Polynesians



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Map of Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean


Polynesia (from Greek: πολύς many, νῆσος island) is a subregion of Oceania, comprising a large grouping of over 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean.

Definition

Polynesia is generally defined as the islands within the Polynesian triangle. The term "Polynesia", meaning many islands, was first used by Charles de Brosses in 1756, and originally applied to all the islands of the Pacific. Jules Dumont d'Urville in an 1831 lecture to the Geographical Society of Paris proposed a restriction on its use.

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Carving from the ridgepole of a Māori house, ca 1840


Geographically, and oversimply, Polynesia may be described as a triangle with its corners at Hawaii, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Rapa Nui (Easter Island). The other main island groups located within the Polynesian triangle are Samoa, Tonga, the various island chains that form the Cook Islands and French Polynesia. Niue is a rare solitary island state near the centre of Polynesia.

Polynesian island groups outside of this great triangle include Tuvalu and the French territory of Wallis and Futuna. Rotuma in the northern Fijian islands and some of the Lau group to Fiji's southeast have strong Polynesian character too. There are also small outlier Polynesian enclaves in Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and in Vanuatu. However, in essence, it is an anthropological term referring to one of the three parts of Oceania (the others being Micronesia and Melanesia) whose pre-colonial population generally belongs to one ethno-cultural family as a result of centuries of maritime migrations.

History

The Polynesian people are by ancestry a subset of the sea-migrating Austronesian people and the tracing of Polynesian languages places their prehistoric origins in the Malay archipelago. The spread of pottery and domesticates in Polynesia is connected with the Lapita-culture that, around 1600–1200 BC, started expanding from New Guinea as far east as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. During this time the aspects of the Polynesian culture developed. Around 300 BC this new Polynesian people spread from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to the Cook Islands, Tahiti, the Tuamotus and the Marquesas Islands. This was supported by Patrick Kirch and Marshall Weisler when they performed X-ray fluorescence sourcing of basalt artifacts found on both islands.[1]

Between 300 and 1200 CE, the Polynesians discovered and settled Rapa Nui (Easter Island). This is supported by archaeological evidence as well as the introduction of flora and fauna consistent with the Polynesian culture and characteristic of the tropics to this subtropical island. Around AD 400 Hawai'i was settled by the Polynesians and around AD 1000 Aotearoa (New Zealand) was settled as well. The migration of the Polynesians is impressive considering that the islands settled by them are spread out over great distances—the Pacific Ocean covers nearly a half of the Earth's surface area. Most contemporary cultures, by comparison, never voyaged beyond sight of land.

Cultures of Polynesia

Main article: Polynesian culture
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Painting of Tahitian Women on the Beach by Paul Gauguin - Musée d'Orsay|thumb
Polynesia divides into two distinct cultural groups, East Polynesia and West Polynesia. The culture of West Polynesia is conditioned to high populations. It has strong institutions of marriage and well-developed judicial, monetary and trading traditions. It comprises the groups of Tonga, Niue, Samoa and the northwestern Polynesian outliers.

Eastern Polynesian cultures are highly adapted to smaller islands and atolls, principally the Cook Islands, Tahiti, the Tuamotus, the Marquesas, Hawaii, Easter Island and smaller central-pacific groups.

The large islands of New Zealand were first settled by Eastern Polynesians who adapted their culture to a non-tropical environment.

Religion, farming, fishing, weather prediction, out-rigger canoe (similar to modern catamarans) construction and navigation were highly developed skills because the population of an entire island depended on them. Trading of both luxuries and mundane items was important to all groups. Many low-lying islands could suffer severe famine if their gardens were poisoned by the salt from the storm-surge of a hurricane. In these cases fishing, the primary source of protein, would not ease loss of food energy. Navigators, in particular, were highly respected and each island maintained a house of navigation with a canoe-building area.

Settlements by the Polynesians were of two categories. The hamlet and the village. Size of the island inhabited determined whether or a not a hamlet would be built. The larger volcanic islands usually had hamlets because of the many zones that could be divided across the island. Food and resources were more plentiful and so these settlements of four to five houses (usually with gardens) were established so that there would be no overlap between the zones. Villages, on the other hand, were built on the coasts of smaller islands and consisted of thirty or more houses—in the case of atolls, on only one of the group so that food cultivation was on the others. Usually these villages were fortified with walls and palisades made of stone and wood.[2]

However, New Zealand demonstrates the opposite; large volcanic islands with fortified villages.

