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Chapter 12

Domestic Animals


Just as most of the food plants of Polynesia and Micronesia were dependant on humans for introduction from place to place, so too the common domestic animals, pig, dog, chicken, and rat, were transported in the canoes of the first settlers. The rats were probably stowaways among the food supplies, like the European rats that followed them in vessels of a later era. The others would not only be brought by choice, but would also be subject to the vagaries of the voyage or rigours of the new environment after arrival, and would not always survive. In such cases animals were sometimes gained or reintroduced later, explaining lack of evidence for them in the archaeological record of some of the places where they are now present, and inflating incidence of them in Pollex files.

A key requirement for animal husbandry is a sufficient surplus of food for both humans and animals. In consequence, as observed by Buck(1958:318-9) it is significant that pig, dog, and chicken were absent on Polynesian atolls when these were first visited by Europeans, and gained them only later when food supplies became more plentiful. Buck concludes that atolls thus formed a barrier to animal introductions which , like the common food plants, must therefore have reached Polynesia through Island Melanesia.



For Polynesia, Pollex records the following with reconstruction to PPn *puaka   'pig':


Despite the resemblance of the term puaka to the English word 'pork', which suggests that puaka may be a borrowing from English, there can be no doubt of its PPn status. The word was first noted in a short vocabulary compiled in Tahiti by Cook's botanist Joseph Banks (Beaglehole 1962:372), only two years after the discovery of the island by Wallaace in 1767. Banks evidently had some trouble with the unfamiliar sounds of the Tahitian language, as did the Tahitians with English. Try as he might, Banks was unable to teach Tahitians the pronunciation of his own name, so he might have known that a 'b' and a 'k' where not among phonemes in the Tahitian language, but he nevertheless heard Tahitian 'p' as a 'b' and added to his difficulties further by failing to hear a glottal which appears in Tahitian instead of 'k'. Thus, he transcribed pua'a as bua, wrote moa 'fowl' correctly, and again missed a glottal for 'uri 'dog'.   


Unlike Polynesia, where domestic animals were initially limited largely to high islands, pig especially was widespread both physically and culturally in New Guinea and most of Island Melanesia except New Caledonia.

Ross et al. (2011:238-9) offer cognates of PAn *beRek 'domesticated pig' and POc *boRok 'pig, Sus scrota' in the following areas:

Adm, NNG (3), PT (5), MM (5), SES (2), PNCV, NCV (4), Fij.  

At this point, a clear connection with the Polynesian term for pig emerges, relating it to antecedent areas of Papuan Tip and Vanuatu:

POc *boRok is not retained in Polynesian languages, being replaced by PPn *puaka. This appears to continue POc *b(o,u)kas(i), which has reflexes in PT, NCV and SV. Reflexes of both *boRok and *b(o,u)kas(i) persist in PT and NCV. It is not clear whether there was a meaning difference between the two terms (Ross et al. loc.cit.).

The cognate set of POc *b(o,u)kas(i) 'pig' is next given, with areas as follows:

PT (2), NCV (3), SV (3), HAW, SAM, TIK (arcaic), TON

Additionally, the puaka term is found to be present as Polynesian loans in three languages of Papuan tip, three from New Caledonia, and one from Fiji.

In the approved cognate set, inclusion of puaka for Tikopia is doubtful as its meaning in Pollex is not 'pig'. Perhaps Tikopia is seen as a conduit for pig out of Melanesia into Polynesia. Exclusion of all other puaka entries from Pollex except Tonga, Samoa and Hawai'i may be because the latter are among the few places in Polynesia where pig bones in archaeological context have been found (Kirch and Green 2001:129, Emory 1959:39).



To judge from a comprehensive survey by Wickler (2004), it would seem there are no reports of pig anywhere in Micronesia at the time of first European contact, and confirmed archaeological evidence of pre-contact pig is limited to Western Micronesia.

Christian (1899:366) provides vernacular names for pig in the Carolines which bear no resemblance to the Polynesian term puaka, but reveals that puk was formerly in use but had been replaced as a result of word tabuing when a chief died who had the same name. It would seem probable that, as also must have happened in areas of Polynesia where pig was a late post-European introduction, the animal was adopted in the Carolines complete with the puaka name, and all such instances are examples of borrowing. Revealingly, again as in some areas of Polynesia, the pig was introduced in the Gilbert Islands with a transliteration of its English name 'pig' as 'beki (peki)' (Sabatier 1971:62). 



Polynesian cognates are recorded in Pollex as follows, with reconstruction to 

PPn *kuli 'dog':


Genetic research on Polynesian dogs reported as part of a recent survey by Matisoo-Smith (2007) is inconclusive but provides no evidence of dog introduction associated with the Lapita complex. A genetic marker known as Haplotype A75 is identified for three archaeological populations of Eastern Polynesian dogs and is found to be shared only with Indonesia.  


