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close this bookAgroforestry in the Pacific Islands: Systems for Sustainability (UNU, 1993, 297 pages)
close this folder4 Agroforestry in Melanesia: Case-studies from Vanuatu and Fiji
View the documentAgroforestry on Aneityum and Tanna, Vanuatu
View the documentFijian agroforestry at Namosi and Matainasau
View the documentA listing of agroforestry components in the landscapes of Namosi and Matainasau

Agroforestry on Aneityum and Tanna, Vanuatu

Aneityum and Tanna, two of the southernmost islands of Vanuatu, have agroforestry systems that are similar in many ways, but very different in others. Aneityum is the smaller island and is geologically older than Tanna. It is less than 200 sq km in area, with a degraded and deforested mountainous interior rising to 850 metros. The highly eroded and laterized soils of the interior, which support only an impoverished vegetation, have been interpreted to be the result of the activities of the large populations (between 3,000 and 4,000 people) that inhabited the island prior to the severe post-missionization depopulation that resulted in a low of 516 people in 1979. The initial decline resulted from a measles epidemic in 1860, followed by an outbreak of dysentery (Carter 1984, 495), and perhaps by other epidemics two or three decades earlier (Spriggs 1981, 73-77). Tanna is a larger (560 sq km), geologically younger, island with an active volcano. Its highly fertile young volcanic soils support a population of over 15,000 (Bonnemaison 1986).

Although excellent studies have been conducted on traditional agriculture on Aneityum (Spriggs 1981) and Tanna (Bonnemaison 1984, 1985, 1986), on the vegetation and flora (Guillaumin 1931, 1932; Schmid 1973), and on the trees of Vanuatu (Gowers 1976), little information has been published on the nature of trees found in active garden areas and in villages and home gardens. The information given here on these trees is derived from field research by R. Thaman and W. Clarke on Tanna and Aneityum in 1988.

The traditional significance of trees in Vanuatu

A particularly interesting aspect of agroforestry in Vanuatu, compared with many other areas? is the relative unimportance of recently introduced trees in villages and agricultural areas, and the predominance of indigenous and aboriginally introduced species. Bonnemaison (1985, 56-57) has remarked on the failure of colonial planters and missionaries to eliminate kastom (tradition) on Tanna; he further observes that the Melanesian society there has "retained in its heart of hearts a memory of its identity and an ability to reconstruct itself according to its own standards." More specifically, just before the Second World War, most people of Tanna rejected Christianity and returned to the use of "magic and to their old values and beliefs" and invented their own Messianic religion, the John Frum Movement, and the return to "the truth of their traditional culture - "Kastom'" (Bonnemaison 1986).

In his study of Melanesian identity, Bonnemaison (1985, 32) argues that the tree serves as a "metaphor" or "symbol of rootedness and stability," and that, in Tannese cosmogony, men wandered without shelter or protection from the sun, rain, or the cold of night. The growth of vegetation, first in the form of lichen and then real trees, provided the first protection. At the foot and in the shade of banyan trees, men hollowed out the first dancing grounds (yimwayim) and built their houses. They then spread gradually throughout the whole island, following wherever banyans sprang up and scattering their houses (Bonnemaison, 1985, 34).

He goes on to say (Bonnemaison, 1985, 37) that "in this 'geographical society' man is compared to a tree whose roots thrust deep into the sacred earth. The banyans around the most prestigious dancing grounds are symbolic of men and bear the names of ancestors who founded the clans. If the banyan leaves the soil it dies, its land and political rights are extinguished, its magical and life-giving powers fade away."

Bonnemaison (1985, 39) also writes of the importance of trees in defining "social space," which is structured by networks of central places bearing symbolic and ritual significance: dancing grounds in the shade of the great banyan trees; sacred or "tabu" places connected with magic stones; dwelling sites and garden areas. Around this living heart, the peaceful dwelling place of followers of custom, there is usually a rather extensive and encircling belt of forest, punctuated by places of identity and security. If the territory's heart is an uninhabited homeland, its periphery is a forest given up to wandering evil spirits. Only by day and with precaution does one venture into these fringe areas, hunting or gathering reserves where from time to time men may make a few temporary gardens to cultivate food crops. The forest, although a place of uneasiness, is also a protection and, because of this, a controlled space.

