Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)




Jennifer G. Kahn

Committee Member

Martin Gallivan

Committee Member

Neil Norman

Committee Member

Abigail Buffington


Taro (Colocasia esculenta) is the main subsistence crop across much of Polynesia; however, its production via traditional methods is becoming increasingly rare. This study explores taro cultivation in Rurutu, Austral Islands, French Polynesia where traditional farming practices have persisted from pre-European contact times to the present. Specifically, we investigate if pre-European contact Rurutu fits Kirch’s ‘Wet vs. Dry’ hypothesis describing the relationship between environmental variables, agricultural choices and productivity, and the development of socio-political complexity across Polynesia. We use Landsat imagery and geospatial suitability analysis to determine the location of 13 dormant taro systems on Rurutu. We then estimate the island's pre-contact population and population distribution using probable annual yields of taro as proxy data. Our results show significant intra-island differences of taro production on pre-contact Rurutu. We suggest Rurutu conforms to the ‘Wet vs. Dry’ hypothesis as the island’s largest taro yields and thus largest pre-contact populations are in socio-political districts that practiced wetland agriculture. Lastly, we discuss how our foundational data can contribute to ongoing conversations regarding food sovereignty in Oceania and beyond.


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Available for download on Sunday, August 27, 2023