Melanesia and Micronesia

After listing numerous Melanesian terms for dog in several cognate sets, Ross et al. (2011:242) note:

PPn *kuli 'dog' is well-attested but has no secure non-Polynesian cognates. All apparent cognates in languages of Melanesia and Micronesia are almost certainly borrowings from Polynesian sources.

A sample of such borrowed forms, all glossed 'dog', and all cognate with kuli, is listed in the following areas:

NCV (4), SV (2), Mic Kiribati, Mic Marshalls, Mic Ponape

But, if both Melanesian and Micronesian apparent cognates of kuli 'dog' are borrowings, where did the Polynesian term come from? Is it assumed to have been an innovation there? If not the possibility remains that one or other of either Melanesia or Micronesia is the originating area, with the latter at least not out of contention.

Attested radiocarbon dates for dog in Micronesia are all late, as are dates for occupation itself, but all are confirmed as pre-European with finds so far documented for Ponape, Kosrae, the Marshall Islands, and possibly Kiribati (Wickler 2004:32). On this evidence, Wickler concludes: 

The widespread distribution of prehistoric dog in central-eastern Micronesia and its presence during the earliest phase of settlement on several islands demon­strates that colonising populations purposefully included dogs as a component of their transported landscapes on long-distance inter-island voyages (Wickler 2004:34).

It is worth noting, as well, an opinion of Sabatier (1971:153, 194), who gives the plainly cognate term kiri as the word for dog in the Gilbert Islands but twice emphasises that this is the "ancient term" and "the true Gilbertese word', and a synonym is kamea, which is the Gilbertese rendering of the English phrase "come 'ere". 




Pollex records cognates in the following areas, with reconstruction to

PPn *moa 'fowl'. 


Additionally, for NZ Maori who did not possess chicken, the term moa refers to extinct large flightless birds (Dinornis spp.) which substituted for chicken during the settlement period.


Melanesia and Micronesia

The situation for chicken turns out to be much the same as for dog in Melanesia, though not so in Micronesia.

Despite identifying cognate sets specific to chicken in Melanesia, Ross et al. (2011:286-7) find no certain external cognnates for the common Polynesian word moa for fowl, though attributing a few appearances elsewhere, including Kiribati (Gilberts) moa, to borrowing.

Archaeological evidence for chicken in Micronesia, however, seems to be in short supply. Wickler (2004:34) was able to find only two confirmed examples from prehistoric sites. They were from Fais atoll in the Western Carolines and from Ponape, with less secure indications from Lamotrek atoll in the central Carolines and Kapinamarangi.   

These are mostly in the Caroline Islands which is the logical starting point for migrations that might have taken place into Eastern Micronesia, but unlike other cultural items that may have followed this route, the domestic fowl was almost certainly not among them but is a known post-European missionary introduction in the Gilberts (Morning Star 2009), which evidently came both physically and bearing a Polynesian name. Sabatier (1971:193) gives the Gilbertese name for it as kiokio, which must derive from PPn *kio: 'to chirp, cheep', with cognates in the following areas of both Western and Eastern Polynesia of EFU, FIJ, HAW, MAO, MQA, RAR, SAM, TAH, TIK, TON, and TUA and, if there were any doubt at all, a meaning in Samoa of 'chicken'.

Meanwhile, back in the Carolines not many years after the missionary introduction of chicken into the Gilberts, Christian (1899:368) collected the terms for chicken that where in use there:

The domestic fowl Malek (cf. central Caroline Maluk, Pelews Malk,

Mariannes Manok, Malay Man. . . , a chicken)

Where, then, did the Carolines terms come from? This, too, is now known. One of the Melanesian cognate sets in volume four of the Oceanic lexicon series is as follows (Ross et al. 2011:284):

PMP *manuk 'bird, fowl'
POc *manuk 'Red Jungle-fowl, Gallus gallus'

Yap: Yapese  ni-men
NNG: Manam            may     bird, chicken
NNG: Mangap           man
SV:      Kwamera menu         'bird, prototypically fowl'
SV: Lenakel  menuk
Mic: Carolinian malix         (loan from Palauan)
Mic: Namoluk           malok (loan from Palauan) Mic: Ponapean malek(enwel) (loan from Palauan)

Note that Bender et al. (2003:327) consider the Micronesian forms to be loans from Chamorro, mannok 'chicken' (Ross et al. 284).

Not withstanding a possible connection with Fiji (Ross et al. 2011:loc cit.),  origin of the Polynesian term remains a mystery, but the Carolines one most likely came from Western Micronesia, moving from there into northern Island Melanesia. 



