gained is already utilised by external agents, such as the Mission and the Australian Administration.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Lucinidae shell and oyster shell used by the Maenge as gardening tools.

Adze blades and polishing stone used by the Maenge.

5Nowadays, an ordinary week in the Maenge area is organized as follows: on Monday and Wednesday mornings, communal work is done for the Mission and the Administration. For the most part, this means clearing the paths, village sites and mission grounds. Sometimes, as in Matong, on Wednesdays communal work is done on the so-called “Mission Plantations”, that is the plantations on Mission grounds, the income from which is used for developing local schools and churches. Work on subsistence gardens is done on Thursdays and Sundays. This proves sufficient, however, for a population which no longer desires to make the large ceremonial gardens that were made immediately after the introduction of steel axes. Everyone knows that if a food shortage occurs, rice can be bought from the local stores. On Friday mornings, communal work is done in the cargo cult gardens. This can rarely be reckoned to be productive work, since villagers are reluctant to abandon the sites where the first “Koriam’s gardens” were made and nothing can be grown there. In a few villages, like Pakia, Pomio or Matong, other collective gardens are made, but they do not always involve the whole population.

6In the past, beautiful gardens and good crops were the necessary conditions for social success. Success in gardening openly demonstrated the efficiency of one’s magic and, in the case of the “Fathers of the Village” and other leaders, their ability to recruit supporters. Leaders were proud of their physical strength and underlined that, thanks to it, they had been capable to open large gardens. Old leaders lament the loss of their strength on which their fame partly rested. Food was displayed and distributed in all the major events of social life, marriages, rites of passage, erection of men’s houses, ceremonies connected with the death of a big-man, the birth and various episodes in the life of the eldest child of a “Father of the Village”. A person unable to get help from the community and deprived of the secret knowledge necessary to produce good crops was condemned to lead a marginal life. This was the lot of the “orphan” (kokone), the antithesis of the “Father of the Village”. While an “orphan” depended on other persons to be fed, a “Father of the Village” had to have large and numerous gardens to entertain his guests.

7Gardening, as practised by the Maenge, offers other satisfaction than social approval and status. A garden must have aesthetic qualities and great care is taken in planning and adorning it, as shall be seen later. Apart from edible plants, one finds in gardens some so-called ornamental plants, which play an important part in various techniques, in medicine and magic. In many pages of his book Coral Gardens (1935), Malinowski noted the pleasure that the Trobrianders took in beautiful gardens. Anderson (1952) also emphasized the part played by ornamentals in the genesis of domestication. In studying Maenge gardens, one cannot neglect this aspect nor the intellectual pleasure that gardening, as practised by the Maenge, offers.

8A garden is a laboratory where experiments are going on, either on recently introduced cultigens or on new cultivars of traditional cultigens. New cultivars are constantly being introduced either from neighbouring villages or tribes, if not from the Rabaul market. People rarely travel without bringing back some new plants with which to enrich their collection. In Pakia, at the beginning of 1960, Piteso had just acquired a new taro cultivar, which a neighbour had found as a seedling in the forest. Piteso had planted it at the limit of the cult ceremonial garden and was watching the growth of the plant with care. How the Maenge view “domestication” will be described later. Piteso wanted to know how quickly the plant would lose its unpleasant taste and become edible. In the village, at the same time, the women were eager to acquire a new taro cultivar brought back from the Kol area and therefore called “Ponge”, the word that the Longueinga use to refer to the Kol. Their own collections were already large enough: in a single garden, one could find 25 to 40 different varieties of taro. Cultivars are sometimes given the name of the area from which they have been introduced. For example, the cordyline Lote cv. from the Lote country, to the west of the Maenge, or the sweet potato cultivar called Arawe. When Kelatape from Malakuru, who belonged to a branch of the Lengelenge clan, originating from a village near Matong, offered to her friends in the village a cordyline named Magelegele, they called it “Magelegele a Sulka”, since it came from the Sulka area. Kaeliuna, the “Father of the Village” and luluai of Pomio, would recall with pleasure the day when he acquired a taro he called Passismanua, the name of the census division, near Kandrian, whence it came. Local policemen had brought it back from a patrol there and when they stopped a few days in Pomio, Kaeliuna begged them to give him one of the taro they had brought with them. His friend, the paramount luluai Golopage, from the nearby village of Sali, was there too and received another taro top. That of Kaeliuna did very well but Golopage’s perished. Kaeliuna’s joy was succeeded by a moment of rage when, a few years later, one of his now numerous Passismanua taro was stolen by his wife’s envious sister. A collection must be large but one must watch over it carefully.

9The size of the collection is probably a defense against famine, as cultivars may resist in various ways to the different soil, rain and sun conditions. The pleasure of diversifying a monotonous diet is also an important factor, as taro cultivars offer various tastes and textures. One should not however underrate the pleasure felt by these collectors when adding a rare or so far unknown item to their collections.

10Gardens are not only storing places where edible and nonedible cultigens are grown; they are also sanctuaries, since even in ordinary subsistence gardens, ancestors’ spirits are present, if the necessary formulae are recited. Apart from the ancestors, mythological characters are supposed to appear in ceremonial gardens that are the foci of elaborate rites. A myth which tells of the actions of the two main mythological figures, Nutu e sina and Nutu e volau, underlines the fact that horticulture is considered by the Maenge to be their foremost craft. The myth is built around the rivalry of these two figures: Nutu e sina is the clever one and Nutu e volau the foolish one. It depicts how Nutu e sina laid down the most important features of Maenge technological and ritual life. The myth starts with the building of a men’s house and the preparation of the masked dance, then proceeds to the origin of the canoe and the mono, the boat made with sawn planks (still found among the Sulka) to finally deal with gardening. Following the myth, when Nutu e sina had finished building his mono, he asked Nutu e volau’s wives to come into it, then piled into the boat all the edible plants and disappeared beyond the horizon, leaving Nutu e volau and his followers to plant and eat some inedible plants. These are sometimes close relatives of the cultivated ones, and Nutu e volau called them by the name of the real cultivated plants, thus deceiving his followers. They ate a wild Colocasia sp. instead of Colocasia esculenta, the fruits of an Heliconia sp. instead of those of Musa sapientum, the fruits of Quassia indica instead of those of Inocarpus fagifer, the almonds of Canarium cf. schlechteri instead of those of the Canarium commune, the fruits of Melodinus acutiflorus instead of those of Cocos nucifera, etc. One should note that many of these wild species bear names that are simply formed by reduplication, a common practice in Melanesia (see Codrington 1885: 147): mao and mamao, puri and puripuri, ipi and ipiipi, kangali and kangaligali, a proof that these people arrived in their actual habitat with their cultivated plants. Another interesting feature of this list is that, together with the edible plants, inedible plants are named, such as the cordyline, that plays such an important part in Maenge culture. The list, which differs slightly from one version to another, points to those plants that are culturally significant for the Maenge. The yams are absent from all versions. They may have been introduced quite late in the area. Of course, there is never any mention of sweet potato.

11One day, Nutu e sina came back and discovered the poor conditions in which Nutu e volau and his people lived. He decided to bring back all the cultivated plants. When he brought them back, he had not only to show to these people what the real cultivated plants were but also how to chew betel nut with the proper ingredients and to kill pigs. On his arrival, they were about to kill their own children, whom they mistook for pigs. He also showed them which of the wild plants they should look for in times of scarcity and, before leaving the village, he taught an orphan garden magic. The child, however, was to be killed by Nutu e volau, and with him his powerful magic disappeared. As will be seen later, the magic performed today is but a pale imitation of that taught by Nutu e sina.

12In the myth, gathering thus appears as a necessary complement to horticulture. Wild yams are abundant in the Maenge environment, especially the wild Dioscorea esculenta – more species are present but they have not been identified. I was told that eating taro was not enough to introduce me to Maenge culture and that I had to taste the wild Dioscorea esculenta if I wanted to know anything about it. Some of these yams are collected when walking and given to pigs. This is also the case with Pueraria lobata, found in areas near gardens in the mountains. On the coast, in times of famine people would resort to eat the ovules of Cycas rumphii, which must be soaked for several days before becoming edible; the pith of Caryota rumphiana, the seeds of Gnetum latifolium, the fibres of a Cyathea sp. The mountain people would resort mainly to the wild yams and to the acorns of Castanopsis acuminatissima. The part played by these plants in a remote past has been discussed by Barrau (1965), and, in the case of Pueraria lobata, by Watson (1965a, 1965b), Bowers (1964) and M. Strathern (1969). One should not forget that a few decades ago, they were important in the local diet. Today, the Maenge still pick the fruit of semi-domesticates such as: Parartocarpus venenosus, Pometia pinnata, Pangium edule, Spondias dulcis, and of non-domesticates such as Sterculia sp., Gnetum gnemom, Ficus hispida, Ficus subcongesta, Ficus arfakensis and Trichosantes spp., and others, as shown in Table IV.

Table IV: Semi-domesticates resorted to either during famine periods or in normal circumstances

Caryota rumphiana

oto

Castanopsis acuminatissima

more

Cyathea sp.

matele

Cycas rumphii

pago

Dioscorea esculenta

voiso

Dioscorea sp.

momolisi

Dioscorea sp.

melu

Dioscorea sp.

masale

Pangium edule

mangini

Parartocarpus venenosus

ivo

Pometia pinnata

taua

Pueraria lobata

pakua

Spondias dulcis

kuli

13To return to the myth, for the Maenge mind, both cannibalism and the dependence upon mythical delusions are clearly two facets of the same state of ignorance, whereas it is horticulture, supported by magic, which brought enlightenment to humankind. In the next pages, we shall see to what point of perfection the Maenge have brought their traditional taro gardens before discussing their knowledge of cultivated plants and the ways in which rites are performed in gardens.

The characteristics of Maenge shifting cultivation

14Maenge horticulture falls into the category described by Conklin (1957: 3) as “established swidden farming, where tree crops are abundant and relatively little or no climax vegetation is cleared annually”. In Matong, in January 1970, gardens made in climax forest represented 12% of the total planted area. They were quite a long way from the village site (see gardens 4 and 7 on Map 6). Small pockets are cleared each year in spots that are thought to be the abode of evil spirits. People are reluctant to make gardens there; when a child became ill in January 1970, his mother thought that this was because he had been given taro grown in those spots. Patches of climax forest are usually found alongside main paths and this advantage is the reason why, finally, villagers abandon their fear and clear them. Thus, the “sacred groves”, which Anderson (1952) considers to be a useful reserve of seeds helping in the reforestation of fallow gardens, will progressively disappear. Tree crops are found mostly on village sites, alongside paths and in fallow gardens. On the site of Matong village, approximately one thousand trees are found on a belt that corresponds to two thirds of the village site (2 acres out of the 3 acres of the village site). A list of these trees is provided in Table V. With regards to cultivation and crops, Maenge cultivation is closest to that of Busama among the five cases studied by the New Guinea Nutrition Survey Expedition (Conroy and Bridgland 1950: 79-87), and with the predominance of taro cultivation it resembles the case discussed by Barrau (1958) as typical of cultivation done in rainforest areas.

  • 13 See Appendix II for soil sample data listed by garden number.

Map 6. Matong: the village territory and location of gardens in January 197013

Map 6. Matong: the village territory and location of gardens in January 197013

Table V. List of the trees planted on the village site in Matong

1. Traditional fruit trees

Cocos nucifera L.

248

Areca catechu (LINN.)

229

Barringtonia niedenzuana (K. Schum.)

