Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

First Advisor

Kent Mathewson


Agricultural terraces form a distinctive element in the cultural landscape of Fiji. These skillfully fashioned earthworks were developed for the irrigated cultivation of one specific cultigen--taro (Colocasia esculenta), a long domesticated edible aroid. Constructing pondfields on slopes represents an intensification of production, with taro yields responding favorably to higher levels of labor input. In Fiji, irrigated terraces on the leeward side of larger islands also served to overcome seasonal conditions of drought or soil moisture deficits. Nearly all of these intensive agrosystems have been abandoned. But the carefully sculpted hillsides endure, and serve as poignant reminders of past travail. Taro terracing in Fiji shares many design characteristics with terracing found elsewhere in the Pacific, most notably the tarodieres of New Caledonia. A case study considers the location, extent, and cultural-historical significance of the largest and most aggregated set of agricultural terraces ever constructed in Fiji. Neglected for more than a century, these gardens were built along contours on open hillsides in a dry rainshadow area of northern Viti Levu. Their location on the northern flanks of the Nakauvadra Mountains, traditionally considered the most sacred region in the entire archipelago, provides a mythico-religious dimension to the investigation. Culture change induced by European contact, imposition of colonial authority and control over land use, and the establishment of a plantation economy along with subsequent changes in diet and food preferences, have rendered these intensive agricultural landforms obsolete. A second case study examines one of the few irrigated taro terrace systems still operative in Fiji. Located on the remote southern island of Kadavu, the gardens at Ravitaki display the indigenous technology required for the delivery and control of water to hillside pondfields. Although villagers cite the advantages of overcoming drought and cyclone hazards, irrigation is not required for growing taro in this region. Hence, these terraces are more of an expression of culture than an adaptation to adverse environmental conditions. Communal labor organization and ceremonial and ritual purposes of production are also important factors contributing to the persistence of agricultural terracing in the Fiji Islands.