Pritchardia pacifica, or Fiji fan palm, is thought to have been an ancient introduction to Fiji and other Pacific islands from the Kingdom of Tonga.
The genus is named for William Thomas Pritchard. Reading through his biography, it seems like he worked on behalf of the Fijians instead of the Tongans, so perhaps it is best that the common name be associated with Fiji instead of Tonga. Also of note is that he was a contemporary and friend of the German botanist Berthold Carl Seemann, for whom Seemannia was named.
For the rest of the entry, we’ll turn it over to Berthold Seemann (and co-author W.H. Fitch): from page 274 of their Flora vitiensis :a description of the plants of the Viti or Fiji islands, with an account of their history, uses, and properties:
The Palm seldom attains more than thirty feet in height. Its trunk is smooth, straight, and unarmed, and at the base from ten to twelve inches in diameter. The crown has a globular shape, and is composed of about twenty leaves, the petioles of which are unarmed, three feet four inches long, and densely covered at the base with a mass of brown fibres. The blade of the leaf is rounded at the base, fan-shaped, four feet seven inches long, three feet three inches broad, and when young, as is the petiole, densely covered with whitish-brown down, which, however, as the leaf advances in age, gradually disappears. From the axils of the leaves issue flowers, enveloped in several very fibrous flaccid spathes, which rapidly decay, and have quite a ragged appearance even before the flowers open. The inflorescence never breaks out below the crown, as it does in the Niu sawa (Veitchia Joannis, Wendl.). The spadix is three feet long, stiff, and very straight, bearing numerous minute hermaphrodite flowers, of a brownish-yellow colour. The fruit is perfectly round, about half an inch in diameter; and, when quite matured, it has exactly the colour of a black-heart cherry, the mesocarp having a slight astringent taste. The seeds germinate freely, and out of a handful thrown carelessly into a Wardian case in Fiji, more than thirty had begun to sprout when thev reached New South Wales, where they were taken care of in the Botanic Grardens, and duly distributed amongst the various establishments forming collections of rare and beautiful Palms—for such this species certainly is.
The leaves are made into fans, “Iri masei” or “ai Viu,” which are only allowed to be used by the chiefs, as those of the Talipot (Corypha umbraculifera, Linn.) formerly were in Ceylon. The common people have to content themselves with fans made of Pandanus caricosus. Hence, though there is not a village of importance without the Sakiki, or, as it is termed in the Somosomo dialect which suppresses the letter k, Saii, there are never more than one or two solitary specimens to be met ‘with in any place, the demand for the leaves being so limited, that they prove sufficient for the supply. The fans are from two to three feet across, and have a border made of a flexible wood. They serve as a protection both from the sun and rain; during a shower of rain the fan is laid almost horizontally on the head, the water being allowed to run down behind the back of the bearer. From this the Fijian language has borrowed its name for umbrella, a contrivance introduced by Europeans, terming it “ai viu,” that being one of the names by which fans are known. The leaves are never employed as thatch, though their texture would seem to recommend them for that purpose; the trunk, however, is occasionally used for ridge-beams.
… It is a singular ethnological fact, that throughout the Polynesian Islands this Palm is held to be exclusively the property of the aristocracy, and not allowed to be devoted to common purposes by the lower classes, like the species which it so much resembles.