224

Inocarpus fagiferus (Park.) Fosberg

26

Terminalia catappa L.

22

Artocarpus altilis (Park. ex Z) Fosberg

16

Canarium commune L.

8

2. Introduced fruit trees

Carica papaya L.

99

Citrus sp.

64

Mangifera sp.

24

Annona reticulata L.

1

3. Miscellaneous

Polyscias sp.

20

Ficus sp.

5

Erythrina indica Lam.

14

Euodia anisidora K. Schum. & Lauterb.

1

15A village territory can be perceived as a succession of three different zones. The village site proper is entirely humanized and there, humans have mastered nature completely. There one finds, apart from the tree crops, cultigens such as banana, Cordyline, Coleus blumei (Plectranthus scutellarioides), croton (Codiaeum variegatum) and Alocasia macrorrhiza (the elephant’s ear taro), rarely eaten but used as a ritual plant. Around their houses, the women may plant a few of those plants with which they adorn themselves but at least on the coast, one does not find anything like a kitchen garden. The situation is different among the Longueinga: tobacco is grown on the village sites in small patches protected by a fence and there are a few kitchen gardens where traditional cultigens are grown together with newly introduced ones. The village site is considered as “hot” by the Maenge, by contrast with the primary forest, which is “cold”. The Maenge do not venture there without fear and if they do so, this is for definite purposes such as hunting or seeking the part of a plant that is needed in medicine or magic. But between this “cold” place and the “hot” centre, which forms the village site, there is the wide belt of garden land where gardens and fallow gardens are to be found. These last plots are at various stages of reforestation. They are the reserve of firewood and tree crops and of most of the plants used in technology, magic and medicine. Care is taken that this garden land does not revert to climax forest. Village leaders, if dissatisfied with the behaviour of a stranger who had been allowed to settle in their village, would threaten him with the sentence: go back to your natal land where you will find only climax forest (see Epstein 1970: 88 for a similar threat). Gardens and secondary growth can be referred to by the same word: ura. When asked where she goes, a woman will answer: iau ka loa ta ura, “I am going to the garden”. Trees belonging to secondary growth are called: vegame orenga ura by contrast with vegame orenga lomo, the trees of the climax forest. It is only when more precision is required that people will use the phrase: ura nga kaninga, that part of the bush devoted to edible plants. Gardens may be called urakuna and climax forest urapuna (kuna: head; puna: base). These expressions then emphasize the continuity of the vegetation cover, however much gardens may differ from the climax forest.

16Maenge traditional gardens were of two kinds: the mixed taro gardens and the yam gardens. In the latter, mostly Dioscorea alata and Dioscorea esculenta were found together with a few ornamental plants such as cordyline. Little ritual was performed in these gardens. Taro gardens included other cultigens, which are listed on Table VI. Apart from taro, the main edible cultigens were sugar cane, banana and Saccharum edule (pitpit in Maenge pidgin). The greens were Hibiscus manihot and Setaria palmifolia, and the only pulse was Psophocarpus tetragonolobus. Among the nonedible cultigens, cordyline, ginger, basil, amaranth, lemon-grass and Coleus blumei are notable.

Table VI. Traditional cultigens found in the mixed taro gardens

1. Edible cultigens

Alocasia macrorrhiza

vongau

Colocasia esculenta

mao

Cucumis sp.

gopu

Dioscorea alata

momo

D. esculenta

mamisa

D. bulbifera

ava

D. pentaphylla

varua

Hibiscus manihot

siviga

Musa sapientum

puri

Saccharum edule

ngapa

S. officinarum

tau

Setaria palmifolia

vavage

Psophocarpus tetragonolobus

kavomva

2. Non-edible cultigens

Amaranthus tricolor

kaeta

Celosia argentea

ritolo

C. cristata

vakuna

Coleus blumei

mugang

Cordyline terminalis

ela

Cymbopogon sp.

tuge

Iresine herbstii

visoviso

Musaceae

uinsi

Ocimum basilicum L.

sirori

O. sanctum L.

vagitu

Piper betle L.

sive

Zingiber zerumbet (L.) Roscoe ex Sm.

gua

Table VII. Newly introduced cultigens

Latin Name

English Name

Allium sativum

onion

Ananas comosus

pineapple

Arachis hypogea

ground nut

Brassica oleracea

cabbage

Citrullus vulgaris

water melon

Capsicum frutescens

chilli pepper

Cucurbita pepo

pumpkin

Ipomoea batatas

sweet potato

Lycopersicum esculentum

tomato

Manihot utilissima

cassava

Nicotiana sp.

tobacco

Solanum tuberosum

potato

Xanthosoma sagittifolium

Chinese taro

Zea mays

Indian corn

17The introduction of the new staples, sweet potato and Chinese taro, as well as of cash-cropping, has modified this system, as shall be seen later. Other plants have been introduced in the area, but they have not changed the cultivation practices. These are mainly cassava, Manihot utilissima, which is planted alongside the paths, in the coconut plantations and collected occasionally, and such minor plants as beans, pumpkins, watermelons, groundnuts, pineapples, Indian corn, and in the mountains, cabbage, potato and onion. Most of these still play a limited part in the diet. They were introduced either by the agents of the Department of Agriculture or by the Maenge themselves. Often, the collective gardens of the millenarian movement served as laboratories where these plants were grown for the first time on a large scale (as in the case of beans and pineapples). The Maenge accept most readily those plants which offer similarities with their traditional crops (Indian corn is called by the same name as Saccharum edule by the Kol), and/or fill a gap in their diet: this is the case for the water melon and tomato among the Longueinga, as few fruits are available to them. A list of these newly introduced plants is given in Table VII. It should be compared with the list given by Barrau (1958). All these minor plants are found in mixed taro gardens, interspersed with the traditional cultigens. As for the newly introduced trees, they are planted in the same sites as the traditional ones.

18I shall first describe the traditional gardens, taro and yam gardens, and the traditional tree crops, to then turn to sweet potato and Chinese taro fields and to the coconut plantations. The figures quoted come from a survey made in Matong in December 1969 and January 1970. Matong was selected for this purpose because it is probably the village that has suffered least acculturation on the coast. This may be because the village is quite far away from the Mission Station and the Administrative Post. There, I could benefit from an exceptional co-operation from the population.

The traditional system

The mixed taro gardens

19Taro cultivation is carried out throughout the year with interruption only during the wettest months of July and August. Taro is usually harvested eight to ten months after it has been planted. The Maenge grow a few cultivars which mature after four or five months. Burkill (1935: 640) and Whitney (1939: 21-70) mention some fast-growing taro cultivars. Two cases can occur: either the piece of land which one or several households cultivate is large enough for cultivation to go on for more than one year, and while part of the garden lies fallow, gardeners keep opening new stretches of land on adjacent blocks; or the piece of land is too small, and it must be abandoned after one year. In the first case, the taro tops are replanted in the same garden. In the second case, they are replanted elsewhere. As an example of the second case, one can take the garden of Murisi in Matong, as it was in April 1968, as shown in Figure 2. At its southern end, there were compartments which Murisi and his wife had cultivated throughout the months of March to August 1967, and which now lay fallow. During the months of November and December 1967, and January and February 1968, Murisi had planted other compartments and was now eating the taro planted in September and October 1967. Some compartments further north were not yet under cultivation. Some of these were ready to be planted. On others, Murisi and his wife had torn away the vines and shrubs, but the young trunks of Albizia falcataria remained. Murisi was planning to extend his gardens to the north.

20A piece of land usually bears a name which is often the name of a tree found there or of another characteristic feature of the landscape, such as the stones lying on the ground, or a river. Sometimes the name recalls an episode of village life. Thus, in Matong one finds the names “Kolame” (Aleurites moluccana) “Mangini” (Pangium edule) etc., or “Re kapekape ke keno ka poi” (those of Kapekape – a village near Matong – slept by the fire, after a party of men and women from Kapekape had fled from their village and come to Matong where they slept). A piece of land may be divided into blocks on which various clans may have claims and these blocks may be cultivated at different periods. When cultivated, I refer to such a block as a garden. A garden is itself divided into smaller units, called makovu in Maenge and which I call “compartments”. As these compartments are made with the greatest care and places within them are arranged following a hierarchical order, these two characteristics of Maenge gardens must be considered now. To examine the plans of Maenge mixed taro gardens, it is appropriate to turn first to the ceremonial gardens, as it is there that the plans are best respected.

Figure 2. Murisi’s mixed taro garden

Figure 2. Murisi’s mixed taro garden

21A ceremonial garden is a large quadrangle divided first into two sections by laying down the trunks along its main axis. The main axis is sometimes called muegina (spine of the snake) or more simply, ravalang e volau (the big boundary). When the whole population of a village co-operates in a ceremonial garden, the “Father of the village” and the leader of the alternate moiety each perform rites in their own half. In Matong, once the muegina had been laid down, it was forbidden to cross it. While at least on the coast each half is said to be associated with one moiety, it is not the moiety but the galiau which is the unit from which workers in both halves are recruited. The garden is further subdivided by a secondary axis, the ravalanga e sina or small boundary, which cuts roughly the main axis at the centre of the garden. The two axes thus define four sections or kakaso. Apart from the centre of the garden, variously called sogerina or matana, other important places from the point of view of ritual are the four corners and the intersections of the small and big boundaries with the limits of the garden. These are named and adorned with ornamental plants. Each of the four sections is divided into compartments (makovu). The word derives from the same root as kovue, to cut with the adze. This refers to the perpendicular alignments of trunks which limit the makovu as they run crosswise to the main axis. The compartments are sometimes called orenga, a word that simply indicates possession, or malena. This last word refers originally to the imprint left by the body or the foot on a soft surface such as sand. It can also be used to refer to material signs left by the body, such as sweat. These are permeated with soul. In a compartment, a gardener does indeed leave many such signs while working, hence the avoidance of one another’s makovu. In such a ceremonial garden, a woman receives usually only one compartment. If the number of women is too high, the compartments can be further divided by means of trunks running parallel to the main axis.

22Among the Longueinga, when making a new ceremonial garden care is taken to follow the marks left on the ground by previous generations. These consist of rotten trunks covered by humus, which once marked the main axes of the garden. They form long, swollen lines on the earth. The Longueinga believe that they perpetuate the boundaries which, at the beginning of time, the chthonian deity, often represented as a snake (mue) put on the ground to show the limits of the territories belonging to the various clans.

23One should note that in Matong, ceremonial gardens could be circular. The woman who had the highest reputation as a gardener received the central compartment, while the other women worked each in a section of the circle in which the garden was inscribed. Such gardens were called pumoro, from the halo which sometimes surrounds the moon, a female being in Maenge mythology.

24In ordinary subsistence gardens, the ideal pattern found in ceremonial gardens is not so carefully followed. It may happen that the intersection of the two axes does not correspond to the geometrical centre of the garden. The continuous extension of gardens may obliterate the original pattern, as in the case of Murisi’s garden. There, the main axis coincides with the southern boundary of the cultivated plot (see Figure 2) and the secondary axis with its western boundary. There is however always a network of primary and secondary divisions such as those found in other parts of Melanesia. Such networks are useful from sociological, ritual and technological points of view. When gardens are made on slopes, the trunks prevent the soil from being washed away. When there is a circular depression, the trunks are aligned to form a circle. The various boundaries also prevent the taro soul from running away from the garden. Certain ritual operations are made on the trunks to achieve this aim. In a subsistence garden, a woman receives as many compartments as she can plant. Although the main and secondary axes can be made quite early while clearing and felling the trees, the trunks marking off the compartment are usually not laid down before burning is complete. More details will be given later about the technological, sociological and ritual functions of the makovu. Here it was only necessary to insist on the geometrical character of the mixed taro gardens. I now turn to the second important characteristic of these gardens, namely the hierarchy of firing places, cultigens and cultivars within a given compartment.