First to be considered is the extent to which rat was, in fact, eaten in the various areas of Oceania. A sampling shows that it was certainly a widespread culinary item, but by no means universal, and not among foods that can be regarded as staples. In Tahiti, for example, Oliver (1974(1):278) says that unlike some Polynesians, Maohis are said to have abhorred the very idea of eating rats, but no specific reason for this could be advanced except perhaps for their belief that the animals were the shadows of ghosts. In New Zealand, by contrast, where neither pig nor fowl was present, rat was esteemed. Interestingly, both the Maori of New Zealand (Buck 1950:103), at the end of a migration chain that spanned the Pacific over a period of more than three thousand years, and Ponapeans in the Caroline Islands of Micronesia (Fischer 1956:78), who could  have been at the beginning of the chain, used pit traps to catch rats.     

Five rodent species of relevance for Oceania are identified by Ross et al. (2011:230): the European black rat, R. rattus, the European mouse, and three indigenous species. Of the latter:

1. R. exulans, the Pacific rat, is a commensal animal whose original range was in Asia, probably from Bangladesh to Vietnam. It was carried to Oceania by humans several millennia ago and today is found widely in Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia.

2. Rattus praetor, the spiny rat, considerably larger than exulans, is native to New Guinea, where it is widespread. It is found in archaeological assemblages in the Bismarck Archipelago and in the Solomons as well as Vanuatu and Fiji, but not Polynesia or Micronesia [except archaeologically, it seems, in Tikopia   (Matisoo-Smith and Robins 2004), where it would have been gained from the Solomons.]

3. Rattus tanezumi, the Asian house rat, has a narrow distribu­tion in Oceania, being securely attested only in archaeological sites of Micronesia in the Caroline Islands and the northern Marianas, dated to within the last 1,000 years. R. tanezumi is native to South Asia and Southeast Asia and its Oceanic distribution is consistent with transport direct from Island Southeast Asia to the Carolinas, rather than via Melanesia (Ross et al. op.cit.:230-1).

After pointing out that terms for rat in Melanesia are seldom species specific, the authors go on to list numerous cognate sets none of which prove to be relevant for Polynesia.



Three terms are distinguished in Pollex:


Set 1

Samoic Outlier SO Kimoa: Rat

EFU    Kimoa: Rat
KAP    Gimoo: Mouse
MAE   Kimoa: Rat
MFA   Kimoa: Rat
NKR   Gimoo: Mouse
REN    Kimoa: (Rattus exulans rennelli) (Ebt)
SAM   ‘Imoa: Rat
TOK    Kimoa: Rat
WFU   Kimoa: Rat


Set 2

PNP Kiole: Rat

EAS     Kio’e: Rat (Fts)
HAW   ‘Iole: Rat
MAO   Kiore: Rat
MQA   Kio’e: Rat
MVA   Kiore: Rat, souris (Rch)
PEN     Kire: Polynesian Rat (Rattus exulans) (Cbl)
PUK     Kiole: Rat (Mta)
RAR     Kiore: Rat
REN     Kioge: Rat
SAM    ‘Iole: Rat
TAH     ‘Iore: Rat, mouse
TIK      Kiore: Rat (Arch.) (Fth)
TUA     Kiore: Rat


Set 3 

PPn      Kuma: Rat

ANU    Kumaa: Rat (Fbg)
EUV     Kuma: Rat
MQA   Kumakuma: Rat (Dln)
NIU      Kumaa: Rat
ROT     Kumaa: Baby rat
TIK      Kumari: Rat (one informant only) (Fth)
TON     Kumaa: Rat, mouse

It is hard to interpret these distributions. The oldest term seems to have been kuma which originated at the PPn level and was replaced in the PNP subgroup by kioli, and later, after reaching as far as Eastern Polynesia, entered the Outliers as kimoa.

Except for presence of both 1 and 2 terms in Samoa, and Rennell, and both 2 and 3 in Tikopia and the Marquesas, the terms are mutually exclusive, with explanations for the overlaps probably varying case by case.


Ross et al. (2011:236) reproduce the Set 1 and Set 3 cognate sets above from Pollex, but offer no explanation for them beyond mentioning presence of terms for 'rat' in various PT languages from Milne Bay Province "that do not correspond regularly to *kimoa but show more than a passing resemblance".



An early view expressed by Tate (1935) is that rats followed a Micronesian rather than Melanesian route into Polynesia, but evidence is lacking from his own data which was limited to physical measurements of rat skulls and bones from various collections. In making his judgement, Tate took advice from the American anthropologist H.L. Shapiro, who provided a choice of two then currently proposed migration routes for Polynesians, the first by way of the Caroline, Marshall, and Gilbert Islands to Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji, which Tate accepted, and the other to Fiji via New Guinea and the Solomons (Tate 1935:147, 169).

