Dynamics of Agricultural Development in Prehistoric Samoa: The Case of Ofu Island

Agriculture History Land use Samoa Polynesia
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Agricultural development is intimately tied to the environment and cultural practices, specifically socio-political change. Nowhere are these relationships more clear than on Polynesian islands. Many sequences of agricultural change have now been documented in the region, and their relationships with the environment and cultural change assessed. Most, if not all, of these identified sequences have been described as processes of intensification. Samoan agricultural systems, however, are vastly under researched archaeologically, creating a serious gap in archaeological knowledge of the archipelago. Land use practices in the archipelago are often thought to have been non-intensive, and the assumed prehistoric sequence, built using ethnographic analogy, has been utilized to argue that the process of intensification was not inevitable on all Polynesian high islands. To address this gap, and to determine the nature of agricultural development in the Samoan Archipelago, this thesis examines agricultural development on Ofu Island in the Manu’a Group of American Samoa. Archaeological research was carried out over the course of two field seasons at three locations on the island, two in the interior uplands (A’ofa and Tufu) and one of the coast (Ofu Village). Results of this field work were utilized to critically explore questions relating to agricultural development on Ofu, specifically how that development can be described and which factors influenced the development. These results suggest that agricultural intensification did occur on the island at some scales of analysis, but alternative processes, such as expansion and innovation, were of great importance. The development of production was impacted by multiple factors, including landscape evolution, the spatial variability of the environment, and socio-political change. This thesis documents how, on one small island, agricultural change resulted in complex socio-political negotiations beyond individual producers, which resulted in a small-scale political economy. This research contributes at three levels, the local, regional, and theoretical. At the local level, this research fills a serious gap by documenting an agricultural sequence in the Samoan archipelago. At the regional level, this research provides another case study as to the different factors that influence agricultural development in Polynesia. At the theoretical level, this research highlights the multiple paths of agricultural development. Agricultural development is a process imbedded in history, impacted by multiple factors, individuals, and groups.

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