25The Maenge rarely set fire to a whole area at once. They rather erect pyres within a given space, with a compartment including several firing places corresponding to the same number of pyres. Figure 3 represents a compartment 15 feet wide and 27 feet long. Three pyres have been erected in it and there is also a stump, which has been burnt. The Maenge contrast the firing places, which they consider to be the most fertile spots in the compartment, with the surrounding space (magapana, intermediate space). One should note that some cultigens can be grown only at the edges of a compartment: these are sugar cane, banana and cordyline, belonging to a group that I call II.1, the group of the small cordylines. In fact, these cultigens are often found not along the edges of each block but rather at the limits of the garden itself (uralisina) or at the limits of the compartments cultivated by one given nuclear family when a garden is shared by several nuclear families. Cordylines belonging to group II.2, the group of the big cordylines, are planted in the firing places, together with other cultigens such as ginger or lemon grass. Cultigens such as yams, Hibiscus manihot and Setaria palmifolia can be interspersed with the taro belonging to group I.1, (“rubbish taro”) to translate the Maenge phrase mao a kasau, in the intermediate space, while taro belonging to the group I.2, the “taro of the fire” (mao a poi) is planted in the firing places or around tree stumps.

26Figure 3, inspired by Anderson (Anderson 1952: 138-139) shows the theoretical distributions of cultigens including taro and cordyline cultivars in a Maenge compartment. The figure shows only the main firing places and the “ground nothing” (intermediate spaces). It does not show other features such as the secondary firing places or the sides of the main firing places, considered as fertile spots, where taro of group I.2 are also planted. In fact, because pyres are erected very close to one another and because of the features just mentioned, “taro of the fire” tend to invade all the compartment while the taro of the “ground nothing” are rejected towards the limits of the compartment. To show these additional features, however, would have obscured the figure.

Figure 3. Details of a compartment within a taro garden. Compartment with three firing places and a tree stump

Figure 3. Details of a compartment within a taro garden. Compartment with three firing places and a tree stump

27The orderly character of Maenge gardens is apparent when walking in them. In this respect, they contrast sharply with the Indian gardens studied by Anderson (1952), where only a diagram can reveal the planned character of the gardens, which appear tangled and disorderly. For the European observer, however, the hierarchy of the various places within a compartment is not readily perceived, though it is obvious for a Maenge. Firing places are indicated by the presence of cultivars such as cordylines belonging to group II.2, ginger and lemon grass, and the taro belonging to group I.2.

28If Figure 3 corresponded to reality, one might conclude that there is more taro belonging to group I.1, the group of the lesser taro, than taro belonging to group I.2, in a Maenge garden. While Figure 3 is simplified, the following Figure 4 corresponds better to reality with a Maenge gardener trying to enlarge her collection of taro belonging to group I.2. In Figure 4, we see a secondary firing place (poituna, from poi, fire and tuna, son, a common way or indicating a lower position in a hierarchy). Gardeners have taken burning logs from the pyres and brought them there. Among the Longueinga, one even finds tertiary firing places (poitutuna, a diminutive of poituna). Another way of increasing the relatively more fertile spots within a compartment is to consider the belt around the main firing places as sharing some of the fertility of the central spot. They can then be planted with taro cultivars belonging to group I.2, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Details of a compartment within a mixed taro garden

Figure 4. Details of a compartment within a mixed taro garden

29A compartment is thus made up of two contrasting spots: the intermediate space, sometimes also called “the ground nothing” (magalo vulutu), and the main firing places. Series of intermediate places are linked by transitions from one to the other. The hierarchy is even more complicated if one bears in mind that among the main firing places, one is of special importance in each garden: this is the first main firing place (poimatana e kapunu) where the first pyre has been erected and the firing started.

The swidden cycle

30When discussing the operations performed during the swidden cycle, one can distinguish six main categories: the location of the site, the removal of the vegetation, planting, the operations performed during the growth of the taro plant, harvesting and fallowing. These six main categories will be discussed in turn.

Location of the site

31When selecting a site, the Maenge take several factors into account: the vegetation cover, soil characteristics, the general fertility of the plot, the nature of the terrain and its distance from the settlement. Finally, some sociological factors must be considered.

Vegetation cover

32As stated above, the Maenge clear very little climax forest annually. Of the 2.114 acres cleared in climax forest in Matong in 1969, only 32% were planted with taro, the rest being planted with yams (8%) and sweet potato (58%) as shown in Table VIII.

Table VIII. Matong, crops planted in gardens cleared in primary forest

Yam

Taro

Sweet potato

0.013

0.037

0.028

0.126

0.136

0.044

0.009

0.044

0.146

0.013

0.052

0.029

0.007

0.141

0.057

0.009

0.13

0.016

-

0.066

0.056

-

0.086

0.024

-

-

0.118

-

-

0.082

-

-

0.021

-

-

0.157

-

-

0.056

-

-

0.122

-

-

0.071

-

-

0.078

-

-

0.140

0.177

0.692

1.245

8%

33%

59%

Total:

2.114

33The Maenge distinguish between two main types of secondary vegetation: the short fallow and the long fallow. In the short fallow, herbaceous plants are numerous and young trees can be dealt with using the bush-knife. This short fallow period can last from one to five years after the root-crops have been removed. Re-cultivation can be done on such plots either a few months after the first root-crop has been removed (in this case, taro is never replanted and sweet potato, Chinese taro or yams are planted) or after one or several years. Taro remains scanty in this type of garden (4%) and so are yams (4%) but more sweet potato (25%) and Chinese taro (67%) are found. (Tables IX and X).

34This period of short fallow (kilana e sina), is followed by a period of long fallow (kilana e volau) which can last from five to fifteen years. During that period, herbaceous plants progressively disappear while the species characteristic of the secondary growth become taller. The gardeners now must use their axes rather than bush-knives to deal with the trees. The shape of Albizia falcataria indicated the end of the long fallow period. When it changed from a conical shape to become flat-topped, the Maenge reckoned that the land could be used again. According to Corner (1952: 409-410), the crown of this species begins to spread horizontally nine or ten years after it started to grow. Out of the 3.9368 acres cleared in long fallow gardens in Matong in 1969, 29% were planted with taro while 53% were planted with sweet potato and 18% with yams (Table XI). When, after a period lasting from 15 to 25 years after the garden site has been planted, trees of the primary forest begin to invade the secondary growth, the plot is no longer known as kilana but as valasolo. Of the 2.323 acres opened in valasolo in Matong during 1969, taro occupied 57.4% of the area and yams 28.5%, while sweet potato represented 14.1% (Table XII). That most of the taro cultivated in Matong in 1969 was planted either in long fallow gardens or in fallow returning to primary forest is suggestive. Based on informants’ recollections of their various garden plots, one can estimate that the average fallow time was between 10 and 12 years. The very low figures for the area planted with taro in 1969 in Matong are explained by the fact that two thirds of the crop rotted during the heavy rainfall of the previous wet season.

Table IX. Matong, crops planted in gardens cleared in short fallow land

Sweet potato

Yam

Taro

Chinese Taro

0.032

0.034

0.119

0.052

0.114

0.039

0.128

0.350

0.114

0.057

-

0.008

0.170

0.010

-

0.030

0.032

0.019

-

0.031

0.160

0.015

-

0.122

0.232

0.025

-

0.055

0.146

0.023

-

0.016

0.218

0.041

-

0.027

0.303

0.017

-

0.054

0.055

0.075

-

0.055

0.033

0.013

-

0.055

0.011

0.089

-

0.263

0.071

-

-

0.070

0.013

-

-

0.220

0.224

-

-

0.200

0.206

-

-

0.006

0.029

-

-

0.016

0.038

-

-

0.127

0.012

-

-

0.294

0.080

-

-

0.044

0.025

-

-

0.058

0.019

-

-

2.435

0.021

-

-

-

0.284

-

-

-

0.341

-

-

-

2.983

0.457

0.247

4.588

37%

6%

3%

54%

Total:

8.275

Table X. Matong: crops planted in gardens cleared in short fallow land, details

I. Re-cultivation starts within less than a year

Sweet potato

Yam

Taro

Chinese Taro

0.224

0.010

-

0.052

0.206

0.019

-

0.035

0.055

0.015

-

0.008

0.033

0.025

-

0.030

0.011

0.023

-

-

0.071

0.041

-

-

0.013

0.017

-

-

0.029

0.075

-

-

0.038

0.013

-

-

0.012

-

-

-

0.080

-

-

-

0.025

-

-

-

0.019

-

-

-

0.021

-

-

-

0.284

-

-

-

0.341

-

-

-

1.462

0.238

-

0.125

80%

13%

-

7%

Total:

1.825

II. Re-cultivation starts after more than a year

Sweet potato

Yam

Taro

Chinese Taro

0.032

0.057

0.119

0.031

0.114

0.034

0.128

0.122

0.114

0.039

-

0.055

0.170

0.089

-

0.016

0.303

-

-

0.054

0.218

-

-

0.055

0.032

-

-

0.055

0.160

-

-

0.263

0.232

-

-

0.070

0.146

-

-

0.220

-

-

-

0.006

-

-

-

0.016

-

-

-

0.127

-

-

-

0.294

-

-

-

0.044

-

-

-

0.058

-

-

-

2.435

-

-

-

0.200

1.521

0.219

0.247

4.121

25%

4%

4%

67%

Total:

6.108

Table XI. Matong, crops planted in gardens cleared in long fallow land

Yam

Taro

Sweet Potato

0.060

0.097

0.265

0.060

0.113

0.423

0.027

0.006

0.141

0.025

0.021

0.110

0.025

0.014

0.066

0.047

0.0008

0.022

0.030

0.012

0.008

0.213

0.031

0.071

0.218

0.031

0.019

-

0.069

0.088

-

0.027

0.064

-

0.030

0.299

-

0.073

0.080

-

0.151

0.121

-

0.041

0.103

-

0.043

0.107

-

0.039

0.066

-

0.212

0.051

-

0.026

-

-

0.091

-

0.705

1.1278

2.104

18%

29%

53%

Total:

3.9368

Table XII. Matong, crops planted in gardens cleared in land reverting to primary forest