Tate's Micronesian route is at least supported as a possibility by recently confirmed prehistoric presence of R. exulans in archaeological sites on the Mariana Islands of Western Micronesia, and Pohnpei, the Marshalls and the Polynesian Outliers of Nukuoro and Kapingimarangi in central-eastern Micronesia (Wickler 2004:35). Except for the two Polynesian Outliers,

however (see Pollex above), linguistic evidence is not as reassuring. Perusal of available Micronesian dictionaries reveals present-day terms for rat as follows:

Terms for rat in Micronesia

Mariana Islands



Jackson and Marck 1991:68



rat, mouse

Sohn and Tawerilmang c.1976:58



mouse, rat

Jensen 1977:6


naakkich (nu)

rat, mouse

Goodenough and Sugita 1980:304




Elbert 1972:47



rat, mouse

Rehg and Sohl 1979:41


kijesik winan


Harrison and Salich 1977:41



cat, rat, mouse

Lee 1976:45


Marshall Islands


rat, mouse

Abo et al. 1976:142

Gilbert Islands


mouse, rat

Sabatier 1971:191


It is a pity F.W. Christian did not make a comprehensive collection of animal names for Micronesia as he did for plants, as this would provide a check on whether old terms have been replaced by new ones as so often appears to have happened with plants, and as he himself found out to be the case for 'pig'. 

Except for Western Micronesia, most of the terms in the above table look enough alike to be related to each other. A clear external link is apparent, however, only in the Gilbert Islands, which has the Set 1 Polynesian term intact, and may well have borrowed it from Tuvalu where both the Set 1 and Set 2 terms are reported (Panapa and Lopati 1968:35).


The genetic evidence

Matisoo-Smith and Robins (2004) identify two lineages of Rattus exulans in Oceania, one in Near Oceania named Haplotype 2, and the other in Remote Oceania named Haplotype 3. Rather than accept two different paths for introduction of these two populations, the authors suggest that an identical route was followed in both cases, but Haplotype 3 failed to establish itself in Near Oceania because of competition from the earlier group. The authors believe that a search for R. exulans on offshore islands in Near Oceania where Haplotype 3 might have survived, could help settle whether this explanation is indeed correct, and further sampling in Micronesia itself could determine whether this was an alternative route despite Holocene sealevels which are assumed to rule it out except as a secondary introduction.  


Summary conclusion 


As one might expect from the large-scale presence of pig throughout Melanesia, it is no surprise to find linguistic support as well for the introduction of pig from this area into Polynesia. A Samoan legend, related by Buck (1958:318-9), that pig was smuggled into Samoa from Fiji seems credible.



The firmly expressed linguistic view is that the widely distributed Polynesian term for dog, PPn *kuli, has no secure cognates outside of Polynesia, and all appearances of it in both Melanesia and Micronesia are borrowings from Polynesia. This, however, leaves no apparent route by which dog could have reached Polynesia, so both Melanesia and Micronesia must remain in contention, with insufficient evidence as yet for either.



Like dog there is a single reconstructable term for chicken in Polynesia, in this case PPn *moa. Like dog, also, it has no external cognates except loan words in either Melanesia or Micronesia, leaving its exact origin obscure.



Ultimately, it may be expected that Genetics is the discipline best equipped to solve the riddle of the rat in Oceania. As rats probably accompanied humans on most of their voyages of discovery and exploration, not to mention numerous later voyaging as well, and in consequence are now well represented in archaeological sites throughout the insular Pacific, this seems incontestable.  But the very suitability of rats as a proxy carries corresponding disadvantages. In particular, as rats have been converging on Polynesia from all directions for longer than any other domestic animal, and have doubtless interbred, a highly complex web of interrelationships can be expected, and evidence for the proximate origin of Polynesians could be obscured. The study by Matisoo-Smith and Robins cited above, like so many genetic studies of late, focussed on the ultimate rather than immediate origins of Polynesians, so a change of focus is needed to address this problem which, especially, should set aside any preconceived ideas that this necessarily involved Lapita potters. In particular for rat as well as other animal species, a much extended sampling for analysis is needed for the whole of Micronesia as well as the north coast of New Guinea.

In brief, of the four Polynesian domestic animals considered in the present chapter, only pig can be confidently assigned to a Melanesian route into Polynesia, and even in this case, if the Samoan origin legend is accepted, was a result of relatively late borrowing out of Fiji. 

>>> Chapter 13. Betel, kava, and toddy