DNA offers a new look at how Polynesia was settled

I found an interesting article in the Science News written by Bruce Bower about the Polynesian voyager in the Southsea. Bower wrote earlier already some more intersting  article about this. I will put them all in this post.

I can still remember very well, when as a young child, I leafed through the old books of foreign countries and saw a black and white photo, including sketches of these huge, monster stone sculptures from Easter Island. It was impressive. Even if I still see this today, I have to ask myself who were these people who created such sculptures? I don’t know anything else in the South Seas where such stone figures were built? Do you? Admirable. Even today we still don’t know the purpose, the meaning of these statues. I think it’s just terrific, almost terrifying in a way …..

Voyagers migrated to islands sprinkled across a large area of the Pacific within about 500 years
image of a row of statues on Easter Island
Eastern Polynesia’s settlers rapidly voyaged across a vast area starting nearly 1,200 years ago, a new genetic study finds. Groups with a shared ancestry may have carved massive statues on easternmost islands, including these on Easter Island. Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images Plus

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Polynesian voyagers settled islands across a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean within about 500 years, leaving a genetic trail of the routes that the travelers took, scientists say.

Comparisons of present-day Polynesians’ DNA indicate that sea journeys launched from Samoa in western Polynesia headed south and then east, reaching Rarotonga in the Cook Islands by around the year 830. From the mid-1100s to the mid-1300s, people who had traveled farther east to a string of small islands called the Tuamotus fanned out to settle Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, and several other islands separated by thousands of kilometers on Polynesia’s eastern edge. On each of those islands, the Tuamotu travelers built massive stone statues like the ones Easter Island is famed for.

That’s the scenario sketched out in a new study in the Sept. 23 Nature by Stanford University computational biologist Alexander Ioannidis, population geneticist Andrés Moreno-Estrada of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity in Irapuato, Mexico, and their colleagues.

The new analysis generally aligns with archaeological estimates of human migrations across eastern Polynesia from roughly 900 to 1250. And the study offers an unprecedented look at settlement pathways that zigged and zagged over a distance of more than 5,000 kilometers, the researchers say.

“The colonization of eastern Polynesia was a remarkable event in which a vast area, some one-third of the planet, became inhabited by humans in … a relatively short period of time,” says archaeologist Carl Lipo of Binghamton University in New York, who wasn’t involved in the new research.

Improved radiocarbon dating techniques applied to remains of short-lived plant species unearthed at archaeological sites are also producing a chronology of Polynesian colonization close to that proposed in the genetic study, Lipo says.

In the new investigation, researchers identified DNA segments of exclusively Polynesian origin in 430 present-day individuals from 21 Pacific island populations. Island-specific genetic fingerprints enabled the scientists to reconstruct settlement paths, based on increases in rare gene variants that must have resulted from a small group moving from one island to another and giving rise to a new, larger population with novel DNA twists. Comparisons of shared Polynesian ancestry between pairs of individuals on different islands were used to estimate when settlements occurred.

In an intriguing twist, the DNA evidence “is consistent with the [statue] carving tradition arising once in a single point of common origin, likely the Tuamotu islands,” Moreno-Estrada says. Polynesian ancestry on all the islands with massive statues traces back to the one island in the Tuamotus where the researchers were able to obtain Indigenous peoples’ DNA.

The Tuamotus include nearly 80 islands situated between Tahiti to the west and other islands to the north and east where settlers carved statues. The latter outposts consist of the Marquesas Islands, Mangareva and Rapa Nui. Another late-settled island where inhabitants carved statues, Raivavae, lies southwest of the Tuamotus.

Settlers reached the island of Mataiva in the northern Tuamotus by about 1110, the researchers suggest. Statue makers navigated northward and eastward from Mataiva or perhaps other Tuamotu islands to as far east as Rapa Nui — eventually curving back west before arriving at Raivavae — around the same time as an earlier DNA study suggests eastern Polynesians mated with South Americans (SN: 7/8/20). (It’s not clear whether South Americans crossed the ocean to Polynesia or Polynesians traveled to South America and then returned.)

