Prononcer le nom de Tahiti, c’est aussitôt évoquer un Eden regorgeant de fruits tropicaux. Pourtant, si l’île abrite aujourd’hui de nombreuses variétés, il n’en a pas toujours été ainsi. Union de deux volcans “récents”, émergés il y a à peine plus d’un million d’années au cœur de la plus vaste étendue océanique de la planète, Tahiti Nui (la grande) et Tahiti Iti (la petite) accueillaient une végétation relativement pauvre en nombre d’espèces à l’arrivée des premiers navigateurs

polynésiens, dans le courant du premier millénaire de notre ère. Au centre du Pacifique Sud, ces jeunes îles étaient en effet très éloignées des grandes masses continentales d’où ont pu venir graines et pollens, avant que l’Homme n’y mette le pied. Parmi elles, quasiment aucune variété comestible, à part quelques cocotiers, ainsi que l’indiquent des pollens fossiles retrouvés, datant de plus de 5 000 ans avant J.-C. Le fara, le pandanus (dont la graine flottante est comestible quand

When you mention the name Tahiti, imagery of a Garden of Eden bursting with tropical fruits comes to mind. However, while in contemporary times you can find a number of different fruits growing in French Polynesia, this was not always the case. Tahiti Nui (Nui means “big” in Tahitian) and Tahiti Iti (Iti means “small”) are the result of two “young” volcanoes that emerged from the planet’s most vast ocean a little over a million years ago. At the time of the arrival of the first Polynesian settlers, in the first millennium of our era, a relatively poor fauna and flora existed here. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, these islands were simply too far away from the big continents where grains and pollen could have come from. Of course this changed once man set foot upon these shores. At that time there were barely any edible plants, apart from coconut palms, however, among the edible plants that existed before the arrival of the first settlers was the fara or pandanus (fara seeds float and are edible when cooked). Pollen fossils indicate the existence of pandanus and some other plants in French Polynesia, that date back to before the year 5000 B.C.E. purslane was also present. The species portulaca lutea, a camelina which grows on the beaches of the Pacific atolls and islands (Tuamotu Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu) was an important source of vitamin C both for the early Polynesian population living in these remote areas, and for the circumnavigators that arrived later and suffered from scurvy. When the māohi (Polynesians) migrated across the ocean in their big double-hulled canoes, they brought along with them various plants that were indispensable to their survival, such as bananas (particularly the fe’i 's bananas), breadfruit, or uru in Tahitian, various coconut trees, cane sugar, papaya trees, and last, but not least various edible root plants, such as taro. They had domesticated these species during earlier migrations from Southeast Asia that had taken place over the span of several millennia. Other species were introduced through the early contacts with the Andean coast (such as the Pacific Chestnut tree, mape (inocarpus fagifer), the Golden apple vi tahiti, the sweet potato, or 'umara (ipomoea batatas) and of course the famous Noni or Nono (morinda citrifolia l.), which is renown for its medicinal and nutritional properties. When the first European explorers arrived in French Polynesia in the second half of the 18th century, the number of plant species introduced to the islands grew sharply, as they brought along with them a number of fruits from both South America and Southeast Asia. Among the first fruits were orange trees, which was introduced with Captain Cook in 1777, and pineapple, which was introduced by Captain Bligh in 1792. In the first half of the 19th century, other plants, such as the guava and mangos (mangifera indica) were introduced. Over a period of about fifteen years at the beginning of the 20th century, an American called Harrison Smith planted a number of species of tropical flowers and trees that he imported from the tropical regions of America, Asia and Africa, on his property in Papeari (where the territory’s Botanical Gardens are situated today). Among these were certain plants that bear delicious fruits, such as mangosteens, rambutans and grapefruits to name but a few. After a qualitative mutation, certain fruits became subject to commercialization and exportation, such as vanilla (vanilla tahitensis), which was brought to Tahiti in 1850 by two admirals. For the next forty years or so several dozens of other species were introduced, but many were not edible and most of them were not widely spread. Many of the fruit trees in Tahiti are the basis for legends that have been passed on from generation to generation, and which are an important part of traditional Polynesian culture. Some trees and plants carry along with them stories and anecdotes that illustrate the history of Tahiti and her islands’ and the melting pot of civilizations that has formed over time.

LA POLYNÉSIE FRANÇAISE, CONTRAIREMENT AUX APPARENCES, N’EST RICHE QUE DE QUELQUES ESPÈCES ENDÉMIQUES ET INDIGÈNES PORTEUSES DE FRUITS. EN REVANCHE, ON COMPTE PAR CENTAINES LES VARIÉTÉS FRUITIÈRES INTRODUITES D'ABORD PAR LES DÉCOUVREURS MA'OHI, PUIS PAR LES VAGUES SUCCESSIVES DES EUROPÉENS DEPUIS LE XVIIIE SIÈCLE. DRESSER LE PORTRAIT DE CES FRUITS, C’EST ENTREPRENDRE UN VOYAGE DANS LE TEMPS ET DANS LA NATURE POLYNÉSIENNE.

CONTRARY TO WHAT IT MAY APPEAR, FRENCH POLYNESIA CAN ONLY BOAST ONLY A SMALL NUMBER OF ENDEMIC AND INDIGENOUS SPECIES OF FRUITS. HOWEVER, THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF DIFFERENT SPECIES OF FRUITS THAT WERE INTRODUCED FIRST BY THE MA’OHI (POLYNESIAN) DISCOVERERS AND THEN IN THE SUCCESSIVE WAVES OF EUROPEAN EXPLORERS AND SETTLERS DURING THE 18TH CENTURY. TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT THESE FRUITS MEANS GOING ON A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME AND INTO POLYNESIAN NATURE. JOIN US AS WE DISCOVER SOME OF THE EARLIEST INTRODUCED FRUITS.

UN PAPAYER / A pApAyA Tree

story Claude Jacques Bourgeat

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