Yam

Taro

Sweet Potato

0.274

0.13

0.16

0.028

0.051

0.169

0.003

0.145

-

0.13

0.024

-

0.092

0.042

-

0.134

0.112

-

-

0.037

-

-

0.151

-

-

0.137

-

-

0.068

-

-

0.082

-

-

0.043

-

-

0.156

-

-

0.101

-

-

0.006

-

-

0.048

-

0.661

1.333

0.329

28.5%

57.4%

14.1%

Total

2.323

Soils

35When discussing soils, the Maenge consider several attributes: the location of the soils within the various horizons, their moisture content, texture, weight, colour, smell and relative fertility (see Conklin 1957: 36-37 and Brookfield and Brown 1963: 34-36 for similar classifications). The Maenge contrast the top soil in climax forest with that of the old fallow gardens as being “dry” (manani), “soft” (vogovogo), “white” (kavauvaunga), “too light” (alaleng e soali), with an unpleasant smell and not proper for taro cultivation. The Maenge assert that the first garden made in climax forest cannot yield a good crop. It is only when the soil has been covered by the decayed leaves of secondary growth that a good crop becomes possible. The decayed leaves are called lavuna, from lavusa, rotten, when speaking of vegetable matter or human corpses. This layer of leaves is called magavuna (or magavusa) from maga, soil and – vuna or – vusa, that has a common root with lavuna/ lavusa. It is sometimes referred to as paganinagana, an interesting word that underlines the function of this decayed vegetal matter. The word is derived from the verb pagani, that means to give food and points to the part this decayed matter plays in the reconstitution of the soil, a point that will be discussed later when dealing with the category of the rotten and the part it plays in the rites. Humus or magakato (“black soil” found in old fallow gardens) is full of liquid (ka mena), strong (varevare), but also light (alaleng); it is “black”, it has a good smell and is proper for taro cultivation. It is classified as “cold” (marusu), due to the abundance of liquid, by contrast with the clays which are “hot” (isopa). This contrast will be discussed later when dealing with Maenge classification of medicinal plants. The Maenge distinguish several kinds of clays based on their colour, contrasting a “red” clay (piliga e tente) with a “yellow” one (piliga e ngango), while a “brown” clay described as partly red and black is called pipiliga. Clays are “sticky” (vilevile), “strong” (ginging) and “heavy” (mena). During the dry season, they crack easily but they are not washed away during the wet season, in contrast with the black humus that is easily washed away by the heavy rains but resists to dry spells better. Black humus and clays are thus seen as having complementary qualities, which should help the crops to survive throughout the year. The topsoil is described as the patuna (skin or bark) of the soil. The rock bed is called magana (belly or core), while the intermediate layer, often formed of clays with which calcareous debris are mixed, is referred to as the flesh, mirikina. The limestone bed is often very near the surface. Some stones are left in the soil and are said to contribute to the good health of the taro. Big stones lying at the surface or near it are gathered before planting and heaped near the limits of a compartment. Such heaps are known as lolopuna (lolo, stone and puna, base). Stones are classified by their weight, colour, surface aspect, shape and brightness. The most current stones are limestone (palaga), dead coral (gulu) and rock crystal (ningkale). Other stones such as the adze blades and obsidians, and mineral substances such as red ochre, iron oxide and the unidentified “excrement of snake”, that play an important part in Maenge culture, do not occur in their environment but were traded from neighbouring tribes.

Specific sources of fertility

36While the main source of fertility is the layer of decayed leaves, a garden site may be enriched by other matter, either of vegetal or animal origin. Some trees of the secondary growth are considered by the Maenge as having a particularly good effect on taro cultivation thanks to the liquid (mena) which they contain. Among the species which are supposed to have this positive effect on the soil, one can quote: Albizia falcataria, Laportea gigas, Trema orientalis, Ficus pungens, Ficus septica, Ficus hispida and Pipturus repandus. The stump is often fired and the ashes, which contain minerals, contribute to the development of the plants while the trunk protects them against rain and wind. In the case of the fig trees, one should note that their juicy and fleshy fruits fall on the ground where they rot and provide the soil with additional fertility. All these species are classified as “cold”. Among the Longueinga, abandoned house sites were used as garden plots because of the fertility of the rubbish heaps piled up near the houses. Most of the rubbish would be of vegetable origin while some would be of human or animal origin, mostly pig faeces and human urine. Other rubbish of animal or human origin is used as well. The Maenge consider as particularly fertile spots the soil underneath the trees where birds sit to defecate. Such trees are known as gusoali, bird latrines. It is known for instance that pigeons use as their gusoali such trees as Celtis latifolia, Homalium foetidum and Calophyllum cf. soulattri. Hogs’ wallows that have been abandoned for a long time are also considered as fertile places. In the past, among the Longueinga, when a child or an old person died it was customary to bury him or her in a garden site known to produce a crop of good quality. Three or four years later, the plot was cleared and taro planted. It is significant that when clearing the bush, the gardeners had to take a meal in the garden. Coconut meat (equivalent of pig flesh) had to accompany the staple. When the gardeners later made the fire, they similarly had to kill and eat a pig in the village. The presence of coconut meat (or pig flesh) on both these occasions indicate that an exchange with the other world is taking place. In this case, it is probable that the soul of the dead person is supposed to send back to the garden the soul of his or her taro, while what remains of his or her body will help the taro to grow. Reay (1966) reports a similar custom for the Kuma. Significantly however, the Kuma wait for several years before using as a garden plot the spot where a person has been buried. This is to prevent any person who has known the dead person from cultivating this land. Finally, among the Longueinga the collective villagers’ latrines were used regularly as gardening plots. In the past, both the Longueinga and the coastal Maenge used to have separate latrines (gusoali) for men and women. Among the Longueinga, as each village was made of scattered hamlets where members of the same lineage tended to live together with their spouses, each hamlet had two of these gusoali. These hamlets were abandoned after a few years when all the surrounding land had been exploited and new hamlets were built near the gardening land. On returning to a site where their ancestors had lived, care was taken to use their gusoali as gardening land. Though representing a small proportion of the land for gardening purposes, these spots were highly valued. These latrines were surrounded by a line of cordylines, hence the name sasavanga, fence, given to them. These cordyline plants were put there to prevent what was left of the taro soul from escaping after the cycle of digestion was completed. The fact that the Longueinga, in contrast with the coastal Maenge, used abandoned house sites, burying grounds and latrines may point to the poorer quality of the soil in the mountain and the difficulties that secondary growth has in developing there.

Terrain

37Gardens can be made either in plains (kavu) or foothills (kapangapuna), on slopes (ina kapang) or on hill tops (kapangkuna). Taro gardens in Matong were located either in plains (7, 13, 16, 17, 22, 28 on Map 6) or on foothills (21, 23). Most of the gardens located there had been flooded during the wet season and gardeners had lost their tubers. Taro grown on the hills had survived better (3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 15, 19, 27, 31). In the past, it was recommended that people should have two distinct gardens: one relatively high in the hills, where the crop might be saved if a severe drought occurred, thanks to the coolness found there. These gardens made in “cold” places contrasted with the “hot” ones on the coast. It might even happen that coastal dwellers would give part of their taro crops to the inhabitants of the villages settled at the limit of the oak forest. Most of these villages were occupied by a now extinct tribe, the Sao. They would plant the taro crops and look after them. When the crops were mature, the coastal Maenge would come and fetch them and thank the Sao with gifts of fish.

38Whatever the location of a garden, it is reckoned that it should be exposed to the sun from about 10am to 3 or 4pm. A large protective belt of high trees should be left around the garden so that their shade might protect it during part of the day. When gardens are located near the sea, (for instance gardens 4 and 6), a fence of trees is left to protect the gardens against trade winds. These fences are usually natural.

Sociological factors

39While the nuclear family is the work unit, this does not mean that nuclear families garden by themselves on a given piece of land. They rather work in association, though each family works in the compartments that have been allocated to it. These associations are quite loose and associates may change over time. Moreover, at any point in time, a family A may share its taro garden with families B, C and D and its yam gardens with families X, Y and Z. In Matong in 1969, there were only three pieces of land where separate nuclear families grew their taro by themselves (gardens 17, 22 and 26). Associations ranged from two families (gardens 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 15 and 31) to five or more (gardens 4 and 27). The picture is complicated by the fact that only a few taro gardens were left in Matong (gardens 7, 13, 15 and 20). What was left of the taro was planted in compartments contiguous with compartments where yams and sweet potato were planted (gardens 4, 5, 15, 21, 22, 23, 27 and 31) or together with yams (gardens 8 and 17). If one considers a large garden like Vagitupuna (garden 27) one finds that no less than 11 nuclear families gardened there in adjacent compartments. Only a few of them still possessed some taro, while most of them grew sweet potato there.

40On the piece of land called Kerakeralamana (garden 3), there were three different gardens, each separated from the others by stretches of secondary growth at various stages of development. There were a yam garden, a taro garden and a sweet potato field. Two nuclear families worked in association in the taro and yam gardens. The men belonged to the same clan, the Laia, one of the three large land-holding clans in Matong. Mano and his wife Matakana worked in the sweet potato field. Mano is the aid post orderly and comes from a distant village near Vairamana. Matakana, whose mother died when she was a child, was adopted by her mother’s sister, the wife of a Laia who was a maternal uncle of one of the Laia gardening in Kerakeralamana. Mano and Matakana shared a taro garden with Kae (garden 8) for whom Matakana’s mother is a classificatory mother, on land belonging to the Valakauna’s clan, Kae’s clan. A usual type of association is that between siblings (garden 7), maternal uncle and nephew (garden 9), parents and their married children (garden 23) and members of the same nodal kindred, whether the word be understood in its common meaning or in its metaphorical one. A nuclear family may garden on land on which either the husband or the wife has claims through their paternal as well as their maternal kinsfolk. Maitenia, a young leader of the Galekorokoro clan, shares a taro garden with his sister and his sister’s husband on land said to belong to his clan. He has another garden where taro grows together with sweet potato and yam (garden 22) on land which the Galekorokoro as well as the Laia claim. His brother-in-law also has another taro garden (garden 26) on land claimed by the Galekorokoro. The husbands of two sisters, who belong to the same clan, share garden 19 with the married son of one of the sisters from a previous marriage. The sisters belong to the Kamvoin clan, which has rights on very little land in Matong. The garden is located on land that belongs to their husbands’ clans. Murisi, from the Galekorokoro clan, shares his sweet potato field (garden 1) with his stepson but he shares his Chinese taro field with his sister’s son, Maitenia.

41In the case of large gardens such as Pasingkaenapuna (garden 16), Vagitupuna (garden 27) or Kolame (garden 4), the situation is even more complex. Though claimed by the Laia, Pasingkaenapuna has been chosen as a site for a yam and a taro garden by Maitenia. The garden includes 58 compartments, with 0.274 acres devoted to yam cultivation and 0.145 acres to taro cultivation. Apart from Maitenia and his wife, one finds there several nuclear families connected to Maitenia’s clan either through the male or the female spouse. There are also families who have recently joined Maitenia’s galiau for political and religious reasons. In Vagitupuna, the core gardeners belong to the Rainana clan which does not hold land in Matong. Some of these Rainana gardeners belong to Maitenia’s galiau, in the sense that he is their patron, while others are followers of Tovolon, the antimillenarian leader who belongs to the Marana clan. While Tovolon himself does not garden there, he has claims on the land that stretches at the bottom of the hill where Vagitupuna is located and where most of the nuclear families now working in Vagitupuna recently worked together with him.

Photograph 5. Maitenia, the young leader of the Galekorokoro clan.

42The third large garden, Kolame (garden 4) has been a bone of contention in recent years, not because it is used as a garden but because part of it is already transformed into a coconut plantation that Tovolon intends to increase. He has invited Seleplepuna, the luluai of a neighbouring village that is now abandoned, to garden in Kolame. This luluai belongs to the Kamvoin clan, which has putative claims on this piece of land. Nuclear families working there are followers of Tovolon.