As well as being great navigators these people were artists and artisans of great skill. Simple objects, such as fish-hooks would be manufactured to exacting standards for different catches and decorated even when the decoration was not part of the function. In some island groups weaving was a strong part of the culture and gifting woven articles an ingrained practice. Stone and wooden weapons were considered to be more powerful the better they were made and decorated. Dwellings were imbued with character by the skill of their building. Body decoration and jewelery is of international standard to this day.

The religious attributes of Polynesians were common over the whole Pacific region. While there are some differences in their spoken languages they largely have the same explanation for the creation of the earth and sky, for the gods that rule aspects of life and for the religious practices of everyday life. People travelled thousands of miles to celebrations that they all owned communally.

Due to relatively large numbers of competitive sects of Christian missionaries in the islands, many Polynesian groups have been converted to Christianity. Polynesian languages are all members of the family of Oceanic languages, a sub-branch of the Austronesian language family.

Economy of Polynesia

With the exception of New Zealand, the majority of independent Polynesian islands derive much of their income from foreign aid and remittances from those who live in other countries. Some encourage their young people to go where they can earn good money to remit to their stay-at-home relatives. Many Polynesian locations, such as Easter Island, supplement this with tourism income.[3] Some have more unusual sources of income, such as Tuvalu which marketed its '.tv' internet top-level domain name[4] or the Cooks that relied on stamp sales. A very few others still live as they did before Western Civilization encountered them.

Polynesian navigation

Main article: Polynesian navigation
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Polynesian (Hawaiian navigators) sailing multi-hulled canoe, ca 1781
At a time when European sailors were navigating by keeping a watch for the shoreline in daylight, Polynesians were navigating a vast extent of the Pacific Ocean. Polynesia comprised islands diffused throughout a triangular area with sides of four thousand miles. The area from the Hawaiian Islands in the north, to Easter Island in the east and to New Zealand in the south was all settled by Polynesians. From a single chicken bone recovered from the archaeological site of El Arenal-1, on the Arauco Peninsula, Chile, recent research of a radiocarbon date and an ancient DNA sequence indicates that Polynesian navigators also reached the Americas at least 100 years before Europeans, introducing chickens to South America.[5][6]

Knowledge of the traditional Polynesian methods of navigation was largely lost after contact with and colonization by Europeans. This left the problem of accounting for the presence of the Polynesians in such isolated and scattered parts of the Pacific. By the late 19th century to the early 20th century a more generous view of Polynesian navigation had come into favour, perhaps creating a very romantic picture of their canoes, seamanship and navigational expertise. In the mid-twentieth century, Thor Heyerdahl proposed another theory of Polynesian origins (one which did not win general acceptance), arguing that the Polynesians had migrated from South America on balsa-log boats.

Between about 3000 and 1000 BC speakers of Austronesian languages spread through island South-East Asia – almost certainly starting out from Taiwan, as tribes whose natives had thought to have previously arrived about from mainland South China about 8000 years ago– into the edges of western Micronesia and on into Melanesia. In the archaeological record there are well-defined traces of this expansion which allow the path it took to be followed and dated with a degree of certainty. In the mid 2nd millennium BC, the Lapita culture appeared suddenly in north-west Melanesia, in the Bismarck Archipelago. Within a mere three or four centuries between about 1300 and 900 BC, the Lapita culture spread 6000 km further to the east from the Bismarck Archipelago, until it reached as far as Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. In this region, the distinctive Polynesian culture developed.

In the mid to late 1960s, scholars began testing sailing and paddling experiments related to Polynesian navigation: David Lewis sailed his catamaran from Tahiti to New Zealand using stellar navigation without instruments and Ben Finney built a 40-foot replica of a Hawaiian double canoe "Nalehia" and tested it in Hawaii. Meanwhile, Micronsian ethnographic research in the Caroline Islands revealed that traditional stellar navigational methods were still in everyday use. Recent re-creations of Polynesian voyaging have used methods based largely on Micronesian methods and the teachings of a Micronesian navigator, Mau Piailug.

