Friday, 11 December 2009

Polynesian plant names

I have recently come across a mighty tome. The Dictionary of Polynesian Plant Names by Karl Rensch and Arthur Whistler weighs in at over 700 pages in length and contains a mighty amount of information on what species of plant are called what names on what island or island group in the Pacific.

While essentially it is just a list of names, it also contains some fascinating tidbits of information regarding cultural use of the plants. For example we find that Cordia subcordata, known as tauanave in Samoa is a highly-valued timber tree used for canoes and household implements.
We also discover that mafa'i in Tongan refers to the cucurbit Luffa cylindrica var. insularum, a creeper whose fruit makes a good sponge. The relative value of each of the plants is also shown by the number of names given to each plant, with Finderlist 2 show

This book is obviously a book that is the result of much scholarship and research by the authors. No doubt it is also a labour of love, with both authors having much experience in the South Pacific. A reference work of great value for biologists, linguists and anybody interested in the interaction of people and their environment in Polynesia. Unfortunately, it appears to be privately published, and thus is hard to obtain. If anyone knows where to get it from, let the rest of us know...

Rensch KH, Whistler AW. 2008. Dictionary of Polynesian Plant Names. Archipelago Press, Canberra. 723 pp

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