Polynesians have acquired a reputation as great navigators—their canoes reached the most remote corners of the Pacific, allowing the settlement of islands as far apart as Hawaii, Rapanui (Easter Island) and Aotearoa (New Zealand).
The people of Polynesia accomplished this voyaging using ancient navigation skills of reading stars, currents, clouds and bird movements—skills passed to successive generations down to the present day.
Polynesians, including Rotumans
, Cook Islands Māori
, Tahitian Mā'ohi
, Hawaiian Māoli
and New Zealand Māori
, are a subset of the Austronesian peoples
. They share the same origins as the indigenous peoples of Taiwan
, Southeast Asia
(especially the Philippines
and eastern Indonesia
, and Madagascar
This is supported by genetic
and archaeological evidence.
There are multiple hypotheses
on the ultimate origin and mode of dispersal of the Austronesian peoples
, but the most widely accepted theory is that modern Austronesians originated from migrations out of Taiwan
between 3000 and 1000 BC. Using relatively advanced maritime innovations like the catamaran
, outrigger boats
, and crab claw sails
, they rapidly colonized the islands of both the Indian
and the Pacific oceans
. They were the first humans to cross vast distances of water on ocean-going boats.
Polynesians are known to have definitely originated from a branch of the Austronesian migrations in Island Melanesia
, despite the popularity of rejected hypotheses like Thor Heyerdahl
's belief that Polynesians are descendants of "bearded white men" who sailed on primitive rafts from South America
The direct ancestors of the Polynesians were the Neolithic Lapita culture
, which emerged in Island Melanesia
at around 1500 BC from a convergence of migration waves of Austronesians originating from both Island Southeast Asia to the west and an earlier Austronesian migration to Micronesia to the north. The culture was distinguished by distinct dentate-stamped pottery. However, their eastward expansion stopped when they reached the western Polynesian islands of Fiji
by around 900 BC. This remained the furthest extent of the Austronesian expansion
in the Pacific for around 1,500 years, during which the Lapita culture in these islands abruptly lost the technology of making pottery for unknown reasons. They resumed their eastward migrations by around 700 AD, spreading to the Cook Islands
, French Polynesia
, and the Marquesas
. From here, they spread further to Hawaii
by 900 AD, Easter Island
by 1000 AD, and finally New Zealand
by 1200 AD.
Best-fit genomic mixture proportions of ethnic and tribal Austronesians in Island Southeast Asia
and their inferred population movements (Lipson et al.
Analysis by Kayser et al.
(2008) discovered that only 21% of the Polynesian autosomal gene pool is of Australo-Melanesian
origin, with the rest (79%) being of Austronesian origin.
Another study by Friedlaender et al.
(2008) also confirmed that Polynesians are closer genetically to Micronesians
, Taiwanese Aborigines
, and Islander Southeast Asians
, than to Papuans. The study concluded that Polynesians moved through Melanesia fairly rapidly, allowing only limited admixture between Austronesians and Papuans.
Polynesians belong almost entirely to the Haplogroup B (mtDNA) and thus the high frequencies of mtDNA B4a1a1 in the Polynesians are the result of drift and represent the descendants of a few Austronesian females who mixed with Papuan males.
The Polynesian population experienced a founder effect
and genetic drift.
As a result of founder effect, the Polynesian may be distinctively different both genotypically
from the parent population from which it is derived. This is due to new population being established by a very small number of individuals from a larger population which also causes a loss of genetic variation.
A 2014 study by Lipson et al.
using whole genome data
supports the findings of Kayser et al.
Modern Polynesians were shown to have lower levels of admixture with Australo-Melanesians than Austronesians in Island Melanesia
. Regardless, both show admixture, along with other Austronesian populations outside of Taiwan, indicating varying degrees of intermarriage between the incoming Neolithic Austronesian settlers and the preexisting Paleolithic
Australo-Melanesian populations of Island Southeast Asia
Other studies in 2016 and 2017 also support the implications that the earliest Lapita settlers mostly bypassed New Guinea, coming directly from Taiwan
or the northern Philippines
. The intermarriage and admixture with Australo-Melanesian Papuans
evident in the genetics of modern Polynesians (as well as Islander Melanesians
) occurred after the settlement of Tonga
Female dancers of the Hawaii Islands
depicted by Louis Choris
, c. 1816
('ava) makers (aumaga) of Samoa. A woman seated between two men with the round tanoa (or laulau) wooden bowl in front. Standing is a third man, distributor of the 'ava, holding the coconut shell cup (tauau) used for distributing the beverage.
There are an estimated 2 million ethnic Polynesians and many of partial Polynesian descent worldwide, the majority of whom live in Polynesia, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
The Polynesian peoples are shown below in their distinctive ethnic and cultural groupings (estimates of the larger groups are shown):
- Māori: New Zealand (Aotearoa) – c. 744,800 (not including 130,000 residing in Australia)
- Samoan: Samoa, American Samoa – c. 249,000 (worldwide: c. 500,000–600,000, including the 109,000 residing in the US and 145,000 in New Zealand)
- Tahitians (Maohi): Tahiti – c. 178,000 (including multiracial: 250,000+)
- Native Hawaiians: Hawaii – c. 140,000 (including multiracial: 400,000)
- Tongan: Tonga – c. 104,000 (+ 8,000 Australia, 35,000 U.S.A, & 60,300 New Zealand)
- Cook Islands Māori: Cook Islands – 98,000+ (including 62,000 in New Zealand and 16,000 residing in Australia)
- Niuean: Niue – c. 20,000–25,000 (95% of whom live in New Zealand)
- Tuvaluan: Tuvalu – c. 10,000 (+ 3,500 in New Zealand)
- Tokelauan: Tokelau – c. 1,500 (+ 6,500 in New Zealand)
- Tuamotu: Tuamotu Archipelago – c. 16,000
- Marquesas Islanders: Marquesas Islands – c. 11,000
- Rapanui: Easter Island – c. 5,000 (including mixtures and those living in Chile)
- Austral Islanders: Austral Islands – ~7,000
- Mangareva: Gambier Islands – c. 1,600
- Moriori: Chatham Islands (Rēkohu) – c. 738 (2013 New Zealand Census)
- Uvea and Futuna: Wallis and Futuna
- Kapingamarangi and Nukuoro: The Federated States of Micronesia
- Nuguria, Nukumanu and Takuu: Papua New Guinea
- Anuta, Bellona, Ontong Java, Rennel, Sikaiana, Tikopia and Vaeakau-Taumako: Solomon Islands
- Emae, Makata, Mele (Erakoro, Eratapu), Aniwa, and Futuna: Vanuatu
- Fagauvea: Ouvéa (New Caledonia)
- Rotumans, Parts of Lau: Fiji
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Last edited on 29 March 2021, at 20:58
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