Plant use on Tanna remains highly traditional and secretive, with all trees perceived to be useful and to possess spiritual significance or power. The traditional perception of trees in Tanna is well reflected in the response to questions about the cultural utility of almost any species: "some man uses it for medicine," which often implies magic.

As Bonnemaison (1986) remarked in a seminar on "Magic Gardens in Tanna," if the island's traditional gardens are still, today, filled with beauty and abundance, it is because they have gone back to their magical foundations, thanks in part to the John Frum movement. The gardens are beautiful because they are traditional and traditional because they are beautiful.

All forces of garden magic are localized in territorial networks of stones and places, all dedicated to the god of food and the master of all fertility magic, Mwatikitiki (a Polynesian name). Garden magic is practiced by garden magicians, or naotupunas, in sacred gardens, or nemai assim, which are "made" by the magician. Magic is practiced by "awakening power" in sacred stones by rubbing each with special assortments of leaves and tree barks from a precise set of plants that the magician alone knows. In the case of magic for a yam garden, for example, the leaves of Cordyline fruticosa, Mwatikitiki's personal emblem, are used. Each of the tasks a magician carries out in the sacred garden is then repeated simultaneously by all other members of the community in their gardens. In addition to his supernatural function, the garden magician is also a master of agricultural technology who guides traditional gardening. The sacred garden is then abandoned after the magician takes the first fruits, distributes them to members of the residence group in exchange for banana laplap (traditional pudding made from root crops or bananas mixed with coconut cream and cooked in an earthen oven), a pig, a fowl, or a kava root.

Such magic practices exist or existed for all plants traditionally grown in gardens: yams, taros, bananas, kava "native cabbages" (Hibiscus manihot), sugar cane, and so forth. Thus, our informants' insistence that virtually all native or aboriginally introduced plants on

Tanna were "used by someone for 'marasin' [medicine]," probably referred more to their traditional magical and spiritual importance and utility in the context of kastom than to "medicine" in the Western context. Thus, "medicine" encompasses many concepts including drugs, magic, fertilizers, pesticides, repellents, and others. Anywhere on Tanna or Aneityum, the great importance of a wide range of indigenous or aboriginally introduced plants, rarely found in agroforestry systems to the east of Vanuatu, probably reflects the resilience and deep significance of the traditional system as well as the richer indigenous flora of Vanuatu compared with the more oceanic islands to the east.

Agroforestry in household gardens and village groves

As in most areas of the Pacific, home gardens and groves surrounding villages in Vanuatu include many tree and shrub species, and seem to be the main avenue through which exotic species are introduced. The dominant tree species of home gardens and groves surrounding coastal villages on Aneityum include mangos, coconut, breadfruit, and Tahitian chestnut (Inocarpus fagifer), with other significant fruit-bearing species such as banana and plantain cultivars, papaya, citrus trees - including orange (Citrus sinensis), mandarin orange (C. reticulata), lime (C. aurantiifolia), and grapefruit (C. paradisi) - oceanic Iychee (Pometia pinnata), Malay apple (Syzygium malaccense), and several edible fig (Ficus) species.

Also common today are the culturally important banyans (Ficus spp.), Pandanus spp., and Casuarina equisetifolia. Species also seen in villages included Cerbera manghas, sandalwood (Santalum austrocalidonicum), and Securinega flexnuoa. Recently introduced species, most of which had no local names, included sweetsop and soursop (Annona squamosa and A. muricata), avocado, guava, strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum), tamarind (Tamarindus indica), frangipani (Plumeria rubra), the poinciana (Delonix regia), Cassia fistula, Bauhinia sp., and Leucaena leucocephala. Conspicuous by their absence are exotic trees widely established in other areas of the Pacific, species such as rain tree (Samanea saman), African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata), kapok (Ceiba pentandra), and Cananga odorata.

