Polynesian culture

Polynesian culture

Polynesian culture refers to the aboriginal culture of the Polynesian-speaking peoples of Polynesia and the Polynesian outliers. Polynesia. Chronologically, the development of Polynesian culture can be divided into four different historical eras:
*Exploration and Settlement (c. 1800 BC - c. 700 AD)
*Pre-European Growth (c. 700 - 1595)
*European Discovery and Colonization until World War II (1595 - 1945)
*Modern times/After World War II (1945 to present)

Origins, Exploration and Settlement (c. 1800 BC - c. 700 AD)

Recent maternal mitochondrial DNA analysis suggests that Polynesians, including Tongans, Samoans, Niueans, Cook Islanders, Tahitians, Hawaiians, Marquesans and Māori, are genetically linked to indigenous peoples of parts of Southeast Asia including those of Taiwan. This DNA evidence is supported by linguistic and archaeological evidence (see Sutton 1994, cited in References section below, for discussion of Eastern Polynesian origins, New Zealand Māori in particular). Recent studies into paternal Y chromosome analysis shows that Polynesians are also genetically linked to peoples of Melanesia (see "Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y Chromosomes" and "Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y Chromosomes (correction)" cited in References).

Between about 3000 and 1000 BC speakers of Austronesian languages spread through island South-East Asia – almost certainly starting out from Taiwan – 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 a distinctive culture appeared suddenly in north-west Melanesia, in the Bismarck Archipelago, the chain of islands forming a great arch from New Britain to the Admiralty Islands. This culture, known as Lapita, stands out in the Melanesian archeological record, with its large permanent villages on beach terraces along the coasts. Particularly characteristic of the Lapita culture is the making of pottery, including a great many vessels of varied shapes, some distinguished by fine patterns and motifs pressed into the clay. 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 Tonga and Samoa. In this region, the distinctive Polynesian culture developed.

The early Polynesians were an adventurous seafaring people with highly-developed navigation skills. They colonised previously-unsettled islands by making very long canoe voyages, in some cases against the prevailing winds and tides. Polynesian navigators steered by the sun and the stars, and by careful observations of cloud reflections and bird flight patterns, were able to determine the existence and location of islands. The name given to a star or constellation taken as a mark to steer by was "kaweinga". The discovery of new islands and island groups was by means of entire small villages of people setting sail on great Polynesian double-hulled canoes. Archaeological evidence indicates that by about 700 AD, the Polynesians had settled the vast Polynesian triangle with its northern corner at Hawai'i, the eastern corner at Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and the southern corner in New Zealand. By comparison, Viking navigators first settled Iceland around 875 AD.The Polynesian voyagers reached the South American mainland and there are suggestions that they made contact with indigenous South Americans. Carbon-dating of chicken bones found by Chilean archaeologists on the Arauco Peninsula in south-central Chile date from between 1321 and 1407 AD. DNA analysis of the bones match those found in prehistoric samples from Tonga and American Samoa, and a near identical match from Rapa Nui (Easter Island). The sweet potato, known in Polynesian languages as "kumara" or "kumala" is widely grown around the Pacific but originated in the Andes. There are also linguistic similarities - sweet potato is "kumar" in Peru. There is no conclusive evidence that Pacific peoples actually settled on the South American mainland or that South American peoples voyaged into the Pacific.

Pre-European growth: (c. 700 to 1595)

While the early Polynesians were skilled navigators, most evidence indicates that their primary exploratory motivation was to ease the demands of burgeoning populations. Polynesian mythology does not speak of explorers bent on conquest of new territories, but rather of heroic discoverers of new lands for the benefit of those who voyaged with them.

While further influxes of immigrants from other Polynesian islands sometimes augmented the growth and development of the local population, for the most part, each island or island group's culture developed in isolation. There was no widespread inter-island group communication, nor is there much indication during this period of any interest in such communications, at least not for economic reasons. This fact makes all the more astounding the limited linguistic entropy of the Polynesian languages.

During the period following complete settlement of Polynesia, each local population developed politically in diverse ways, from fully-developed kingdoms in some islands and island groups, to constantly-warring tribes or extended family groups between various sections of islands, or in some cases, even within the same valleys on various islands.

While it is likely that population pressures caused tensions between various groups, the primary force that seems to have driven unity or division among tribes and family groups is geophysical: on low islands, where communications are essentially unimpeded, there does not appear to have developed any widely-observable incidence of conflict.

Meanwhile, on most high islands, there were, historically, warring groups inhabiting various districts, usually delimited primarily by mountain ridges, with carefully drawn lowland boundaries. Early on, however, many such islands developed a united social and political structure, usually under the leadership of a strong monarch. An example is the Marquesas Islands, where unlike other high-island groups in Polynesia, the Marquesas are not surrounded by fringing coral reefs, and consequently, have no low coastal plains. Every valley in the Marquesas is accessible to other valleys only via boat, or by travelling over steep mountain ridges. The warring groups in the Marquesas Islands continued to massacre members of enemy tribes well into the 19th century.

