Solving problems, Pacific style

Today’s rapidly scrawled epistle involves a confluence of interesting things without any sensible conclusion.

I have a friend with an ageing Border Collie called Lucy. Lucy is a large, ill tempered dowager who alerts her young and frisky compatriots to their imminent fate by gently showing her teeth and giving them The Look. She has no time for yappy fluffies, and even less tolerance for rudeness (overly forward Kelpies). After three years, she now, very occasionally, will accept a short pat from me, purely for ceremonial reasons.

It goes without saying that I love Lucy unconditionally.

Lucy’s owner is a sailor, and has traveled fairly extensively around the Pacific. And one of the things he’s told me over the years is that although he’d always considered European colonisation a retrograde step, a couple of his mates in New Britain pointed out to him that the arrival of (what amounted to) police meant that people could move from their defensible hill camps back down to the open coast, because there would be less chance of violence. Most importantly, this spelled relief from the endless curtains of mosquitoes.

At this point it would be easy for me to posture about the politics of who is speaking to and for whom and also to wade in with post colonial notions of correctness. Perhaps I’ll just say that I’m not one to accept the European colonisation of the Pacific as a peculiar socio-cultural flourishing, in part to do with heaps of murdering and stuff.

That said, the idea that people across the Pacific moved from coastal settlements up into more easily defensible dwellings, (well before European colonisation) is reasonably well attended. Generally it’s argued that this was to do with all the regular reasons – competition for resources following population pressure. But, this overlooks a couple of other interesting factors, the Medieval Warming Period and Little Ice Age, both of which occurred recently. I suppose my focus was always on the ‘big’ climactic stuff (land bridges and what not) overlooking the other more recent impacts of big climactic factors.

To offensively over simplify, the general theory seems to be that the rapid cooling during LIA caused an equally rapid retreat in sea level, making the surrounding reefs significantly less productive. This was on the back of the impact of the MWP, where water was scarce, which had caused smaller, coastal groups to band together into larger populations, with a focus on building and sharing water infrastructure. So large, coastal groups of people had gathered together to more successfully grow food in times of water shortage, were then faced with a huge impact to their main source of protein (fish). This caused movement inland to more defensible, often valley positions.

If anyone is interested, here’s a pretty good summary;

Nunn, PD, Hunter-Anderson, R, Carson, MT, Thomas, F, Ulm, S & Rowland, MJ 2007, ‘Times of Plenty, Times of Less: Last-Millennium Societal Disruption in the Pacific Basin’, Human ecology : an interdisciplinary journal, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 385–401.

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