Harvesting the Coral Gardens: An Ethnobiological Study of Marine Gathering in the Tongan Islands, Polynesia

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceeding


Seaweeds and marine invertebrates of the lagoons and reefs have, ever since the initial settlement almost 3.500 years ago, been a very important source of food and raw materials for the people of the Tongan islands. This study is an attempt to combine anthropological and biological perspectives in documenting and discussing, in contemporary as well as ancient contexts, the gathering/collecting of these organisms, a task which is mainly carried out by women and children. Descriptions and analyses are given of the indigenous terminology of marine ecological zones, the gender based division of subsistence/semi- subsistence marine labour, the principles of the Tongan folk taxonomy, and the obtaining and use of gathered marine organisms. The following points are made: 1. Whereas the men's fishing has been well documented, the women's gathering has been overlooked by researchers even though it is of great local economic significance. 2. The indigenous knowledge concerning the marine environment, the organisms and their uses is vast but could become partly forgotten in times of rapid economic/cultural changes. Around 220 folk taxa (of which at least ca. 175 are exploited) and over 40 different major uses are recorded. 3. These resources have become threatened from over- exploitation, not only as a result of population growth but also of the integration of Tonga into the global economic system.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social and Economic Geography


  • Ethnobiology, Oceania, Polynesia, Marine gathering, Kingdom of Tonga, Human Ecology
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 1996
Publication categoryResearch
EventEuropean Society for Oceanists Third Conference Pacific Peoples in the Pacific Century - Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 1996 Dec 131996 Dec 15


ConferenceEuropean Society for Oceanists Third Conference Pacific Peoples in the Pacific Century