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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: August 2009



Why, then, the world's mine oyster, Which I with sword will open.

Shakespeare (1564–1615)


In the south of Southeast Asia, Alocasia or dryland taro, perhaps originating in India or Burma, has been under cultivation for at least 7,000 years. Wetland (Colocasia) taro, yams, and (probably) dry and wet land rice came along later. Yet, as mentioned earlier, a mystery is why the Austronesian farmer-pioneers, who sailed off to settle the Philippines and the East Indies at about this time (6000 bce), were accompanied by taro, yams, pigs, and dogs, but not rice. The most logical answer is that rice had not yet become a staple in Southeast Asia. But it is not a particularly satisfactory answer because, despite many ensuing waves of Pacific pioneers, when the Europeans first entered the world's largest body of water, rice was absent from the whole of the Pacific, save for the Mariana Islands. Did rice somehow get lost from the horticultural complex? Or were taro and yams just easier to cultivate?

The pioneers originated in Southeast Asia and neighboring New Guinea, and their initial waves fanned out into the Philippines and the East Indies. These were an Austronesian-speaking people whose descendents, with their distinctive Lapita pottery, became the ancestors of the Polynesians. Around 3,500 years ago they launched epic voyages of exploration and colonization, moving swiftly in their double-hulled canoes to establish settlements in Fiji, and then in Samoa and Tonga – the latter two islands becoming jump-off points for the eventual settlement of the rest of Polynesia, ending with Hawaii around 1,500 years ago and New Zealand some 1,000 to 2,000 years ago.

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A Movable Feast
  • Online ISBN: 9780511512148
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