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

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 (talk) to the Geographical Society of Paris proposed a restriction on its use.

Geographically, and oversimply, Polynesia may be described as a triangle with its corners at Hawaii, New Zealandmarker and Easter Islandmarker. The other main island groups located within the Polynesian triangle are Samoamarker, Tongamarker, the Cook Islandsmarker, Tuvalumarker, Tokelaumarker, Niuemarker, Wallis and Futunamarker and French Polynesiamarker.

A Polynesian island group outside of this great triangle is Rotumamarker which is the north of the Fijianmarker islands. There are also small outlier Polynesian enclaves in Papua New Guinea, the Solomons, The Caroline Islands, some of the Laumarker group to Fiji's southeast and in Vanuatu. However, in essence, Polynesia 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 of the Polynesian people

Mainstream theories

The Polynesian people are considered to be by ancestry a subset of the sea-migrating Austronesian people and the tracing of Polynesian languages places their prehistoric origins in the Malay archipelago.

There are three theories regarding the spread of humans across the Pacific to Polynesia. These are outlined well by Kayser et al., (2000) and are as follows:

  • Express Train model: A recent (c. 3,000 years ago) expansion out of Southeast Asia, predominantly Taiwanmarker, via Melanesia but with little genetic admixture between those migrating and the existing native population, reaching western Polynesian islands around 2,000 years ago. This theory is supported by the majority of current genetic, linguistic, and archaeological data.


  • Entangled Bank model: Supposes a long history of cultural and genetic interactions amongst southeast Asians, Melanesians, and already-established Polynesians.


  • Slow Boat model: Similar to the express-train model but with a longer hiatus in Melanesia along with admixture, both genetically, culturally and linguistically with the local population. This is supported by the Y-chromosome data of Kayser et al. [2000], which shows that all three haplotypes of Polynesian Y chromosomes can be traced back to Melanesia


Between about 3000 and 1000 BC speakers of Austronesian languages spread through island Southeast Asia. These people, according to linguistic and archaeological evidence originated from Taiwanmarker, as tribes whose natives were thought to have arrived from mainland South China about 8,000 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. It is thought that roughly 3,000 years BC the Lapita culture appeared in the Bismarck Archipelagomarker, northwest Melanesia. This culture is argued to have either been developed there or, more likely, to have spread from Chinamarker/Taiwanmarker. The most eastern site for Lapita archaeological remains recovered so far through archaeology in Samoa is at Mulifanuamarker on Upolumarker. The Mulifanua site, where 4,288 pottery sherds have been found and studied, has a true age of circa 3,000 BP based on C14 dating.

Within a mere three or four centuries between about 1300 and 900 BC, the Lapita culture spread 6,000 km further to the east from the Bismarck Archipelago, until it reached as far as Fijimarker, Tongamarker, and Samoamarker which were populated around 2,000 years ago. In this region, the distinctive Polynesian culture developed.

The spread of pottery and domesticates in Polynesia is connected with the Lapita culture that started expanding from New Guineamarker to as far east as Fijimarker, Samoamarker, and Tongamarker. During this time the aspects of the Polynesian culture developed. Around 300 BC this new Polynesian people spread eastward from Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga to the Cook Islandsmarker, Tahitimarker, the Tuamotusmarker, and the Marquesas Islandsmarker. This was supported by Patrick Kirch and Marshall Weisler when they performed X-ray fluorescence sourcing of basalt artifacts found on both islands.

Between AD 300 and 500, the Polynesians discovered and settled Easter Islandmarker. 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 500, Hawai'imarker was settled by the Polynesians and around AD 1000 New Zealandmarker was settled as well.

Polynesian links to the Americas

The sweet potato kumara, which is native to the Americas, was widespread in Polynesia when Europeans first reached the Pacific. Kumara has been radiocarbon-dated in the Cook Islandsmarker to 1000 CE, and current thinking is that it was brought to central Polynesia circa 700 CE and spread across Polynesia from there, possibly by Polynesians who had traveled to South America and back. It is possible, however, that South Americans brought it to the Pacific or that this plant or its seed-bearing parts simply floated across the Pacific without human contact ever occurring. The traditional name for the Haida homeland of Queen Charlotte Islandmarker is Haida'gwai'i, very similar linguistically to Hawai'i (homeland).Names such as Tonga's 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 Kwakiutl 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."

Thor Heyerdahl proposed in the mid-twentieth century that the Polynesians had migrated from South America on balsa-log boats.

Cultures of Polynesia



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 Tongamarker, Niuemarker, Samoamarker and the northwestern Polynesian outliers.

Eastern Polynesian cultures are highly adapted to smaller islands and atolls, principally the Cook Islandsmarker, Tahitimarker, the Tuamotusmarker, the Marquesasmarker, Hawaiimarker, Rapa Nuimarker and smaller central-pacific groups. The large islands of New Zealandmarker were first settled by Eastern Polynesians who adapted their culture to a non-tropical environment.

Unlike in Melanesia, leaders were chosen in Polynesia based on their hereditary bloodline. Samoa however, had another system of government that combines elements of heredity and real-world skills to choose leaders. This system is called matai.

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.

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 jewellery 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 Zealandmarker, 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 Islandmarker, supplement this with tourism income. Some have more unusual sources of income, such as Tuvalumarker which marketed its '.tv' internet top-level domain name or the Cooks that relied on stamp sales.