It is probable that the Polynesian navigators employed a whole range of techniques including use of the stars, the movement of ocean currents and wave patterns, the air and sea interference patterns caused by islands and atolls, the flight of birds, the winds and the weather. Scientists think that long-distance Polynesian voyaging followed the seasonal paths of birds. There are some references in their oral traditions to the flight of birds and some say that there were range marks onshore pointing to distant islands in line with these flyways. One theory is that they would have taken a frigatebird with them. These birds refuse to land on the water as their feathers will become waterlogged making it impossible to fly. When the voyagers thought they were close to land they may have released the bird, which would either fly towards land or else return to the canoe. It is likely that the Polynesians also used wave and swell formations to navigate. It is thought that the Polynesian navigators may have measured the time it took to sail between islands in "canoe-days’’ or a similar type of expression.

Also, people of the Marshall Islands used special devices called stick charts, showing the places and directions of swells and wave-breaks, with tiny seashells affixed to the to mark the positions of islands along the way. Materials for these maps were readily available on beaches, and their making was simple, however, their effective use needed years and years of study.

Genetic origins

Recent DNA analysis suggests that Polynesians, including Tongans, Samoans, Niueans, Cook Islanders, Tahitians, Hawaiians, Marquesans and Māori, exhibit a maternal mitochondrial DNA link to indigenous peoples of the New Guinea Highlands 25,000 years ago (Bryan Sykes - Seven Daughters of Eve). The paternal Y chromozome also comes from "New Guinea 11,500 years ago - but since that time have evolved quite separately from Melanesians" (see "Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y Chromosomes" and "Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y Chromosomes (correction)" cited in References). After this period, proto-Polynesian genes exhibit a 9based pair mtDNA deletion common to East Asians, showing a separation from Taiwanese aborigines 6,000 years ago. (See "Melanesian origins of Polynesian Y chromozome") Polynesian population expansion began in isolation in the Pacific 2,000 years ago (see also Melanesian origin of Y chromozomes). One particular DNA haplotype - the human lymphocyte antigen (HLA)Bw48 is commonly found in Polynesian populations, but occurs only sporadically in Melanesia. The only other known population with an appreciable frequency of HLA-Bw48 is that of the North American Indians or more specifically the Tlingit of Alaska. In Polynesia Bw48 co-occurs with A11, - suggesting a variation since Polynesians departed from the Alaskan/Canadian coast. (Susan Serjeantson - Out of Asia - Peopling the Americas and the Pacific Edited by Robert Kirk and Emoke Szathmary 1985). This DNA evidence is supported by cultural and archaeological evidence showing a definite link between Eastern Polynesia and the Tlingit, Kwakuitl and Haida of the islands off Alaska and Canada. This suggests that although there has been some cultural input, including the arrival of plants and animals into Western Polynesia through Melanesia, the main genetic input into Polynesia has been from the north. This means proto-Polynesians voyaged from East Asia to Alaska 6,000 years ago and then entered the Polynesian triangle via Hawai'i 2,000 years ago.

Cultural similarities between coastal Canada and Polynesians is as follows; (From Thor Heyerdahl, American Indians in the Pacific); Rubbing noses as a form of greeting; Formal principles of rank; lineage, and kinship Use of mats or rugs for money Fish hook and harpoon design Tattooing tools and techniques Tiki design and its spiritual significance. Design of stone pounders along with their spiritual significance Use of gourds for containers instead of pottery Canoe design and building techniques, such as use of hot rocks for steaming hulls open Earth oven procedure House design with entrance through totem's legs Protruding tongue carvings and characteristic eye design in carvings Inlaying of shells into carvings Weaving styles Stone bowl manufacture and design The gaping angry mouth motif on the handle of clubs The traditional name for the Haida homeland of Queen Charlotte Island is Haida'gwai'i, very similar linguistically to Ha'wai'i (homeland). Names such as Tongass (southern) Strait and Hakai'i Channel appear to also be relic names suggesting an Austronesian past to this area.