Shrubby species included the hedge panaxes (Polyscias guilfoylei, P. fruticosa, and P. balfouriana), the leaves of which are commonly cooked as green vegetables, hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), the copperleaf or beefsteak plant (Acalypha amentacea), Cordyline fruticosa, Euodia hortensis, and the important food plants, sugar cane and bush hibiscus spinach (Hibiscus manihot), known in Bislama (Vanuatu pidgin) as aelan kapis (island cabbage), of which there are numerous recognized cultivars.

In Middle Bush, Tanna, at an elevation of about 300 metres, home gardens in villages contain fewer trees than are found in villages along the coast because the people of Middle Bush can easily acquire many important plant products from the surrounding forest and their richly varied bush gardens. Trees that are commonly found in these home gardens include coconut palms, bananas and plantains, edible figs (Ficus spp.), citrus trees, Barringtonia edulis, Terminalia catappa, Pometia pinnata, guava, soursop and bullock's heart (Annona muricata and A. squamosa), and more temperate species, such as mulberry (Mows alba) and the common peach (Prunus persica), both of which bear fruit in Middle Bush. Other trees found around villages and in ceremonial dancing grounds, or nakamal, in or surrounding villages include large sacred banyans (Ficus spp.), Casuarina equisetifolia, and red-leaved varieties of Pipturus argenteus. Other less common species found in or surrounding villages include Finschia chloroxantha, with an edible fruit, and Solanum aviculare, plus a number of other unidentified species. Also common in Middle Bush home gardens are shrubby species with colourful foliage such as Cordyline fruticosa, Codiaeum variegatum, Breynia disticha, Coleus blumei, and Pseuderanthemum sp., all of which seem to be used in either traditional (kastom) medicine and magic or for body ornamentation. Conspicuously absent in Middle Bush village areas were mango and breadfruit trees, so common on the coastal strip at lower, warmer elevations.

Also important in the areas close to villages are species commonly planted as living fences or pig pens. These species include Erythrina variegata, Hibiscus tiliaceus, Pterocarpus indicus, Polyscias spp., and Jatropha curcas. Other food or shade plants allowed to grow within pig pens adjacent to villages included coconut palms, Morinda citrifolia, Glochidion ramiflorum, Terminalia catappa, and Ervatamia orientalist.

Garden and fallow-forest agroforestry

The agricultural landscapes and associated agroforestry systems in coastal areas and inland along river flood plains on Aneityum and Tanna - as well as at higher elevations on the volcanic soils of Middle Bush, Tanna - illustrate the great importance and diversity of trees and treelike plants. In coastal areas, agroforestry constitutes a mosaic of smallholder coconut plantations, active food gardens, and areas in various stages of fallow vegetation, all within a matrix of scattered useful trees. Small groves, containing both cultivated and wild species, are also common, as are stands of mature secondary forest and coastal strand forest. In Middle Bush, smallholder coffee plantations are found in some areas, but formal smallholder copra plantings are absent.

In coastal areas, within gardens and areas under short-term fallow, the coconut palm is ubiquitous. In more mature fallow areas, the coconut is also the most common tree, although a wide range of other trees is present. Other useful trees are sometimes scattered amongst coconut palms in copra plantations. Whereas in copra plantations, coconut palms tend to be evenly spaced and of a uniform age because of the active promotion of commercial plantation culture in the colonial past, the palms in food gardens and fallow areas tend to be randomly scattered and of different ages. Spriggs (1981, 83) notes that in pre-colonial times, coconuts would have been few in number compared with today's coconut overlay, although none the less of great subsistence importance.

Among the most common cultivated or protected tree species in plantations, gardens, and fallow areas are fruit-trees such as breadfruit, mango, papaya, citrus species, Tahitian chestnut (Inocarpus fagifer), Pacific Iychee (Pometia pinnata), beach almond (Terminalia catappa), and Malay or mountain apple (Syzygium malaccense). Also important in Vanuatu are other less widespread fruit-trees such as pilinut (Barringtonia edulis), canarium almond (Canarium indicum), Burkella obovata, Corynocarpus similis, dragon plum (Dracontomelon vitiense), and Adenanthera pavonina, together with a wide range of edible fig or banyan species (Ficus spp.).