Polynesian navigation



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.

Navigators traveled to small inhabited islands using only their own senses and knowledge passed by oral tradition from navigator to apprentice. In order to locate directions at various times of day and year, navigators in Eastern Polynesia memorized important facts: the motion of specific stars, and where they would rise and set on the horizon of the ocean; weather; times of travel; wildlife species (which congregate at particular positions); directions of swells on the ocean, and how the crew would feel their motion; colors of the sea and sky, especially how clouds would cluster at the locations of some islands; and angles for approaching harbors.

These wayfinding techniques along with outrigger canoe construction methods, were kept as guild secrets. Generally each island maintained a guild of navigators who had very high status; in times of famine or difficulty these navigators could trade for aid or evacuate people to neighboring islands. To this day, original traditional methods of Polynesian Navigation are still taught in the Polynesian outlier of Taumako Islandmarker in the Solomon Islands.

From a single chicken bone recovered from the archaeological site of El Arenal-1, on the Arauco Peninsula, Chile, a 2007 research report looking at radiocarbon dating and an ancient DNA sequence indicatef that Polynesian navigators may have reached the Americas at least 100 years before Columbus (who arrived 1492 AD), introducing chickens to South America. A later report looking at the same specimens concluded:



A published, apparently pre-Columbian, Chilean specimen and six pre-European Polynesian specimens also cluster with the same European/Indian subcontinental/Southeast Asian sequences, providing no support for a Polynesian introduction of chickens to South America. In contrast, sequences from two archaeological sites on Easter Island group with an uncommon haplogroup from Indonesia, Japan, and China and may represent a genetic signature of an early Polynesian dispersal. Modeling of the potential marine carbon contribution to the Chilean archaeological specimen casts further doubt on claims for pre-Columbian chickens, and definitive proof will require further analyses of ancient DNA sequences and radiocarbon and stable isotope data from archaeological excavations within both Chile and Polynesia.

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 favor, perhaps creating a romantic picture of their canoes, seamanship and navigational expertise.

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, Micronesian 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 them 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.

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.

Main Polynesia

Polynesian Outliers

In Melanesia

In Micronesia



See also



Notes

  1. Kayser, M., Brauer, S., Weiss, G., Underhill, P. A., Roewer, L., Schiefenhövel, W., Stoneking, M. 2000. Melanesian origin of Polynesian Y chromosomes. Current Biology. Vol. 10. No. 20. Pp.1237-1246
  2. Hage, P., Marck, J. 2003. Matrilineality and Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y Chromosomes. Current Anthropology Vol. 44, No. S5
  3. Kayser, M., Brauer, S., Cordaux, R., Casto, A., Lao, O., Zhivotovsky, L. A., Moyse-Faurie, C., Rutledge, R. B., Schiefenhoevel, W., Gil, D., Lin, A. A., Underhill, P. A., Oefner, P. J., Trent, R. J., Stoneking, M. 2006. Melanesian and Asian origins of Polynesians: mtDNA and Y chromosome gradients across the Pacific. Molecular Biology and Evolution. Vol. 23. No. 11. Pp. 2234-2244.
  4. Su, B., Underhill, P., Martinson, J., Saha, N., McGarvey, S. T., Shriver, M. D., Chu, J., Oefner, P., Chakraborty, R., Deka, R. 2000. Polynesian origins: Insights from the Y chromosome. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vol. 97. No. 15
  5. Kirch PV. 2000. On the road of the wings: an archaeological history of the Pacific Islands before European contact. London: University of California Press. Quoted in Kayser, M., Brauer, S., Cordaux, R., Casto, A., Lao, O., Zhivotovsky, L. A., Moyse-Faurie, C., Rutledge, R. B., Schiefenhoevel, W., Gil, D., Lin, A. A., Underhill, P. A., Oefner, P. J., Trent, R. J., Stoneking, M. 2006. "Melanesian and Asian origins of Polynesians: mtDNA and Y chromosome gradients across the Pacific." Molecular Biology and Evolution. Vol. 23. No. 11. Pp. 2234-2244.
  6. [1]New Information for the Ferry Berth Site, Mulifanua, Western Samoa by Roger C. Green and Helen M. Leach, Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 98, 1989, No. 3. Retrieved 1 November, 2009
  7. VAN TILBURG, Jo Anne. 1994. Easter Island: Archaeology, Ecology and Culture. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press
  8. .
  9. Peoples of the World by National Geographic
  10. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1995
  11. First Chickens in Americas Were Brought From Polynesia, by John Noble Wilford, New York Times, June 5, 2007.
  12. Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile, by Alice A. Storey, et al., PNAS, June 19th, 2007.
  13. Indo-European and Asian origins for Chilean and Pacific chickens revealed by mtDNA. Jaime Gongora, Nicolas J. Rawlence, Victor A. Mobegi, Han Jianlin, Jose A. Alcalde, Jose T. Matus, Olivier Hanotte, Chris Moran, J. Austin, Sean Ulm, Atholl J. Anderson, Greger Larson and Alan Cooper, "Indo-European and Asian origins for Chilean and Pacific chickens revealed by mtDNA" PNAS July 29, 2008 vol. 105 no 30[2]


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.
  • 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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