Distance from settlement

43Taro gardens in Matong are located within half an hour’s walk from the village. The furthest away of all gardens is Kolame (garden 4). Since the gardeners are proceeding to erect a hamlet there, this inconvenience will soon disappear. One should note that in Matong, as elsewhere in the Maenge country, there is a tendency to garden nearer the village site than was the case in the past. While in Matong, this does not threaten the equilibrium of the swidden cycle, there are villages, such as Malakuru, where the situation is less bright. In Malakuru, in the past people used to garden at a distance one hour’s walk from the settlement, but gardens are now located within twenty minutes’ walk. This has meant a reduction in the fallow time, as more and more gardens are opened in the kilana e sina. Such a situation can be explained by psychological factors: the men in Malakuru are increasingly reluctant to perform their traditional tasks, mostly that of felling trees. In this area, women are replacing men in this job and it is understandable enough that they prefer to deal with younger trees rather than with trees of the kilana e volau or valasolo.

Removal of the vegetation

44The vegetation is removed in three different stages: first by cutting the undergrowth, second by felling the trees and lastly by erecting pyres.

45In the past, this operation was performed with a small shell, tue, (a marine Lucinidae hard-shelled clam), characterised by a sharp edge. Herbaceous plants and vines were cut with it to allow the trees to stand by themselves. At this stage, these plants were not uprooted but simply cut at about the height of a man’s waist. The adze could be used at this stage either to cut woody vines after having laid down part of their stem on a stick, or to cut herbaceous plants such as Alpinia sp. closer to the ground (see Figure 1 p. 46). The word used to describe the operation performed with the tue is kokote, to cut, by contrast with tele, to fell. The shell is now replaced by the bush-knife, that is used with a slashing motion (sapetote). Women and children join the men in this operation. In ceremonial gardens, they work in a line, advancing at the same pace. The work is done quickly, as the gardeners proceed into the bush, leaving mostly stems of Zingiberaceae behind them. A portion of the forest cleared in this way is known as lamong (cf. lamana, clearing) and its view induces in the Maenge a feeling of satisfaction and aesthetic pleasure, as the upright trees now cleared from the tangled mass of vines and the herbaceous plants look so beautiful. Once this operation has been performed, stones can be picked up and placed at the edge of the garden. One should note that the soil is not touched at this stage, so great is the fear of encouraging weeds to sprout.

Felling the trees

46Felling trees, by contrast with clearing the undergrowth, is men’s work. In the past, felling was done with the stone adze, which could be used either in an adze or axe position by rotating the stone (kila) around the haft (vilivili). The stones were traded from the north coast but fastened to hafts by the Maenge. They were sharpened using an unidentified stone found in river beds (pologi). The haft was made of Bruguiera gymnorrhiza on the coast and of Prosopis insularum in the mountains. The haft was dried over a fire and then bent. The stone was not fastened directly to the haft but to a mouthpiece made of Decaspermum sp. Stone adzes are now replaced by steel axes. When working with either traditional tools or modern ones, the Maenge attack the tree first on the leaning side (its belly, siana) and then on the opposite side (its back, gina). Formerly a long opening was cut with the axe and then enlarged using the adze. The operation was repeated on the other side. When dealing with trees with high buttresses, scaffolding had to be erected. This consists of a platform (rige) resting on four poles erected on both sides of the tree. Ringbarking was done in secondary growth, especially in the mountains where it was an easy way of felling such trees as Albizia falcataria, Macaranga aleuritoides, Prosopis insularum, Trema orientalis, Trema cannabina. Some trees were let to stand after being trimmed. Setting fire at the base of the stumps was also a way of dealing with the trees, as their dry branches are a characteristic of Maenge gardens. When trimming Pipturus argenteus, the mountain people were careful to leave one branch so that the tree could regrow more easily. In the process of felling trees, some species are protected. These are mainly the palms (coconut trees, areca palm trees, Archontophoenix sp.) and the fruit-bearing trees (Canarium commune, Eugenia malaccensis, Spondias dulcis, Barringtonia niedenzuana, Parartocarpus venenosus, Inocarpus edule [breadfruit tree]) together with some species of economic importance such as Cyclandrophora laurina and Gmelina moluccana. The felled trees are left to dry for several weeks. The site is then known as manani (dry). Before the pyres are erected, men sort out the trunks and branches which can be used as boundary and to make the fences: they are put aside to be used later.

Firing

47The Maenge contrast two ways of firing. Setting fire (tunua poi) to a piece of land in the forest was only done in a limited area when the mass of vines and dry bush looked too entangled after the first clearing operation had been done, and it was always followed by the usual method of erecting pyres. Nowadays, tunua poi is only done in grasslands, among the coconut trees, where Chinese taro is to be planted (see below). To erect pyres is simply pulia poi, to bring fire or more precisely, sapatalea poi, to make the fire stand in an open space. This last phrase conveys the two outcomes of the operation: burning and clearing. We have seen that there can be several pyres in any given compartment. When the gardener proceeds to erect a pyre in a compartment, the boundaries are not yet visible on the ground and the soil is still covered by a mass of branches and trunks. His task is to cut these and throw them, one after the other, into the pyre. The first operation consists in laying down four logs, which serve as the boundaries of the pyre. This operation is known as patakale or unukale poi. Sawdust and chips are put on the middle and covered by small and then large leaves; when the fire is lit, small dry branches, then larger ones, are added. Once the fire is going well, green branches are thrown on the top, then weeds. While the fire is going, the gardener has thus several operations to perform: cutting branches and uprooting weeds (kilage). For this he may use his bushknife, while using a long branch with a fork (kalanga) to press down (kalae) the branches in the pyre. Weeds create a dense smoke that can be seen at a great distance. A gardener is proud of the height and thickness of the column of smoke that rises from his pyre and the columns are a good way of knowing who is working where. At the end of the work, the ground around the pyre should be completely cleared. The soil is then called karkarangana, that which stands in the open space. When three or four pyres have been made on the site of a given compartment, its boundaries are marked with logs. The remaining logs may be piled up in a corner of the garden; this pile (tamalingana) will serve as a reserve of wood when erecting the fence or will be used later as firewood.

48Burning logs are transferred to secondary firing places by hand but embers require a shovel with a short handle, the sapaounga, often cut out of a rotten canoe made of Gmelina moluccana. To scatter the ashes (kaulia), a rake (kauli) is used, consisting of a long stick to which an oval piece of wood is attached crosswise. It is generally made of Leea sp. or Acalypha grandis. Embers are placed at the base of certain trees. When the ashes have been spread, the compartment is ready to be planted. While uprooting the herbaceous plants to be thrown into the pyre, a certain number of species are protected or receive special treatment. First, especially if the piece of land has laid fallow for only a short period, cultigens are to be found there and are not removed. These are usually self-sown species such as the local cucumber, basilic, amaranth or cultigens like a cordyline that the previous gardener had left in the fallow garden. Wild yams are not protected at this stage: the tubers are removed and given to pigs but people do not replant their tops. A certain class of plants is particularly feared: these are plants which can be used by the owners of fruit-bearing trees or palms to cause a thief to become sick. If left to dry in the sun, these species will become harmful. One therefore need to be careful either to burn these plants quickly when making the fires or to throw them away from the garden in cool and fresh places where they will rot unseen. Among these plant-species, some are classified as “hot” plants that should not be burnt in any way, either by throwing them into a pyre or by setting fire at their base for fear that their “hot” liquid may go inside the soil and damage future crops. Among those species, one may quote Endospermum formicarum, Excoecaria agallocha, Alstonia scholaris. While visiting a large ceremonial garden made by the people of Pomio near Galue at a place called Oinsikaena, the “Father of the Village”, Kaeliuna, suddenly noticed that an Endospermum formicarum had been burnt by putting fire at its base, and announced a bad crop to his people for having overlooked this precaution. He was also infuriated by the fact that they had set fire to some Pterocarpus indicus trees which, in the Pomio area, were used as landmarks, complaining that after that, no one would be able to find the location of the boundaries between pieces of land.

49The purpose of firing, as viewed by the Maenge, is to transform the quality of the soil by raising its temperature. The soil of the forest is “cold” and its temperature rises when firing is done. Firing is described as “cooking the soil” (tuvatote magalo). The effects of heating the soil are well known. The fertility is increased and, to quote Nye and Greenland, “It is generally agreed that plant growth is better in previously heated than in unheated soils. Any seeds present in the soil during heating are liable to be killed or to have their germination retarded. The supply of available nutrients in the solution is increased by heating, and in particular the rate of nitrogen mineralization is generally greater after the burn than before” (1960: 71-72). The hierarchy of firing places and of cultigens and cultivars corresponding to it rests on objective estimates of the change undergone by the soil under different burning conditions. Moreover, the weeding which accompanies the burning shows that the Maenge are careful garden-gardeners; they explicitly say that they do not resort to the firing of a whole block because this would provoke the appearance of too many weeds, since the burning would be incomplete and not accompanied by weeding, whereas their method means both a thorough weeding and a careful burning. When the ashes have been scattered, the boundaries of the compartment are marked using trunks or straight branches. The planting may now start.

Planting

50The Maenge know three ways of reproducing taro. One is to replant the taro tops to which part of the petiole is still attached. This is known as toela, a word used to describe the action of replanting part of the cultigens which are reproduced vegetatively. Another method consists in replanting the offshoots (kaena) which are left for some time in the garden once the mother corm has been removed; they are usually replanted in a new compartment. This method is particularly employed in the case of taro plants belonging to the group I.1, which are characterized by an abundance of cormlets. If a gardener does not need to replant these cormlets, they are fed to pigs. The third method is only employed with the best taro cultivars, those belonging to group I.2. The upper part of the corm is buried in the ground without any of its petioles. Young offshoots sprout from it, and after a few weeks, they are detached from the rotting mother corm and replanted in a new compartment. This method allows a gardener to enlarge the number of corms of a given cultivar she may possess. If she is successful, she may then reach a stage when the number of taro plants belonging to group I.2. will far exceed those belonging to group I. 1 in her garden. Young offshoots are called kumani (a name given to the Pleiades) and the action to replant them is pakumania. In the past, both the kumani and kaena could be replanted in small mounds, called vuluvuluga, which were designed to “cool them” (paramusu) and thus help them grow. Nowadays these mounds have disappeared from Maenge gardens, although the methods described above survive.

51To plant taro is a woman’s task. While planting, the women use a heavy and high digging stick, itu, that, on the coast, is made of Bruguiera gymnorrhiza. They throw this stick vertically several times in the ground, holding it with both hands. To enlarge the hole, they either draw the digging stick back and forth in the hole (rulia itu), or turn it several times with a circular motion (rulepalapale itu). They then put the taro top in the hole and gather loosely some earth around it. It is only a few weeks later that the soil is pressed around the growing plant with the help of the soles of the feet. This operation, known as alokampia magalo, should not be done from the start as it would prevent the plant from developing. Taro are planted in rows. Usually a woman brings enough tops to plant them in a new compartment on the same day. She lays the taro tops down in regular rows before starting to dig and plant them. In normal conditions, the distance between taro tops varies between two and three feet, though it can happen, particularly in the Malakuru area, that plants are nearer to one another.

52Most of the cultigens planted by the Maenge are reproduced vegetatively. In a few cases, seeds are used: Ocimum sanctum, Ocimum basilicum, Amaranthus tricolor, Cucumis sp., Psophocarpus tetragonolobus and the more recent Nicotiana sp. When the seeds are simply thrown on the ground, the verb tapua is used, but when they are buried into the ground, as is the case with P. tetragonolobus, the Maenge use the verb toeia to describe the operation. Only banana can be planted before taro. All other cultigens are planted either at the same time or afterwards. Men plant banana, yam and sugarcane, while the other cultigens are planted by women.

