Isles of Hiva: Life of the Land

Photo right: A Fisherman on the Reef at Anaho



photo of a Fisherman on the Reef at AnahoBased on reports by early observers and judging from the remains of numerous house foundations found wherever food could be grown, Handy writes that when Europeans first discovered Hiva in the 16th century, "the density of the population was equal to the maximum that could be supported by agricultural and fishing industries practiced by the natives" (9).


Breadfruit was the principal crop. A tree was planted for each new-born child and henceforth the fruit of that tree belonged to the individual. Families planted trees in their yard; the chiefs had plantations. There were over thirty varieties of breadfrui t. The trees, which did not require extensive cultivation, produced two, three, or even four crops a year. The excess harvest was stored in pits in a fermented form of breadfruit paste called ma; in ma form, the pulp could be kept for forty years. This pr eserved breadfruit paste was a hedge against famine, caused mainly by droughts. During droughts, the fruit fell from the trees before ripening.

Other food crops included coconut (ehi), banana, sugar cane, and taro (ta'o).

Planting was done during high tides or full moons to insure strong plants and large, plentiful fruits.


Fishing could be done either individually, or by a group of specialists who lived in a sacred precinct near the sea and who fished (usually with canoes and nets) for the haka-iki of the valley. There was a general kapu during fishing expeditions for the c hief, when speaking and activity were forbidden. If the fishing expedition was successful, a ko'ina (feast) was held and the fish distributed to everyone living the valley.

Fishing was done not just with nets but with line and hook (made from pearl shell or human bone), pa (aku lures), spears and harpoons, snares, fish traps, and poison.

The gods of fishing, as in Hawai'i, were numerous. Each type of fishing had its own god. However, the main god was Tana'oa (Kanaloa), also called Te Fatu Moana (Lord of the Sea) (Handy Native Culture 165).

Fish was kapu when breadfruit was not yet ripe, and free when the breadfruit was ready to harvest (Handy Native Culture 167). This was perhaps a conservation practice.