Polynesia (British English: ; American English: , from πολύς polys "many" and νῆσος nēsos "island") is a subregion of Oceania, made up of more than 1,000 scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean. The indigenous people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians, and share many similar traits including language family, culture, and beliefs. Historically, they had a strong tradition of sailing and using stars to navigate at night.
The term Polynesia was first used in 1756 by French writer Charles de Brosses, and originally applied to all the Pacific islands. In 1831, Jules Dumont d'Urville proposed a restriction on its use during a lecture to the Geographical Society of Paris. Historically, the islands of the South Seas have been known as South Sea IslandsRussell, Michael (1849) Polynesia: A History of the South Sea Islands, Including New Zealand., and their inhabitants as South Sea Islanders, even though the Hawaiian Islands are located in the North Pacific. Another term, the Polynesian Triangle, explicitly includes the Hawaiian Islands, as they form its northern vertex.
Out of approximately of land, over are within New Zealand; the Hawaiian archipelago comprises about half the remainder. The Zealandia continent has approximately of continental shelf. The oldest rocks in the region are found in New Zealand and are believed to be about 510 million years old. The oldest Polynesian rocks outside of Zealandia are to be found in the Hawaiian Emperor Seamount Chain and are 80 million years old.
There are also small Polynesian settlements in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Caroline Islands, and in Vanuatu. An island group with strong Polynesian cultural traits outside of this great triangle is Rotuma, situated north of Fiji. The people of Rotuma have many common Polynesian traits but speak a non-Polynesian language. Some of the Lau Islands to the southeast of Fiji have strong historic and cultural links with Tonga.
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Fijian Lau Islands
In the archaeological record there are well-defined traces of this expansion which allow the path it took to be followed and dated with some certainty. It is thought that by roughly 1400 BC,
The results of research at the Teouma Lapita site (Efate Island, Vanuatu) and the Talasiu Lapita site (near Nuku'alofa, Tonga) published in 2016 supports the Express Train model; although with the qualification that the migration bypassed New Guinea and Island Melanesia. The conclusion from research published in 2016 is that the initial population of those two sites appears to come directly from Taiwan or the northern Philippines and did not mix with the ‘AustraloPapuans’ of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The preliminary analysis of skulls found at the Teouma and Talasiu Lapita sites is that they lack Australian or Papuan affinities and instead have affinities to mainland Asian populations. DNA analysis of modern Polynesians indicates that there has been intermarriage resulting in a mixed Asian-Papuan ancestry of the Polynesians. Research at the Teouma and Talasiu Lapita sites implies that the migration and intermarriage, which resulted in the mixed Asian-Papuan ancestry of the Polynesians, occurred after the first initial migration to Vanuatu and Tonga.
The most eastern site for Lapita archaeological remains recovered so far is at Mulifanua on Upolu. The Mulifanua site, where 4,288 pottery shards have been found and studied, has a "true" age of c. 1000 BC based on C14 dating. A 2010 study places the beginning of the human archaeological sequences of Polynesia in Tonga at 900 B.C.
Within a mere three or four centuries, between 1300 and 900 BC, the Lapita archaeological culture spread 6,000 km further to the east from the Bismarck Archipelago, until reaching as far as Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa which were first populated around 3,000 years ago as previously mentioned.
Tiny populations may have been involved at first; although Professor Matisoo-Smith of the Otago study said that the founding Māori population of New Zealand must have been in the hundreds, much larger than previously thought.
Atholl Anderson wrote that that analysis of mtDNA (female) and Y chromosome (male) concluded that that the ancestors of Polynesian women came from Taiwan while those of Polynesian men came from New Guinea. Subsequently it was found that 96% of Polynesian mtDNA has an Asian origin, as does one-third of Polynesian Y chromosomes; the remaining two-thirds from New Guinea and nearby islands; this is consistent with matrilocal residence patterns.
Although matrilocality and matrilineality receded at some early time, Polynesians and most other Austronesian speakers in the Pacific Islands, were/are still highly "matricentric" in their traditional jurisprudence. The Lapita pottery for which the general archaeological complex of the earliest "Oceanic" Austronesian speakers in the Pacific Islands are named also went away in Western Polynesia. Language, social life and material culture were very distinctly "Polynesian" by the time Eastern Polynesia was being settled after a "pause" of 1000 years or more in Western Polynesia.