Operations performed during the growth of the taro plants

53The Maenge contrast in a very marked way the first period of the maturation cycle of the taro, when the aerial part of the plant reaches its maximum height, with the second period when the height of the petioles decreases, the leaves wither and become yellow while the corm develops fully and reaches the desired size. The first period extends over the four or six months following planting, depending on varieties and excluding the fast-maturing ones. Gardening activities are numerous during the first period. They are almost non-existent during the second period, when the almost sole task of the gardeners is to look after the garden and protect it from the attacks of parrots and pigs. During the first period, the Maenge often refer to the taro as mao ore kakaina (taro with petiole) and during the second period as mao ore mana (taro with a base or bottom); or they contrast the unripe taro (mao ore magura) with the ripe one (mao ore matua). The vocabulary concerning the various parts of taro is given in Figure 5.

The first period of maturation

54Men usually erect fences during the weeks following the planting. There are two kinds of fences in the Maenge area. The first type, considered the better one, is almost abandoned because it requires too much work. Fencing is often neglected nowadays, especially in gardens located near the villages. The number of pigs, both domestic and wild, has diminished and the fear of them is not as great as in the past. Moreover, the millenarian movement preaches peace between men as well as between men and beasts, and pigs are thought to have become friendlier in recent years. To build the first type of fences, men planted pairs of posts several feet apart. The posts composing a pair were at a distance of a few inches from one another. The men laid down a trunk and piled others on it, taking care that their extremities passed between the posts. The trunks were then fastened to the posts with a particularly strong vine (Parsonia pedunculata). The second type of fence consists of posts which the men thrust into the ground and bind together with the same vine. Both types are called savonau. Gates are built to help the gardeners climb into the garden. Fencing is a man’s task. In collective gardens, men work together, each fencing the part of the garden corresponding to his wife’s compartment, and the same applies in ordinary subsistence gardens where several families share the same site.

55The vocabulary describing the various stages of the development of taro is of course quite rich. When a new petiole and leaf appear on the taro top recently planted, the Maenge say: mao ke lulupa, it sprouts. When the first leaf is quite visible after a few days, they say: mao ke valipage manugana, “it is shooting a bird’s neck” (manugana), as the young leaf is still rolled up and resembles a bird’s neck. When the leaf opens, the verb sasalopa is used. After a few weeks, the first and second leaves are cut together with their petioles, as new ones continue to appear. The first leaves are not eaten by human beings as they are “the greens of the evil spirits” (vasi a soarema), while the second ones are eaten by the villagers. To cut these “greens” is kole vasi. The day when they perform this operation, the women also start weeding (kinia vutu).

56When weeding, the women are either in a squatting position or standing. They hold a bush-knife (in the past, the small Lucinidae clam shell) in their right hand and either up root the plant (kilage) with their left hand alone or use the knife to search the root into the ground. To cut the weeds (kintote) is prohibited. Among the coastal Maenge, there is only one weeding. The second wave of weeds is said to “help the taro to mature” (vutu ke pamatua mao), a practice to be analysed later when discussing the alternate treatment of cold and heat which the taro needs while developing. Among the Longueinga, there are two weedings. The first weeding is done at about the same time as on the coast, the second when the plant is about to reach its maximum height. The first weeds are referred to as vutu sona, the second as vutu mirana. Sona is the usual word for milk-teeth, the first plumage or fur of young birds and animals, while mirana indicates adult teeth, fur or plumage. When weeding, the women are careful not to uproot the various cultigens whose seeds, buried in the ground or thrown onto it, have sprouted either through the gardener’s will or because they had been left from a previous garden or scattered by the wind. This applies mainly to cucumber and amaranth. They also protect those other cultigens that are reproduced vegetatively and the trees that the men have spared while clearing the undergrowth, weeding and firing.

57While what is left of the first petioles is rotting (rotting petioles are called tavana or legona, words also used to describe the dry sheathing of the rattans, Calamus spp.), new petioles and leaves appear. These are called valau kale raleng (“to fall after the operation known as ralia”). The plant is now about two feet high and one says of it: ke upa, “it is growing”. When the taro has reached its maximum height (ke kuru), the “rubbish men” in the village start to steal the maturing corms. The second phase now begins.

Figure 5. Descriptive vocabulary of the taro plant

Figure 5. Descriptive vocabulary of the taro plant
The second period of maturation

58Already while erecting the fences, the men make traps (sula) for the pigs. These consist of a hole dug outside the garden, where spears have been thrust into the ground. At the same time, they usually build a small hut (valevale), which is used to rest during the day or protect oneself from the sun or rain during the first period. This hut becomes even more useful in the second period, when men and their sons, or mothers and their daughters, come regularly to the garden to chase parrots (Eclectus roratus), which, in this part of New Britain at least, have become taro eaters. This parrot is particularly dreaded since it attacks the tops of the corms and often succeeds in breaking off the petiole so that the taro top cannot be replanted. As it may be an abode of the spirit of a dead person, this parrot is not killed. Scarecrows are made to protect the crops. In the past, scarecrows were made with the inner part of the stem of Crinum macranthum, which is of a bright white colour. Tins have now replaced it. The most dangerous pest in the area is the taro beetle, Papuana sp., which eats the corm. Odoriferous plants such as ginger or basil are supposed to remove it away from the garden. The leaf blight (Phytophthora colocasiae), which has damaged so much of the taro in the north and east of New Britain, is present in the Maenge area but not to the point that it can damage crops (for more details see O’Connor 1969).

Harvesting

59Before the taro matures, several cultigens can be harvested: the winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus), Hibiscus manihot, Setaria palmifolia and cucumber. Some banana cultivars reach maturity before taro, among which are the quick-maturing parimao (“it precedes taro”). Most of the banana plants as well as the yams are left in the fallow and removed only when the taro corms have been collected. Sugar cane and pitpit are usually planted so that they should mature at the same time as taro. A given piece of land is this still occupied partly with cultigens 14 or 15 months after the initial planting has started. Each nuclear family possesses but a small number of banana, sugar cane, pitpit and yams. They play only a marginal part in the diet. Regarding taro, for the anthropologist to reckon yields is a difficult task since harvesting goes on for weeks and the harvest is not taken to the village in one day but on many days over a long period. The best method consists in counting the number of taro plants in a block and to repeat the operation in a certain number of gardens to obtain an average figure. For this purpose, corms were weighed over a long period to find out what their average weight was. Mature corms weighed an average of one pound and a half when dug up at maturity (see Hogbin 1951: 290-301 and T.S. Epstein 1968: 44 for useful comparisons). Since the Maenge plant about 7,000 taro plants per acre, an acre can thus yield 4.6 tons, a figure to be compared with that of Barrau and Massal (1956) who give a production between 3 and 6 tons per acre. Of course, the Maenge do not dig out all corms at maturity and some weigh less than a pound and a half. But since when counting the plants the author did not take the cormlets into account, the figure is likely to reflect reality.

60To harvest taro is a woman’s task. Men harvest yams and both sexes can harvest sugar cane, banana or pitpit. To dig out the corm (lala mao), women use the digging stick to loosen the soil around it. They then pull up the petiole, remove the soil and rootlets which are attached to the corm with the help of an oyster shell and cut the petiole so that only part of it, without any leaf, remains attached to the corm. All the refuse is heaped in a corner of the garden known as gusaoli (latrines) and carefully protected from birds’ attacks by covering it with leaves. The women first dig out the taro planted in the “ground nothing”, then the taro planted in the tertiary and secondary firing places. It is often the parongsupu (the cormlets which have been replanted and mature quickly) that are dug up first. When harvesting, the women dig up one taro here and another there; for technological reasons as well as magical ones, they should never harvest neighbouring corms. The women walk in the garden and decide to pick up this taro plant and then that. Such a technique, which results in leaving more space to the plants left in the garden, is known as ravulepatalea or paera patalea, “to take or clean and leave in the open space”. On the coast, the women take back the corms as well as other garden products on the axial stems (rachis) of the leaves of an Archontophoenix sp. palm, which they use as a kind of tray they carry on their heads. They can bring back as much as 80 pounds in this way, though as shall be seen later, a nuclear family usually needs about 20 pounds of raw food per day. Among the Longueinga, the women often use large bags made by their neighbours, the Kol, or they tie up their bundles of food with the fibres of Commersonia bartramia, which they also use as headbands. The corms are left with their petioles until needed for cooking, as they can be kept for several days with their petioles. It is only when the women want to cook the corms that they cut the top with the petiole, using an oyster shell. This operation is called kintote, to cut, by contrast with kinroge, to strangle, a verb that denotes the action of cutting the petiole above the corm so that it cannot be replanted.

Fallowing

61As mentioned above, the Maenge distinguish three stages in the fallowing period, which are characterized by different types of vegetation.

Kilana e sina (short fallow)

62The short fallow is characterized by the presence of weeds, grass and treelets, allowed to grow in the garden after the first weeding on the coast, and among the Longueinga, after the second weeding. In Maenge, weeds are called either vutu or kinikining, words that refer to all the plants which sprout in a garden and must be uprooted. They include herbaceous plants belonging to different families: Graminae, Cyperaceae, Malvaceae, Compositae, Acanthaceae, Liliaceae as well as treelets and plants with an undetermined status in Maenge taxonomy such as Wedelia biflora: this is neither a vine nor a tree but belongs to a category subordinate to that of trees as vega e sina, a small tree. Among herbaceous plants, the most frequent are: Polytoca macrophylla, Imperata conferta, Microstegium sp., Themeda intermedia, Cyperus brevifolius, Scleria polycarpa, Eleusine indica, Sida rhombifolia and Hemigraphis sp. Microstegium sp. is said to have invaded large areas of fallow land near village sites located in the mountains near the river Galue. the Maenge can say when some of the weeds were first introduced into their area. Crassocephalum crepidioides is called “Japanese excrements” and the Maenge say that it arrived during World War II together with the Japanese. Ageratum conyzoides is called Samoa and may have been brought back by the Maenge who worked in Samoa before World War I, while another weed was scattered with the ashes coming from the volcano Imvulu during one of the eruptions that took place at the beginning of this century.

Kilana e volau (long fallow)

63The various species that are characteristic of the long fallow have been mentioned earlier. The Maenge have observed that they are dispersed in various ways, by the wind, birds or other animals. They know that when a giant of the forest is blown by the wind, these species will appear in the hole made around the tree roots. Rather than explaining the presence of these new species in terms of the light conditions, they turn to the qualities of the soil: in the vegamukuna, the plants find a “cold” soil, abundant with liquid, favourable to the development of the species that like garden land. In the fallow garden, the Maenge reckon that the first wave of trees is characterized by the presence of Macaranga tamarina and Homalanthus sp. When the taller trees such as Euodia elleryana develop, these species disappear. The stands of Macaranga aleuritoides, Macaranga tamarina, Kleinhovia hospita and Macaranga decipiens slowly perish over the years while trees of the primary forest invade the fallow garden again.

Valasolo (old garden sites reverting to primary forest)

64That plots are dominated again by species belonging to the primary forest is in part due to stumps being left in the garden while offshoots sprout from them. This would be the case for Myristica sp., Pometia pinnata and Pterocarpus indicus. Of course, this can only occur after incomplete burning. Together with the trees above, the following species would be among the first to invade a fallow garden: Pangium edule, Celtis latifolia, Vitex cofassus.