Among tree crops in the pre-colonial economy, Spriggs (1981b, 84) believes lnocarpus fagifer to have been particularly important in times of failure of other crops. Breadfruit was important in some areas at certain seasons, as it is today. Of particular interest is the range of cultivated and selfsown edible figs, which include Ficus aspera, F. copiosa, and F. wassa, each of which has a number of distinguishable red- or green-leaved cultivars. In addition to their edible fruit, many Ficus spp. also have edible leaves, which are cooked as green vegetables and/or are of medicinal importance, as in the case of F. septica.

A wide variety of bananas and plantains (Musca cultivars) is also present in both lowland and upland gardens. Of lesser importance, but found occasionally in garden areas, are the soursop and bullock's heart (Annona muricata and A. reticulata), avocado (Persea americana), and jambolan (Syzygium cumin)). Cocoa, which is an important cash crop in the northern islands of Vanuatu, is also occasionally found in lowland gardens.

In Middle Bush gardens, coconuts are fewer, and mango and breadfruit absent, replaced by more temperate trees such as the mulberry (Mows alba) and the peach (Prunus persica). Finschia chloroxantha is also grown for its edible fruit.

Non-fruit trees commonly cultivated, often as living fence posts or boundary markers, include Erythrina variegata, Pterocarpus indicus, Hibiscus tiliaceus, Garuga floribunda, and Jatropha curcas. Casuarina equisetifolia is also common. Occasional in some plantations and garden areas are the exotic shade trees Delonix regia and Albizia lebbeck and the indigenous kauri Agathis obtusa. Stands of bamboo - including the presumably aboriginal introduction Schizostachyam glaucifolium, the recent introduction Bambusa vulgaris, and other locally recognized bamboo species or cultivars are also scattered throughout garden lands.

Other tree-like or shrubby food and non-food plants commonly cultivated in lowland or higher-elevation garden areas include sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum), bush hibiscus spinach (Hibiscus manihot), kava (Piper methysticum), panax (Polyscias spp.), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), Cordyline fruticosa, Ricinus communis, Pseuderanthemum sp., Codiaeum variegatum, Heliconia indica, and Crinum asiaticum, all of which have considerable cultural utility or subsistence importance. Important components are Hibiscus manihot, which is the main green vegetable and an exceptionally good source of vitamins and minerals, Saccharum officinarum, a major snack food and plant that features prominently in traditional legends, and Piper methysticum, the ubiquitous ceremonial beverage that is accorded such cultural, mystical, and magical significance, especially on Tanna. On Aneityum, the leaves of Heliconia indica, Crinum asiaticum, Scaevola cylindrica, Inocarpus fagifer, Acacia spirobis, and Epiprenum pinnatum are among those used by different gardeners for preparing fertilizer or mulch for swamp taro cultivation. On Tanna, the leaves of Crinum asiaticum are particularly important and used as "fertilizer" for yams, taro, sugar cane, and coconuts.

In both lowland and Middle Bush gardens, dominant and minor nontree crops are almost always intercropped with the tree or shrubby species already listed. Particularly on Tanna, planting of almost all these crops is accompanied with customary ritual and garden magic, with the leaves and bark of many trees and other plants commonly found in the gardens being used either in rituals (Bonnemaison 1986) or as fertilizers, mulch, pesticides, or taste enhancers (applied at the time of planting).

Other common species protected or encouraged in active garden areas or fallow regrowth, often through selective weeding, include widespread pioneer species such as Ficus spp., Hibiscus tiliaceus, Macaranga spp., Glochidion ramiflorum, Alphitonia spp., Morinda citrifolia, Commersonia bartramia, Pipturus argenteus, Trema orientalis, Cyathea spp., Grewia crenata, Ervatamia orientalis, Maesa nemoralis, Melochia odorata, Pittosporum spp., Tarenna sambucina, and Securinega flexuosa. Other common-tooccasional species include Leucaena leucocephala, Cordia myxa, and Melia azedarach.