Irving Goldman, author of "Ancient Polynesian Society", has this to say on the comparison between Kwakuitl and the Polynesians. "For reasons that remain to be discovered, the Indian tribes of this area [NW Coast] share formal principles of rank, lineage, and kinship with Pacific islanders. The Kwakiutl, seem very close to what I have designated as the "traditional" Polynesian society. They share with Polynesians a status system of graded hereditary ranking of individuals and of lineages; a social class system of chiefs ("nobles"), commoners, and slaves; concepts of primogeniture and seniority of descent lines; a concept of abstract supernatural powers as special attributes of chiefs; and a lineage system that leans toward patriliny, but acknowledges the maternal lines as well. Finally, Kwakiutl and eastern Polynesians, especially, associate ambiguity of lineage membership with "Hawaiian" type kinship, a fully classificatory system that does not distinguish between maternal and paternal sides, or between siblings and cousins."

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Polynesia is generally defined as the islands within the Polynesian triangle


"The following DNA evidence will help clarify the division between Polynesians, Melanesians and Micronesians.(from; S.W. Serjeantson “The Colonization of the Pacific – A Genetic Trail 1989 pp 135,162-163,166-7) "The following genes set them apart: Polynesians lack HLA-B27 , whereas it is common amongst Melanesians. Polynesians have had little contact with Micronesians. There are only a limited number of similarities in the HLA system. It is clear that Micronesia has had an independent source of HLA genes, probably from the Phillipines, as indicated by the high frequency of HLA-Bw35 which is absent from Melanesian and Polynesian groups. HLA-B13, B18 and B27 are found throughout Melanesia. These antigens are sporadic in Western Polynesia and are essentially absent from the populations of Eastern Polynesia. The few sporadic occurrences are attributable to recent foreign admixture. These antigens are also rarely found in Micronesia. HLA-A11 and B40 are significantly associated with each other in Melanesia, but are not linked in Polynesian Populations.HLA data cannot support the theory of Polynesian evolution within Melanesia.Gene frequency distributions, as well as linkage relationships, clearly place Maoris of New Zealand in the Eastern Polynesian branch, together with Hawaiians and Easter Islanders. The HLA-A-B linkage relationships seen in Hawaiians are present also in Maoris and are consistent with a split in these populations 1,000 years ago."

Island groups

The following are the islands and island groups, either nations or subnational territories, that are of native Polynesian culture. Some islands of Polynesian origin are outside the general triangle that geographically defines the region.

See also

Notes

1. ^ History of Polynesian Archaeology. Retrieved on November 18, 2005.
2. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica, 1995
3. ^ . Retrieved on November 18, 2005.
4. ^ . Retrieved on November 18, 2005.
5. ^ First Chickens in Americas Were Brought From Polynesia, by John Noble Wilford, New York Times, June 5, 2007.
6. ^ Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile, by Alice A. Storey, et al., PNAS, June 19th, 2007.

References

  • Finney, Ben R (1976). New, Non-Armchair Research. In Ben R. Finney (1963), Pacific Navigation and Voyaging, The Polynesian Society Inc.
  • Finney, Ben R (1976) (editor). Pacific Navigation and Voyaging, The Polynesian Society Inc.
  • Gatty, Harold (1999). Finding Your Ways Without Map or Compass. Dover Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-486-40613-X. 
  • Lewis, David (1976), A Return Voyage Between Puluwat and Saipan Using Micronesian Navigational Techniques. In Ben R. Finney (1963), Pacific Navigation and Voyaging, The Polynesian Society Inc.
  • Sharp, Andrew (1963). Ancient Voyagers in Polynesia, Longman Paul Ltd.
  • Kayser, M., Brauer, S., Weiss, G., Underhill, P. A., Roewer, L., Schiefenhšfel, W., and Stoneking, M. (2000). Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y Chromosomes Current Biology, 2000, volume 10, pages 1237-1246
  • Kayser, M., Brauer, S., Weiss, G., Underhill, P. A., Roewer, L., Schiefenhšfel, W., and Stoneking, M. (2000). Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y Chromosomes (correction Current Biology, 2000, volume 11, pages 1-2

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