THE HISTORY OF MANKIND
Prof. Friedrich Ratzel
The Races of Oceania
The Races of the Pacific and Their Migrations
Cook or Society Islands
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The majority of the Pacific islands lie in a region where the prevailing currents and winds move in a westerly direction, north and south of the equator, between the annual isothermals of 68°. It has often been pointed out how the prevailing east to west direction of the trade-winds would facilitate immigration from the New World. In small districts the influence of the winds and currents is no doubt great; but the facts of migrations and castings-away show that, though it may often determine the lines of distribution of mankind, it does not always do so. In more recent times, meteorology has no less shown us the existence of westerly currents of air, than a study of the ocean has taught us that there is an equatorial counter-current in the same direction. In their regular traffic the Polynesians wait for a west wind to sail eastwards, and they have a corresponding tradition that their domestic animals were brought from the west. By the time we reach the Hervey or Cook's, and Tubuai or Austral groups, the west winds, which in the southern hemisphere prevail south of 20°, begin to make themselves felt.
The flora and fauna of this region, the pronounced Asiatic character of which Chamisso was the first to refer to the eastward migration of the Oceanians, have little to offer for human use. Some of the most important cultivated plants and domesticated animals have been imported; such as pigs, dogs, poultry, taro, and perhaps bananas too. But the tree which is most closely connected with the island world, and which does most to give a character to its landscape, the coco-nut, renders existence possible even to the inhabitants of the remote and low-lying islands. While green, the nut contains a liquid which is cooling when fresh and intoxicating when fermented. The oleaginous kernel, when older, is nutritious and gives oil in abundance. The shell of the nut provides vessels; the fibres of its outer side furnish a durable fabric; the leaves are used for thatching houses, plaiting mats, sails, or baskets; the stem serves for building huts and boats. Lastly, the coco-nuts with their spreading roots contribute to hold the coral islands together and to extend their area; being, as they are, among their earliest and most frequent inhabitants of the islands.
Taro (Caladium esculentum)
Next to the coco-palm the bread-fruit tree is the most profitable of all things grown and cultivated in Polynesia. Cook's, saying, that six bread-fruit trees would keep a family, is well known. In the third place comes the chief article of real agriculture, the taro plant. It and the bread-fruit together have made life almost too easy in those parts. The sago-palm extends from the west as far as Melanesia; a great part of the population of New Guinea is dependent on it.
Coco and Sago Palms
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Thus, in spite of their wide distribution, almost all the inhabitants of the central Pacific have the more important conditions of life in common. If to this we add the common possession of a mass of ethnographic characteristics we shall see that, in spite of significant racial differences, Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia form a single ethnographical domain. Islands of their nature make their inhabitants seamen and wanderers. Accordingly we have here a region of extensive colonisation, and we find settlements from one group of races in the district of another; though, by a curious contrast, in countries like New Guinea or New Zealand, where there is such ample room for extension in the interior, the people stick, in the great majority of cases, to the coast.
Implements and customs connected with seafaring and fishing show a general agreement. They must all do without iron, and consequently have much skill in the working of stone, wood, and shells. In weaving they have attained a high level; the loom has spread from the west, while in the east and south they manufacture bark and bast. The few domestic animals, the usual fruits of the field, and the intoxicating kava or ava, are found throughout all three districts. In the social life the preponderance of the tribe or commune over the family is more pronounced than perhaps anywhere else; while in the realm of religious conceptions there has arisen, out of a large number of ideas common to all Polynesia, one of the most complete mythological systems owned by any primitive race, which, with its luxuriance of legend, has overspread this vast area, and parts yet more remote.
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