Yam gardens

65The yam gardens bear a specific name. They are called kantolo, by contrast with the taro gardens, ura. Burning is done by erecting pyres, but these do not generate a hierarchy of places. Ashes are swept in a part of the garden called rumvuli where gardeners plant Dioscorea bulbifera seeds. The main cultigen in a yam garden is Dioscorea esculenta but other yams are present as well. The most numerous belong to Dioscorea alata, while D. bulbifera and D. pentaphylla are poorly represented. Out of the two acres planted in yams in Matong, in January 1970, 0.457 were planted in short fallow gardens, 0.707 in long fallow gardens, 0.661 in fallow where the secondary forest was reverting to primary forest and 0.327 in primary forest. The preference is thus for the long fallow (35%), then for the secondary forest returning to primary forest (33%) while the short fallow and primary forest represent but 23% and 8% respectively. In the short fallow, more than half of the surface planted with yams (0.238 as against 0.219) had been re-cultivated after only a few months of fallowing, but this was considered a bad practice (Tables VIII to XII).

66Usually yam gardens are located on blocks where the layer of black humus is particularly thick. In Matong, during the period under study, there was only one example of a yam garden located in a stony area (garden 10). For yam gardens in the littoral plain, it may happen that the layer of humus is not thick enough, in which case some sand may be mixed up with the humus; this mixture is not considered to be too bad provided the sand is not too dense. Most yam gardens in Matong were located on the plain (60% of the total area planted with yams). Of those located in the back country, 18% were located on flat grounds near small rivers while 16% were on flat surfaces at the summit of hills. Only 5% of yam gardens were made on slopes. There the soil was prevented from being washed away by laying down trunks which ran crosswise to the slope and protected the mounds. In the past, yam gardens were divided into two parts where gardeners planted, in one half, Dioscorea esculenta and in the other, Dioscorea alata. Nowdays, D. alata is interspersed with D. esculenta. In a few gardens in Matong, such as gardens 8 and 17, yams were planted together with taro in larger quantities than in the mixed taro gardens. Taro can thus be interspersed with yams in yam gardens, whether they remain there until they are mature or the yam garden is used as a nursery. D. esculenta vines climb on central poles which are placed at a distance varying between 50 and 100 inches. To each of these central poles correspond two mounds. The vines run from the mounds to the central poles on secondary poles. D. alata is planted in separate mounds. These mounds are only a few inches high. Planting is done from October to December. To plant yams is a man’s task but the men are helped by the women for some of the operations. While the man makes the hole (valia muli), the woman crumbles the soil (kampuia magalo) and covers the hole with it (alue magalo). For D. esculenta, the men put two tubers in each mound in an oblique position (valikovue). For D. alata, they replant either the top (gilinavagana) or part of the skin to which some flesh is attached (pinsina, contrasting with sarapungana, the part which is eaten). The women weed the yam gardens. The men harvest the tubers, which are then taken back to the village by the women. The harvest takes place just before the high of the wet season, in June or July. D. esculenta tubers are kept in the houses. In the past, each galiau erected on the village site a platform (pala) where D. alata tubers were stored. The platform was divided into compartments that corresponded to each household. In November 1969, the young leader of Matong, Maitenia, had erected a small platform in his garden to perform the rites connected with the harvest of D. alata. He had also decided to establish a large collective yam garden (garden 16). There was another garden (garden 12) where members of 9 different households grew their yams. As in the large taro gardens, a nuclear family receives one or more compartments in this type of garden, depending on the number of yams that it possesses. Trunks mark the limits of these compartments. As very little magic is performed in the yam gardens, one finds in them but a few ornamental plants. However, as many of the taro gardens in Matong in 1969-70 had been ruined during the previous wet season, the people had brought most of their ornamental plants into the yam gardens, which were thus particularly adorned.

Tree crops

67The fruit-bearing trees bear a specific name: kaoluma. This category includes the coconut palm, the areca palm, the breadfruit tree as well as Canarium, Barringtonia niedenzuana, the malay-apple and the chestnut tree. Cultivated mango trees, Spondias dulcis and Pometia pinnata have been introduced recently from the Tolai area. Terminalia catappa, though it is present on many village sites, is not included in this list, perhaps because it is not dispersed by birds or planted by humans but dispersed by the sea. The list above corresponds to that given in several versions of the myth of Nutu e sina and Nutu e volau. Kaoluma are inherited together with the other riches (shell money, taro cultivars) within the matriclans. They often bear an individual name, which is either the name of the person who has planted or cleared the tree, or the name of one of his or her relatives. Sons and daughters may inherit trees that their father has specifically planted for them. Within the Kaoluma category, several distinctions are made through considering: 1. The way the tree is reproduced. 2. Its location. 3. The mode of appropriation and 4. The way fruit is harvested.

Reproduction

68Planting is only the usual practice in the case of the coconut and areca palms. For the other species of fruit-bearing trees, the seeds are dispersed by flying foxes, cassowaries or other animals, and people only protect and clear the young shoots. These trees are said to have sprouted (kolopa) by contrast with the coconut and areca palms. To plant these is tolua. Flying foxes were humorously described as “Agricultural Officers of the Air”; in the past, the deposits they made of various seeds (such as Canarium, bread-fruit, chestnut, Terminalia catappa etc.) were carefully noticed. They would be appropriated and the owner of the garden would come every morning to gather the seeds dropped by the flying foxes and eat them. These deposits were called ngosi, from ngosia, to gnaw, referring to the eating habits of the flying foxes.

Location

69Though most of the trees on a village site have not been planted, this does not mean that they have been allowed to grow in disorder. The trees are regularly placed and they form geometric designs. On a village ground, coconut and areca palms tend to be planted near the village centre, while the other trees form a belt around them. Small trees like Barringtonia niedenzuana are often planted near the houses. Trees are planted quite close to one another. In Matong, where the village ground measures about three acres, most of trees were planted on an area measuring two acres, with the centre of the village remaining bare except for the presence of some coconut and areca palms. Outside the village site, one finds kaoluma alongside paths and in the fallow gardens, where they are regularly planted, tended and protected when the fallow blocks are re-cultivated.

Appropriation

70On the village site, people plant or tend the trees on ground belonging to their clan or to a clan they are associated with, either by consanguinity or affinity or through galiau membership. In the case of fallow gardens, the act of cleaning (sapatalea) or naming (veipage) the tree or treelet assures one of its possession. Such claiming can be done on land belonging to one’s clan or on land where one has been allowed to garden, so that trees cannot be used as an index of rights over a given piece of land. The way of appropriating a kaoluma tree is not different, in principle, from the way other trees can be appropriated. One can claim rights, in the same manner, over trees that play an important part in technology such as Archontophoenix, Gmelina moluccana, Cyclandophora laurina, or over trees which offer complements to the diet, whether in normal conditions (Parartocarpus venenosus, Pangium edule, Gnetum latifolium) or during famines (Cycas rumphii). One should note however that although these trees are cleared and considered to belong to the man or woman who cleared them from that moment on, they do not receive an individual name, even when they have been planted.

Harvesting

71Only the owner or someone who has been allowed by the owner can pick the nuts of a coconut or areca palm. When a large ceremony was in preparation, the men who had planned it could place a taboo over their coconut and areca palms. This taboo could be extended to other Kaoluma with a hard skin or shell such as breadfruit trees and Canarium, chestnut trees and Barringtonia niedenzuana. Fruits with a soft skin such as Malay apple, mango and Spondias dulcis could not be tabooed as they could be attacked by birds who would, in any case, break the taboo. While coconuts and areca nuts are mostly consumed by the tree owners and given only as a sign of friendship, fruit harvested from the breadfruit trees and Canarium trees were widely distributed among kin. Children and passers-by may pick up fallen fruits of the Malay apple and Barringtonia niedenzuana trees. The Canarium almond ripens just before the wet season and since it could be preserved, it provided an important complement to the diet. The main chestnut harvest is in September and October and again, as it comes in a period when food can be short, it is particularly welcome.

Modification of the system

Sweet potato fields

  • 14 (Editor’s note). Figures in the text do not always correspond exactly with figures in tables. Corr (...)

72Many Maenge believe that the sweet potato belongs to their traditional diet, together with taro and yams. A few decades ago, when sweet potatoes were still scant, gardeners planted them in the taro gardens, often in the main firing places where tobacco can be found in some of the coastal gardens. A few of these plants remained in some of the last Longueinga villages, near the Nakanai border. Whatever the date of their introduction (which would in any case be after the fifteenth century), these varieties may have come along two of the traditional trading routes: either from the north coast via the Nakanai and Longueinga, or along the south coast from the Arawe country. Today, sweet potatoes are planted in separate fields. Their importance varies from village to village. Among the Longueinga, they play a lesser part in the diet than in coastal villages. In Matong, in January 1970, sweet potatoes represented 42% of the planted area. Of the 6.661 acres planted with sweet potato, 44% (2.983 acres) were planted in short fallow gardens, 32% in long fallow gardens (2.104 acres), 18% in primary forest (1.105 acres) and 5% (0.329 acres) in fallow reverting to primary forest. The relatively high percentage of sweet potato fields in the long fallow gardens or in primary forest (respectively 53% and 56% of the total land cleared in these areas) is explained by the fact that many of these fields will later be used as coconut plantations. Out of the 4.182 acres which were planted with staples in Matong and which were to be used later as coconut plantations, 72% were planted with sweet potato. The influence of cash cropping and the cultivation of the new staples will be discussed in more detail below. (See Table VIII and Tables XII and XIII).14

73Most of the sweet potato gardens in Matong were in the plain, often on ground too stony for taro cultivation (gardens 1,2 and 10). Out of the 2.983 acres planted in short fallow gardens, almost half (48%) were planted on land where re-cultivation had started within a few weeks or months after the previous crops (taro, yams or sweet potato) had been removed. Fields can be cultivated either by one or several nuclear families. They are divided into compartments and when several nuclear families cultivate the same block, their compartments are set close to one another. Though firing is done in the same way as in the yam or taro gardens, except in the case of fields established in short fallow gardens where re-cultivation starts almost immediately, there is no hierarchy of places. Mounds are erected regularly at a distance varying between two to three feet. For fertility purposes, gardeners prefer to respect alignment rather than use the firing places. The uniform character is very striking since there are no ornamental plants in these fields, no magic being performed and no intercropping as in the taro gardens. Usually gardeners try to plant the same variety in one compartment. If they do not possess enough of one variety, the compartment is carefully divided into two or more compartments. As in the taro gardens, men make the fires while women plant and harvest.