The dating of the settlement of Eastern Polynesia, including Hawai'i, Easter Island, and New Zealand, is not agreed upon in every instance. Most recently, a 2010 study using meta-analysis of the most reliable radiocarbon dates available suggested that the colonization of Eastern Polynesia (including Hawaii and New Zealand) proceeded in two short episodes: in the Society Islands from 1025–1120 AD and further afield from 1190–1290 AD, with Easter Island being settled around 1200.
In 1845 the ambitious young warrior, strategist, and orator Tāufaʻāhau united Tonga into a more Western-style kingdom. He held the chiefly title of Tuʻi Kanokupolu, but had been baptised with the name Jiaoji ("George") in 1831. In 1875, with the help of the missionary Shirley Waldemar Baker, he declared Tonga a constitutional monarchy, formally adopted the western royal style, emancipated the "serfs", enshrined a code of law, land tenure, and freedom of the press, and limited the power of the chiefs.
Tonga became a British-protected state under a Treaty of Friendship on 18 May 1900, when European settlers and rival Tongan chiefs tried to oust the second king. Within the British Empire, which posted no higher permanent representative on Tonga than a British Consul (1901–1970), Tonga formed part of the British Western Pacific Territories (under a colonial High Commissioner, residing in Fiji) from 1901 until 1952. Despite being under the protectorate, Tonga retained its monarchy without interruption.
On June 4, 1970 the Kingdom of Tonga received independence from the British protectorate.
In response to the actions of the colonial government, Māori looked to form a monarchy inclusive of all Māori tribes in order to reduce vulnerability to the British divide-and-conquer strategy. Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, high priest and chief of the Ngāti Mahuta tribe of the Waikato iwi, was crowned as the Māori king in 1858. The king's territory consisted primarily of the lands in the center of the North Island, and the iwi constituted the most powerful non-signatories of the Treaty of Waitangi, with Te Wherowhero also never having signed it. (See Kingitanga.)
All tribes were incorporated into rule under the colonial government by the late 19th century. Although Māori were given the privilege of being legally enfranchised subjects of the British Empire under the Treaty, Māori culture and language (te reo Māori) were actively suppressed by the colonial government and by economic and social pressures from the Pakeha society. Efforts were made to preserve indigenous culture starting in the late 1950s and culminating in the Waitangi Tribunal's interpretation of language and culture being included in the treasures set to be preserved under the Treaty of Waitangi. Moving from a low point of 15,000 speakers in the 1970s, there are now over 157,000 people who have some proficiency in the standard Māori language according to the 2006 census "Māori language speakers", msd.govt.nz in New Zealand, due in large part to government recognition and promotion of the language.
Fiji itself had been ruled by numerous divided chieftains until Cakobau unified the landmass. The Lapita culture, the ancestors of the Polynesians, existed in Fiji from 3500 BCE until they were displaced by the Melanesians about a thousand years later. (Interestingly, Samoans and subsequent Polynesian cultures adopted Melanesian face painting methods.)
In 1873, Cakobau ceded a Fiji heavily indebted to foreign creditors to the United Kingdom. It became independent on 10 October 1970 and a republic on 28 September 1987.
The Cook Islands were formerly known as the Hervey Islands, but this name only refers to the Northern Groups. It is unknown when this name was changed to reflect the current name. It is thought that the Cook Islands were settled in two periods: the Tahitian Period, when the country was settled between 900 - 1300 AD. The second settlement, the Maui Settlement, occurred in 1600 AD, when a large contingent from Tahiti settled in Rarotonga, in the Takitumu district.
Cook Islanders are ethnically Polynesians or Eastern Polynesia. They are culturally associated with Tahiti, Eastern Islands, NZ Maori and Hawaii. Early in the 17th century, became the first race to settle in New Zealand.