A number of common coastal strand species, including Barringtonia asiatica, Calophyllum inophyllum, Cerbera manghas, Gyrocarpus americanus, Hernandia nymphaeifolia, Neissosperma oppositifolia, Premna serratifolia, and Scaevola sericea, were also commonly found planted or protected in lowland garden sites, while other more exclusively strand species, including Acacia simplicifolia, Caesalpinia bonduc, Colubrina asiatica, Cordia subcordata, Guettarda speciosa, Leucaena insularum, Ochrosia elliptica, Pemphis acidula, Pisonia grandis, Vitex negundo, and mangrove species (such as Bruguiera eriopetala, Excoecaria agallocha, and Heritiera littoralis), border coastal gardens, sometimes extending into the garden areas, and provide the very important service of protecting gardens from salt spray and coastal erosion. These species were restricted almost exclusively to coastal garden areas, although Cerbera manghas and Scaevola sericea were seen planted or protected in upland gardens above 400 metres.

Species that seem to be common in, or confined to, stands of mature fallow forest include Acalypha insulana, Adenanthera pavonina, Aleurites moluccana, Bischofia javanica, Canthium odoratum, Codiaeum variegatum, Croton insularis, Cryptocarya turbinata, Dysoxylum spp., Elattostachys falcata, Euodia spp., Ficus spp., Garcinia pancheri, Gardenia tannaensis, Garuga floribunda, Geniostoma rupestre, Litsia tannaensis, Manilkara dissecta, Mimusops elengi, Nauclea spp., Ochrosia odollam, Phyllanthus sp., Pisonia umbellifera, Polyathia nitidissima, Polyscias sp., Pterocarpus indicus, Semecarpus vitiensis, Syzygium richii, and Tarenna sambucina. Also common-to-occasional in lowland forests or mature secondary or fal low forest were mature fruit-tree species also found in active garden areas including Mangifera indica, Inocarpus edulis, Pometia pinnata, Terminalia catappa, Barringtonia edulis, Syzygium malaccense, Burkella obovata, Canarium indicum, Dracontomelon vitiense, and a wide range of edible fig or banyan species (Ficus spp.) and the palm, Veitchia sp.

Agroforestry in undisturbed forest

As noted by Bonnemaison (1985, 39), the relatively undisturbed forest areas that remain on Aneityum and Tanna constitute "controlled space" and "identity and security" to the local people and in Tanna are the "heart of their territory" and an "uninhabited homeland," that also serve as hunting and gathering reserves, where temporary gardens are established. As such, forest areas must be seen as integral to the total agroforestry resource.

The species found in forests undoubtedly include many of those inventoried in remnant stands of mature fallow forest described above, plus a wide range of other indigenous species.

Other species, many of which were not seen during the present study but were reported by Guillaumin (1931,1932), Schmid (1973), and Gowers (1976) to be present in lower-elevation and mature secondary forests on Aneityom and/or Tanna, include Aglaia eleagnoides, Alstonia villosa, Astronia aneityensis, Beilschmiedia sp., Bischofia javanica, Breynia sp., Cleidion spp., Cyrtandra sp., Dolicholobium aneityense, Endiandra aneityensi, Leucosyke spp., Maba buxifolia, Maesa efatensis, Melastoma denticulatum, Micromelon minutum, Mimusops parvifolia, Mussaenda frondosa, Myrishca inutilis Palaquium neo-ebudicum, Planchonella aneityense, Psychotria necdado, Randia sezitat, Serianthes spp., Sideroxylon aneityense, Sterculia tannaensis, and Tapeinosperma kajewskii.

In addition to species common in lower elevation forests, species seen or reported in mature secondary forest and forests surrounding garden areas at elevations between 200 and 500 metres in the environs of Middle Bush include Breynia sp., Croton sp., Cryptocarya tannaensis, Dillenia crenata, Elaeocarpus hortensis, Pittosporum campbelli, and Semecarpus tannaensis.

In more highly degraded areas and in higher elevations, common species include Acacia spirobis, Geissois denhamii, Metrosideros villosa, Weinmannia sp., together with shrubby species such as Vaccinium macgillivrayi.

Species found in swampy areas adjacent to garden lands include the sago palm (Metroxylon sp.) and Barringtonia racemosa.