Table XIII. Matong association of staple and coconut plantation

I. Areas cultivated on established coconut plantations

Yam

Sweet Potato

Taro

Chinese Taro

0.010

0.032

0.128

0.031

0.019

0.160

-

0.122

0.015

0.232

-

0.055

0.025

0.146

-

0.016

0.023

0.055

-

0.008

0.041

0.033

-

0.027

0.017

0.011

-

0.054

0.075

0.071

-

0.055

0.013

0.013

-

0.055

0.089

0.218

-

0.263

-

0.303

-

0.070

-

-

-

0.220

-

-

-

0.006

-

-

-

0.016

-

-

-

0.127

-

-

-

0.294

-

-

-

0.044

-

-

-

0.058

-

-

-

2.435

0.327

1.274

0.128

3.956

6%

22%

2%

70%

Total acres:

5.685

II. Areas where coconuts were planted at the same time as staple

Sweet Potato

0.088

0.170

0.258

III. Areas planted with staple where coconuts will be planted

Yam

Sweet Potato

Taro

Chinese Taro

0.126

0.028

0.037

0.030

0.009

0.044

0.136

-

0.013

0.146

0.044

-

0.007

0.029

0.052

-

0.009

0.057

0.141

-

0.013

0.016

0.130

-

0.274

0.056

0.145

-

-

0.024

-

-

-

0.118

-

-

-

0.082

-

-

-

0.021

-

-

-

0.140

-

-

-

0.160

-

-

-

0.169

-

-

-

0.265

-

-

-

0.423

-

-

-

0.141

-

-

-

0.110

-

-

-

0.066

-

-

-

0.022

-

-

-

0.008

-

-

-

0.064

-

-

-

0.299

-

-

-

0.080

-

-

-

0.121

-

-

-

0.103

-

-

-

0.107

-

-

-

0.066

-

-

-

0.051

-

-

0.451

3.016

0.685

0.03

11%

72%

16%

1%

Total area:

4.182

Chineze taro fields

74Chinese taro was introduced after World War II and again, its importance varies from village to village. In Matong, in January 1970, it represented 26% of the total planted area, only in the plain and only in short fallow gardens. Almost all the fields of Chinese taro (98%) were in coconut plantations. In these fields, burning is done by setting fire to the grass (tunua poi). No pyres are erected and even the traditional division into compartments is almost entirely abandoned except for a few logs marking the divisions between the blocks of different nuclear families when several families cultivate this staple in association. The uniformity of these fields is very striking since the Maenge only grow one variety of this species and there is no inter-cropping and no planting of ornamental plants.

75The cultivation of the sweet potato and of the Chinese taro marks a significant change both in the technology and in the attitude of the people towards their cultivated plants. Gardens are transformed into fields with no hierarchical organization of the cultivated space, varieties diminish, intercropping is abandoned, no magic is performed and the cultivation cycle is changed, with a reduction of the fallow time. Chinese taro represents 54% of the crops cultivated in short fallow gardens. With a predominance of Chinese taro and sweet potato in the diet and 68% of the total planted area in Matong at the time of the survey, the traditional pattern is deeply modified.

Coconut plantations

76The strong association between the cultivation of food crops (mainly sweet potato and Chinese taro) with coconut plantations is clearly shown by the figures. In Matong, in January 1970, 35% of the cultivated area (69% of which with Chinese taro) were found on established coconut plantations while 26% of the cultivated area (72% of which with sweet potato) was to be transformed into coconut plantations. If one adds the 1.5% area where sweet potato and coconuts had been planted at the same time, 62.5% of the total cultivated area is linked to coconut production. The people of Matong need between 8 and 10 acres of newly cleared land annually to enlarge their coconut plantations. Most of this land is first planted with sweet potato. In Pomio, in December 1969, I could observe a series of gardens where the land had been utilized successively for planting staples and then coconuts. A first crop of taro was being harvested and the tops were being replanted in a distant garden. Where all the taro had been removed, sweet potato had been planted and the vines already covered the ground. A few nuts had already been planted and their first palms appeared (lamasi a susumya, the “Curculigo erecta coconut”, as the young palms resemble the leaves of C. erecta). Other nuts were left near tree trunks, waiting to be planted. A.L Epstein has described the association of subsistence gardens with coconut plantations for the Tolai (1963: 77). In 1960, 60% of the land under food-crops in Rapitok as to be planted with tree crops. Such inter-cropping is common in the tropics (see Child 1964: 81-82).

77As in the case of the introduction of the new staples, sweet potato and Chinese taro, the development of cash-cropping among the Maenge has produced a change in their attitude towards plants. As mentioned above, in the past, the Maenge used to plant only a few coconut trees that generally bore the names of individuals. These trees were known individually by their owners as well as by most of the village inhabitants. Moreover, people attached importance to their individual features (apart from their classification into different varieties): their size, the way the wind had bent them, the size of the nuts.

78One should note, however, that in Matong most persons were unable to state accurately the number of the trees they owned, while their evaluation of the number of Dioscorea esculenta poles in their yam gardens was usually correct. This ignorance can in part be explained by the fact that the trees belonging to an individual are scattered in different plantations. Until recently, men would have a “line” of trees or half a line in a block A shared by other people, another line in a block B etc. It is only during the last years that an effort has been made to plant on a larger scale so that, if not all, at least most of a man’s trees will be in the same area. The new plantations, especially those of young men and newcomers, thus contrast with the old ones. In a plantation, trees are spaced at regular intervals, in a uniform way; although some trees such as Barringtonia niedenzuana, Malay apple and others may be left, the uniform treatment of the trees and of the surrounding space bears little similarity with what happened in the past when a definite geometry was compatible with a qualitative approach to space.

Productivity and food needs in Matong

79The survey in Matong was done at a particularly bad period, since many of the taro gardens had been destroyed during the previous wet season and the clearing of new ones had not yet started. The figures presented here thus correspond to abnormal conditions. In January 1970, 16.33 acres were under cultivation: 6.6 acres were planted with sweet potato, 3.4 with taro, 4.3 with Chinese taro and 2 with yams. To get a figure corresponding to the area cultivated annually, one should a) double the area planted with sweet potato since most families harvest two crops per year; b) multiply by two-thirds the area planted with taro as this corresponds to the area destroyed during the wet season; One thus gets a figure of 29.7 acres. Since the number of residents in the village is 199, the total area cleared annually per inhabitant would be 0.149 acre, a figure very close to that of 0.15 acre found by T.S. Epstein among the Tolai (Epstein 1968: 44), but considerably lower than the figures for the highlands.

80If one turns to the figures concerning the length of the fallow, one finds that 49% of the total cultivated area was in short fallow (3 months to 5 years), 24% in long fallow (5 to 15 years), 14% in fallow reverting to primary forest and 12% in primary forest. Under normal conditions, these percentages would be somewhat different. To get figures closer to the norm, one must include the second sweet potato crop and the normal size of the area planted with taro (two thirds of the present one). The percentages would then be: 38% in short fallow, 29% in long fallow, 17% in fallow reverting to primary forest and 14% in primary forest, with the assumption that the same percentage of sweet potato and taro would be found in the different categories of land as in the sample. The average fallow time would then be around 13 years (38% 4 years, 29% 10 years, 17% 20 years and 14% with an arbitrary figure of 30 years). The total land requirement per inhabitant during a whole cultivation cycle is thus 2.5 acres if we use Allan’s formula modified by Barnes (Brookfield and Brown, 1963). The formula is: 100 (C L)/P. where C represents the duration of the cycle (13 years here), L the land cultivated per inhabitant for one year and P the percentage of the village territory which can be cultivated given the actual technological and ritual conditions. This percentage is reckoned to be about 85% in Matong village, an estimate founded first on a survey of the village territory while in the field, second on the aerial maps which accompany the report of the Allied Geographical Section, Southwest Pacific Area (1943) Since the village territory covers an approximate area of 2.240 acres, the area needed for subsistence represents but a small part. Considering the area covered by the coconut plantations (about 130 acres, with a mean of 0.57 acre per inhabitant), the coconut plantations could still be extended without any fear of compromising the area devoted to subsistence gardens.

81In the field, it was only possible to calculate the productivity of the taro gardens. With a production of 4.6 tons per acre, the yearly production in Matong should be around 46 tons. With a possible average production of 6 tons per acre, the sweet potato production might be around 80 tons. The yam production is probably 20 tons per year, while the Chinese taro production is probably around 8 tons per acre (for comparative approximate figures see Barrau and Massal 1956 and Barrau 1962: 118, 131). The total yearly production of garden products in Matong would thus be around 180 tons. The garden products brought back to the village by women belonging to 9 different households were weighed over a week and compared with the products brought back by women belonging to other households during two previous weeks (Table XIV). From this sample, it was found that for each household with an average of five members, 21 pounds of raw food were needed, or 4.2 pounds per person (see Hogbin 1951 for similar figures). For a period of one year, a household thus needs almost 3.5 tons of food. The 41 households in the village need 143.5 tons, which leaves a surplus of 46.5 tons.

  • 15 (Editor’s note). Note (*) in Table XIV points to the distribution of surplus raw food in gifts or (...)

Table XIV. Food needs, Matong15

Table XIV. Food needs, Matong15

* Households 7 and 13 were bringing back food to be sent to a feast held in Pomio. This accounts for the fact that the average consumption per day is higher for the first week and second week than for the one chosen as the sample (third week): 22.2 pounds versus 21. (Without households 7 and 13 the figure would be 21.70.)

Photograph 6. Murisi, an old man belonging to the Galekorokoro clan, working in his garden.
He is cutting branches and trunks before erecting a pyre.

Photograph 7. Murisi amidst the dried branches and twigs.

Photograph 8. Uinsikaena, a large ceremonial garden belonging to the inhabitants of Pomio and located near the Galue river. Some of the compartments are planted. A pyre is still burning in a distant compartment.

Photograph 9. Uinsikaena. The four logs which form the base of a pyre. Here the pyre is erected close to a tree stump.

Photograph 10. Uinsikaena, a pyre burning.

Photograph 11. A young woman from Matong working on a Friday morning in the ceremonial garden. She is weeding with the help of a bush-knife.

Photograph 12. Matanakaka, a young woman from Matong, bringing food back from the garden together with logs into the village.

Notes

13 See Appendix II for soil sample data listed by garden number.

14 (Editor’s note). Figures in the text do not always correspond exactly with figures in tables. Corrections have been made when possible, otherwise figures and percentages quoted by the author have been kept. Readers interested in detailed balance between plantings in Matong in 1970 may be able to interpret discrepancies by taking a close look at all the figures.

15 (Editor’s note). Note (*) in Table XIV points to the distribution of surplus raw food in gifts or exchanges expected in a Melanesian context.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1
Légende Lucinidae shell and oyster shell used by the Maenge as gardening tools.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Légende Adze blades and polishing stone used by the Maenge.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 68k
Titre Map 6. Matong: the village territory and location of gardens in January 197013
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 352k
Titre Figure 2. Murisi’s mixed taro garden
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 241k
Titre Figure 3. Details of a compartment within a taro garden. Compartment with three firing places and a tree stump
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 225k
Titre Figure 4. Details of a compartment within a mixed taro garden
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 137k
Légende Photograph 5. Maitenia, the young leader of the Galekorokoro clan.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 167k
Titre Figure 5. Descriptive vocabulary of the taro plant
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 225k
Titre Table XIV. Food needs, Matong15
Légende * Households 7 and 13 were bringing back food to be sent to a feast held in Pomio. This accounts for the fact that the average consumption per day is higher for the first week and second week than for the one chosen as the sample (third week): 22.2 pounds versus 21. (Without households 7 and 13 the figure would be 21.70.)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 327k
Légende Photograph 6. Murisi, an old man belonging to the Galekorokoro clan, working in his garden.He is cutting branches and trunks before erecting a pyre.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 206k
Légende Photograph 7. Murisi amidst the dried branches and twigs.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 246k
Légende Photograph 8. Uinsikaena, a large ceremonial garden belonging to the inhabitants of Pomio and located near the Galue river. Some of the compartments are planted. A pyre is still burning in a distant compartment.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 197k
Légende Photograph 9. Uinsikaena. The four logs which form the base of a pyre. Here the pyre is erected close to a tree stump.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 165k
Légende Photograph 10. Uinsikaena, a pyre burning.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 146k
Légende Photograph 11. A young woman from Matong working on a Friday morning in the ceremonial garden. She is weeding with the help of a bush-knife.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 112k
Légende Photograph 12. Matanakaka, a young woman from Matong, bringing food back from the garden together with logs into the village.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pacific/docannexe/image/771/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 165k

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