Ioannidis and colleagues’ conclusions generally support prior scenarios of Polynesia’s settlement, but some disparities exist between their genetic evidence and earlier archaeological and linguistic findings, writes archaeologist Patrick Kirch of the University of Hawaii at Manoa in a commentary published with the new study.

For instance, the new DNA analysis overlooks extensive contacts that occurred across eastern Polynesian in its early settlement stages, Kirch says. Analyses of closely related eastern Polynesian language dialects and discoveries of stone tools that were transported from one island to another point to substantial travels and trading throughout the region during that time.

Kirch, who has previously suggested that these long-distance contacts in eastern Polynesian influenced stone carving traditions, calls the new proposal that people with a shared ancestry brought stone carving to Rapa Nui and other islands “a provocative hypothesis.”

And there’s still no answer to one major question regarding the settlement of the islands, says molecular anthropologist Lisa Matisoo-Smith of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, who didn’t participate in the new research. No current line of evidence can resolve the mystery of why, after spending nearly 2,000 years on Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, Polynesians began voyaging thousands of kilometers eastward in search of new lands.

 

Easter Islanders sailed to Americas, DNA suggests

Sea crossings occurred well before European contact, genetics of present-day people indicates
Easter Island statue
HEAD EAST People living on Easter Island, known for its carved giant stone statues, sailed to and from the Americas before Europeans reached their South Pacific home, new genetic evidence suggests. Natalia Solar
Bruce BowerBruce Bower

 

Behavioral Sciences Writer
Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences since 1984. He often writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues. Bruce has a master’s degree in psychology from Pepperdine University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. Following an internship at Science News in 1981, he worked as a reporter at Psychiatric News, a publication of the American Psychiatric Association, until joining Science News as a staff writer. In 1996, the American Psychological Association appointed Bruce a Science Writer Fellow, with a grant to visit psychological scientists of his own choosing. Early stints as an aide in a day school for children and teenagers with severe psychological problems and as a counselor in a drug diversion center provided Bruce with a surprisingly good background for a career in science journalism.

There Are Many Ties Between Hawaiians And Micronesians

Traditionally, the lines between Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia never existed.

By Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp / September 28, 2018

Contrary to popular belief, Micronesians are not recent immigrants to Hawaii. They actually predate even the arrival of the Japanese to Hawaii, but one will notice in particular that in the state’s narrative of celebrating different waves of immigrants to the plantations, Micronesians are left out, though they have a long history with Hawaii and with Native Hawaiians.

Besides being related by Austronesian linguistics and DNA evidence, the line between Polynesia and Micronesia was not imposed by either Micronesians nor Polynesians, but by competing colonial powers in the Pacific. The truth of the matter is that there are Micronesian cultural outliers in what is now thought of as the “Polynesian triangle” and there are Polynesian cultural outliers in what is now regarded as Micronesia and Melanesia.

Traditionally, the lines between Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia never existed. We were all connected by the ocean of Kanaloa, or as my kupuna would say, the womb of Hina-i-ka-moana. They, like other Pacific Islanders, are our cousins.

Celebrate Micronesia at the Honolulu Museum of Art School. 28 march 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Celebrate Micronesia at the Honolulu Museum of Art School, March 2015. The author submits that there are many historical and cultural ties between Hawaiians and Micronesians. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Although one can suspect that there were voyages and exchanges between Hawaii and Micronesia periodically as noted in the Kualii genealogy chant of the 17th century, Hawaii and Micronesian historical ties — as far as written accounts — go back to the 1850s. In 1852, the American Board of Foreign Missionaries — the same Calvinists that came to Hawaii in 1820 — set up a mission station in the Carolines (now in the northwestern Marshall Islands). A group of a couple of American missionaries along with a half dozen Native Hawaiian missionaries initially set up the mission. Native Hawaiian missionaries slowly created missions in Pohnpei, Kosrae, the Marshalls and Kiribati (then called the Gilberts Islands).