Stories as to the ancestors of the Tuvaluans vary from island to island. On Niutao,
The extent of influence of the Tuʻi Tonga line of Tongan kings, which originated in the 10th century, is understood to have extended to some of the islands of Tuvalu in the 11th to mid-13th century. The oral history of Niutao recalls that in the 15th century Tongan warriors were defeated in a battle on the reef of Niutao. Tongan warriors also invaded Niutao later in the 15th century and again were repelled. A third and fourth Tongan invasion of Niutao occurred in the late 16th century, again with the Tongans being defeated.
Fishing was the primary source of protein, with the cuisine of Tuvalu reflecting food that could be grown on low-lying atolls. Navigation between the islands of Tuvalu was carried out using outrigger canoes. The population levels of the low-lying islands of Tuvalu had to be managed because of the effects of periodic droughts and the risk of severe famine if the gardens were poisoned by salt from the storm-surge of a tropical cyclone.
Thor Heyerdahl proposed in the mid-20th century that the Polynesians had migrated from the northwest coast of Canada by large whale-hunting dugouts, and from South America on balsa-log boats.Sharp, Andrew (1963). Ancient Voyagers in Polynesia, Longman Paul Ltd. pp. 122–128.Finney, Ben R. (1976) "New, Non-Armchair Research". In Ben R. Finney, Pacific Navigation and Voyaging, The Polynesian Society Inc. p. 5. Many anthropologists have criticised Heyerdahl's theory, including Wade Davis in his book The Wayfinders. Davis says that Heyerdahl "ignored the overwhelming body of linguistic, ethnographic, and ethnobotanical evidence, augmented today by genetic and archaeological data, indicating that he was patently wrong."Davis, Wade (2010) The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, Crawley: University of Western Australia Publishing, p. 46.
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 extends to the atolls of Tuvalu to the north. The pattern of settlement that is believed to have occurred is that the Polynesians spread out from the Samoan Islands into the Tuvaluan atolls, with Tuvalu providing a stepping stone to migration into the Polynesian Outlier communities in Melanesia and Micronesia.
Eastern Polynesian cultures are highly adapted to smaller islands and atolls, principally the Cook Islands, Tahiti, the Tuamotus, the Marquesas, Hawaii, Rapa Nui 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.
Unlike 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 Fa'amatai. According to Ben R. Finney and Eric M. Jones, "On Tahiti, for example, the 35,000 Polynesians living there at the time of European discovery were divided between high-status persons with full access to food and other resources, and low-status persons with limited access."
Religion, farming, fishing, weather prediction, out-rigger canoe (similar to modern ) 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. Periodic droughts and subsequent famines often led to war.Finney, Ben R. and Jones, Eric M. (1986). " Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience". University of California Press. p.176. Many low-lying islands could suffer severe famine if their gardens were poisoned by the salt from the storm-surge of a tropical cyclone. 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. The size of the island inhabited determined whether or 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. 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.Encyclopædia Britannica, 1995
However, New Zealand demonstrates the opposite: large volcanic islands with fortified villages.
As well as being great navigators, these people Polynesian art 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. Stone and wooden weapons were considered to be more powerful the better they were made and decorated. In some island groups weaving was a strong part of the culture and gifting woven articles was an ingrained practice. Dwellings were imbued with character by the skill of their building. Body decoration and jewelry is of an 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 traveled thousands of miles to celebrations that they all owned communally.
Beginning in the 1820s large numbers of missionaries worked in the islands, converting many groups to Christianity. Polynesia, argues Ian Breward, is now "one of the most strongly Christian regions in the world....Christianity was rapidly and successfully incorporated into Polynesian culture. War and slavery disappeared."Ian Breward in
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 , and where they would rise 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.
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. On his first voyage of Pacific exploration Cook had the services of a Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, who drew a hand-drawn chart of the islands within radius (to the north and west) of his home island of Ra'iatea. Tupaia had knowledge of 130 islands and named 74 on his chart.
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 indicate 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 were 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.Lewis, David. "A Return Voyage Between Puluwat and Saipan Using Micronesian Navigational Techniques". In Ben R. Finney (1976), Pacific Navigation and Voyaging, The Polynesian Society Inc. Meanwhile, Micronesian ethnographic research in the Caroline Islands revealed that traditional stellar navigational methods were still in every day 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 , the flight of birds, the winds and the weather. Scientists think that long-distance Polynesian voyaging followed the seasonal paths of bird migration. 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 . 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.