Tongareva - Settlements

With the exception of some small unpopulated cays, a few depopulated islets in the northeast, and several strips of unclaimed land, the population in 1853 was distributed fairly evenly around the atoll. In times of peace, family-based settlements of a few houses, sometimes set around a plaza or public place, were dispersed across the land, a pattern that may have developed to protect the food supply from raiders. When war threatened, however, the islanders commonly clustered their houses into villages for mutual protection and rapid mobilization against enemy attacks. There were at least two styles of housing. The most common kind of house was about 2 meters wide, 2.5 meters long, and 1.8 meters high; it featured a roof of plaited coconut fronds with the eaves resting on the ground and the front and back enclosed by more plaited fronds. On some islets, though, there were also larger houses, probably belonging to people of eminence. These dwellings were about 3 or 4 meters square and 1.8 meters at the ridge-pole, with their eaves supported on 30-centimeter stakes. Although they had no walls beneath the eaves, matting often was used against the wind. Houses of both types commonly rested on rectangular stone floors, strewn with coral gravel and curbed with thin slabs of coral that jutted 10-30 centimeters above the ground. Pandanus-leaf mats sometimes covered the floors.

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