Those long skirts that local people in Hawaii make fun of Micronesian women are products of Native Hawaiian missionary teachings in that time period of the 1850s and who themselves got it from American missionaries a generation prior. Niihau women in fact, until recently, dressed similarly.

One of the more famous Hawaiian missionaries was Bennett Namakeha, uncle to Queen Emma and first husband of the future Queen Kapiolani, who became one of the mission administrators for these Christian missions in Micronesia. He and his wife stayed in Kiribati and visited Pohnpei and Kosrae before he died in 1860. So Queen Kapiolani herself was acquainted with Micronesia having stayed there for several months with her first husband.

In 1877, 55 Kiribati (which is part of Micronesia) and 31 Rotuma (which is part of Melanesia but are closer to Samoan culturally) immigrants were brought in as plantation laborers on The Stormbird. This marked the first wave of Micronesian immigrants to Hawaii — which is almost never mentioned in Hawaii history books. Fifty-five Micronesians from Kiribati arrived and were greeted by King Kalakaua at the pier. The following year, The Stormbird would bring 124 Micronesians to Hawaii along with three Rotumans.

For the next eight years, over 1,500 Micronesians were brought to Hawaii along with about a thousand Rotuman, Fijians, Solomon Islanders and Papuans. So there was a substantial population of Micronesians and Melanesians in Hawaii in the 1880s. Many of these early Micronesians did not return to the homelands but mixed with Hawaiians and adopted Hawaiian names. Sometimes, they would adopt the Hawaiian wifeʻs last name or the last name of a Native Hawaiian missionary who baptized them or chose a last name that began with the letters “e” or “p,” similar to how the Chinese adopted Hawaiianized last names starting with the letter “a.”

Cultural Byproducts

Another byproduct of this exchange is the introduction of certain hair comb designs, new lei making designs, the iconic coconut “bras” and the thinner raffia “grass skirts” by the Kiribati workers to Hawaii. Although other Polynesian groups did have coconut bras, it was the Micronesian immigrants who introduced them to Hawaiians and Hawaiians who adopted its use for more modern hula and for tourists.

By 1884, plantation recruitment in Micronesia stopped for various reasons including that Micronesian plantation workers had a habit of running away from the plantation and being hidden by Hawaiians. Hence why Portuguese and Japanese were brought in as they would have a harder time running away and blending with the Native Hawaiian population — so the plantation owners thought. Another reason was that Spain and Britain and later Germany began to take more of an interest in colonizing Micronesia and that caused diplomatic issues with the Hawaiian government. This, however, did not stop the chiefs of Butaritari and Tapiteuea in Kiribati from requesting a Hawaiian protectorate or complete annexation as their chiefs believed that they would be treated more fairly by King Kalakaua than some European colonial administrator. Nothing came out of this as Britain would decide to annex Kiribati.

Instead of dehumanizing Micronesians, we need to find ways to bridge cultural misunderstandings and create safe spaces for dialogue.

As a side note to show the aloha that King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani had for these Micronesian plantation laborers, their chiefs and community leaders were normally invited to his birthday celebrations at Iolani Palace and the electrification of Iolani Palace celebration on June 1, 1887.

This history does not include 20th-century immigration, the infamous role of U.S. colonialism in that region nor the phenomenal contributions that Satawal navigator Mau Piailug made to the Hokulea.

Every new wave of immigration will always face problems and be stereotyped. When groups such as the Samoans, Filipinos, Portuguese and Chinese arrived in Hawaii, they were stereotyped and made fun of. But by embracing them into our community and learning from each other, these same groups became a fabric of modern Hawaii and provided us with scholars, politicians, entrepreneurs and delicious food. Instead of dehumanizing Micronesians — which I will repeat have historically first migrated to Hawaii in 1877 — we need to find ways to bridge cultural misunderstandings and create safe spaces for dialogue.

About the Author

Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp

  • Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp is a Native Hawaiian cultural historian. With roots both in Papakolea Homestead and in the Philippines, he is also a writer, blogger and researcher.