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Ethnobotany of Pohnpei

Plants, People, and Island Culture

compiled and edited by Michael J. Balick

Publication Year: 2009

Ethnobotany of Pohnpei examines the relationship between plants, people, and traditional culture on Pohnpei, one of the four island members of the Federated States of Micronesia. Traditional culture is still very strong on Pohnpei and is biodiversity-dependent, relying on both its pristine habitats and managed landscapes; native and introduced plants and animals; and extraordinary marine life. This book is the result of a decade of research by a team of local people and international specialists carried out under the direction of the Mwoalen Wahu Ileilehn Pohnpei (Pohnpei Council of Traditional Leaders). It discusses the uses of the native and introduced plant species that have sustained human life on the island and its outlying atolls for generations, including Piper methysticum (locally known as sakau and recognized throughout the Pacific as kava), which is essential in defining cultural identity for Pohnpeians. The work also focuses on ethnomedicine, the traditional medical system used to address health conditions, and its associated beliefs.

Pohnpei, and indeed the Micronesian region, is one of the world’s great centers of botanical endemism: it is home to many plant species found nowhere else on earth. The ultimate goal of this volume is to give readers a sense of the traditional ethnobotanical knowledge that still exists in the area, to make them aware of its vulnerability to modernization, and to encourage local people to respect this ancient knowledge and keep such practices alive. It presents the findings of the most comprehensive ethnobotanical study undertaken to date in this part of Micronesia and sets a new standard for transdisciplinary research and collaboration.

387 color illus.

Chapter contributors: Kiped Albert, Michael J. Balick, Jeff Daniells, Lois Englberger, Timothy Flynn, Wayne Law, Roberta A. Lee, Dana Lee Ling, Amy Levendusky, David H. Lorence, Adelino Lorens, Jackson Phillip, Diane Ragone, Bill Raynor.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Disclaimer

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

The idea for this project began during a brief field trip to Pohnpei in 1997, developing over time into an ethnobotanical and floristic study of the island, its flora, and the traditional uses of plants. We were fortunate to be in a place where traditions are still intact, and respect — including respect for the ...

Primary Collectors

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p. xiii-xiii

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Chapter One. Plants and People of Pohnpei: An Overview

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pp. 1-39

Pohnpei is a special part of the world. It is a small island where people are openly friendly, extremely helpful, and genuinely interested in the welfare of others — rather unique in today’s modern world, but not unusual among traditional cultures. What is most lacking ...

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Chapter Two. Yams and Their Traditional Cultivation on Pohnpei

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pp. 40-62

Of all the subsistence root crops on Pohnpei Island, the yam is by far the most important, although its importance to the prestige economy as a major component of feasts and competitions far outweighs its value as a food crop (Fig. 2.1). For several months of the year, the bulk ...

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Chapter Three. Breadfruit and Its Traditional Cultivation and Use on Pohnpei

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pp. 63-88

Breadfruit is the principal component of indigenous agroforestry systems on Pohnpei, and indigenous agroforestry is a dominant feature of both the island’s landscape and culture, the result of more than two thousand years of development and refinement ...

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Chapter Four. Banana: An Essential Traditional Crop on Pohnpei

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pp. 89-131

Banana, Musa sp., which includes plantain, is likely to be Pohnpei’s most widely used locally grown food crop (Bascom 1965; Corsi 2004; Englberger 2003a, 2004a; Fischer and Fischer 1957; Lorens 2006; Raynor 1991; Ward 1989). While yam is the most important crop in the ...

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Chapter Five. Taro: An Important Pohnpei Staple Food

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pp. 132-164

Taro, in particular giant swamp taro, Cyrtosperma merkusii (Hassk.) Schott (mwahng) (Figs. 5.1 and 5.2), is an important local staple food in Pohnpei along with breadfruit, banana, and yam.1 It is also important in times of food scarcity as well as having many ...

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Chapter Six. The Sacred Root: Sakau En Pohnpei

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pp. 165-203

Sakau, known botanically as Piper methysticum G. Forst., is a species so tightly woven into the traditional practices of Pohnpei that it has become an integral part of Pohnpeian culture, with no palpable boundary between culture and plant. The power of sakau in defining ...

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Chapter Seven. Traditional Medicine, Pohnpei, and Its Integration

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pp. 204-216

Pohnpeians, like other Polynesian and Micronesian island cultures, share a deep reverence for nature — in particular, plants. These organisms have shaped Pohnpeian life and culture, providing food, fiber, shelter, and medicines. This chapter focuses on the use of plants ...

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Chapter Eight. Local Uses of Plants and Fungi on Pohnpei: An Ethnobotanical Compendium

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pp. 217-523

This chapter presents information on how Pohnpeian plants are used, as well as their vernacular names. It is organized into five groups: fungi, gymnosperms, ferns and fern allies, monocotyledons, and dicotyledons and then arranged alphabetically by ...

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Chapter Nine. Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Pohnpei

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pp. 524-566

Due to the island’s steep and rugged mountainous terrain, Pohnpei has not been thoroughly explored or surveyed biologically. Additional botanical exploration of these areas will certainly yield new species and records. Habitat modification to grow crops, including ...


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pp. 567-585

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837495
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824832933

Publication Year: 2009