The Fruits of Civilization (65-2) Tikopia


Tikopia is a small island in the southwestern Pacific, part of the Solomon Islands, culturally Polynesian.

The 5 km2 island has been peopled for 3,000 years; first inhabited around the same time as Easter Island. The natives micromanaged their resources and regulated population size carefully, and so sustained themselves in isolation. Tikopians never indulged in the slash-and-burn agriculture casually practiced on much of the planet.

The challenge has been considerable. Tikopia lies in the Pacific’s cyclone belt. After the dry season of May and June, cyclones may unpredictably destroy gardens.

Tikopians survive the cyclones themselves by retreating to caves on higher ground and avoid starvation in the aftermath with fermented breadfruit paste that remains edible for a couple of years, and by eating fruits and vegetables generally shunned out of preference.

Around 1600 ce, the islanders decided to slaughter all the pigs on the island, as they were taking too much food that could be eaten by people. Subsequently, seafood substituted for pork.

Tikopians have practiced various methods to keep their population in check, including coitus interruptus, abortion, infanticide, and suicide. During the 16th century, population pressure provoked the genocide of 2 of the smallest tribes. 4 now remain.

Tikopia was “discovered” by Europeans in 1606. The subsequent cultural influences have been destructive, particularly that of ignorant-but-arrogant Christians, who frowned on birth control and so disrupted traditional practices, to considerable social dislocation.