European discovery and colonization, until World War II (1595 to 1945)

The first Polynesian islands visited by European explorers were the Marquesas Islands, first discovered by Europeans when the Spanish navigator, Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, found the islands in 1595.

Because of the paucity of mineral or gemological resources, the exploration of Polynesia by European navigators (whose primary interest was economic), was of little more than passing interest. The great navigator Captain James Cook was the first to attempt to explore as much of Polynesia as possible.

Following the initial European contacts with Polynesia, a great number of changes occurred within Polynesian culture, mostly as a result of colonization by European powers, the introduction of a large number of alien diseases to which the Polynesians had no immunity, slaving ventures to supply plantations in South America, and an influx of Christian missionaries, many of whom regarded the Polynesians as descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. In many cases, colonizing powers, usually under pressure from missionary elements, forcibly suppressed native cultural expression, including the use of the native Polynesian languages.

By the early 1900s, almost all of Polynesia was colonized or occupied to various degrees by Western colonial powers, as follows:
**Easter Island
**Wallis and Futuna
**French Polynesia
**Western Samoa
*the United Kingdom
**the Cook Islands
**New Zealand
**Tuvalu (as the "Ellice Islands")
**Pitcairn and its associated islands
*United States
**American Samoa
**most of the Line Islands
**most of the Phoenix Islands

However Tonga (or the "Friendly Islands") maintained its independence, at least nominally. Meanwhile, all of the Polynesian outliers were subsumed into the sometimes-overlapping territorial claims of Japan, the United Kingdom and France.

During World War II, a number of Polynesian islands played critical roles. The critical attack that brought the United States into the war was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, in south-central Oahu, Hawaii.

A number of islands were developed by the Allies as military bases, especially by the American forces, including as far east as Bora Bora.

Modern times/After World War II (1945 to present)

Following World War II, political change came more slowly to the islands of Polynesia than to the other parts of overseas colonies of European powers. Although sovereignty was granted by royal proclamation to New Zealand as early as 1907, this did not go into full effect until 1947.

Following in independence were the nations (and the sovereign powers from which they obtained complete political independence) of:
* Samoa, as "Western Samoa" (from New Zealand) in 1962
* Tuvalu (from the United Kingdom) in 1978
* the Phoenix Islands and most of the Line Islands as part of the republic of Kiribati (from the United Kingdom) in 1979

* Tonga was never actually a colony, but a limited protectorate of the United Kingdom. Tonga never reliquished internal self-government), but when external foreign affairs were again decided by Tongans without reference to the United Kingdom in 1970, Tonga was said to have rejoined the Comity of Nations. Tonga is the only island group in the South Pacific that was never colonised by a European power.

The remaining islands are still under official sovereignty of the following nations:
* American Samoa (United States)
* Cook Islands (New Zealand)
* French Polynesia (France)
* Niue (New Zealand)
* Pitcairn (United Kingdom)
* Tokelau (New Zealand)
* Wallis and Futuna (France)
* Easter Island (Chile)
* Howland, Baker, Jarvis, and Palmyra Islands (United States)

The various outliers lie within the sovereign territory of the nations of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the French territory of New Caledonia. Hawaii became a state of the United States, giving it equal political status to the other 49 states.

Independence and/or increasing autonomy is not the only influence affecting modern Polynesian society. The primary driving forces are, in fact, the ever-increasing accessibility of the islands to outside influences, through improved air communications as well as through vastly improved telecommunications capabilities. The economic importance of tourism has also had a tremendous impact on the direction of the development of the various island societies. Accessibility of outside sources, as well as the tourism viability of individual islands has played an important role to which the modern culture has adapted itself to accommodating the interests of outsiders, as opposed to the influences of those intent upon promoting the retention of native traditions. Because of this, Polynesia is today an area in varying degrees of extreme cultural flux.

In the genetics of Polynesians today, the gene pool is mixed with many different peoples. Hawaii being the main example, had a high influx of Asians such as Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese during the late 1800s and into the 1900s for plantation work. It has thus led to pure Hawaiian-Polynesians being few and far between.


* Irwin, Geoffrey (1992). "The Prehistoric Exploration and Colonisation of the Pacific". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
* Sutton, Douglas G. (Ed.) (1994). "The Origins of the First New Zealanders". Auckland: Auckland University Press.
* 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
* Storey, A. A., et al. (2007). "Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens...". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2007, volume 104, pages 10335-10339

ee also

*Pacific Islands
*Pacific Ocean
*Polynesian languages
*Polynesian mythology
*Ancient Hawaii

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