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


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 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 Zealand and Easter Island. The other main island groups located within the Polynesian triangle are Samoa, Tonga, the various island chains that form the Cook Islands and French Polynesia. Niue is a rare solitary island state near the centre of Polynesia.

Polynesian island groups outside of this great triangle include Tuvalu and the French territory of Wallis and Futuna. Rotuma in the northern Fijian islands and some of the Lau group to Fiji's southeast have strong Polynesian character too. There are also small outlier Polynesian enclaves in Papua New Guinea, the Solomons, The Caroline Islands, 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 Theory

According to the mainstream theory, the Polynesian people are by ancestry a subset of the sea-migrating Austronesian people and the tracing of Polynesian languages places their prehistoric origins in the Malay archipelago.

Between about 3000 and 1000 BC speakers of Austronesian languages spread through island South-East Asia – almost certainly starting out from Taiwan, as tribes whose natives had thought to have previously arrived from mainland South China about 8000 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. In the mid 2nd millennium BC, the Lapita culture appeared suddenly in north-west Melanesia, in the Bismarck Archipelago. 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 Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. In this region, the distinctive Polynesian culture developed.

The spread of pottery and domesticates in Polynesia is connected with the Lapita-culture that, around 1600–1200 BC, started expanding from New Guinea as far east as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. During this time the aspects of the Polynesian culture developed. Around 300 BC this new Polynesian people spread from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to the Cook Islands, Tahiti, the Tuamotus and the Marquesas Islands. This was supported by Patrick Kirch and Marshall Weisler when they performed X-ray fluorescence sourcing of basalt artifacts found on both islands. [cite web | title=History of Polynesian Archaeology | url=http://sscl.berkeley.edu/~oal/background/polyhist.htm | accessmonthday=November 18 | accessyear=2005 ]

Between 300 and 500 AD, the Polynesians discovered and settled Rapa Nui (Easter Island). 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'i was settled by the Polynesians and around AD 1000 Aotearoa (New Zealand) was settled as well. The migration of the Polynesians is impressive considering that the islands settled by them are spread out over great distances—the Pacific Ocean covers nearly a half of the Earth's surface area. Most contemporary cultures, by comparison, never voyaged beyond sight of land.

Theory of American Indian Origin

In the mid-twentieth century, Thor Heyerdahl proposed another theory of Polynesian origins (one which did not win general acceptance), arguing that the Polynesians had migrated from South America on balsa-log boats.harvnb|Sharp|1963|p=122-128.] harvnb|Finney|1963|p=5]

Heyerdahl claimed that in Incan legend there was a sun-god named Con-Tici Viracocha who was the supreme head of the mythical fair-skinned people in Peru. The original name for Virakocha was "Kon-Tiki" or "Illa-Tiki", which means "Sun-Tiki" or "Fire-Tiki". Kon-Tiki was high priest and sun-king of these legendary "white men" who left enormous ruins on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The legend continues with the mysterious bearded white men being attacked by a chief named Cari who came from the Coquimbo Valley. They had a battle on an island in Lake Titicaca, and the fair race was massacred. However, Kon-Tiki and his closest companions managed to escape and later arrived on the Pacific coast. The legend ends with Kon-Tiki and his companions disappearing westward out to sea.

When the Spaniards came to Peru, Heyerdahl asserted, the Incas told them that the colossal monuments that stood deserted about the landscape were erected by a race of white gods who had lived there before the Incas themselves became rulers. The Incas described these "white gods" as wise, peaceful instructors who had originally come from the north in the "morning of time" and taught the Incas' primitive forefathers architecture as well as manners and customs. They were unlike other Native Americans in that they had "white skins and long beards" and were taller than the Incas. The Incas said that the "white gods" had then left as suddenly as they had come and fled westward across the Pacific. After they had left, the Incas themselves took over power in the country.

Heyerdahl said that when the Europeans first came to the Pacific islands, they were astonished that they found some of the natives to have relatively light skins and beards. There were whole families that had pale skin, hair varying in color from reddish to blonde, and almost Semitic, hook-nosed faces. In contrast, most of the Polynesians had golden-brown skin, raven-black hair, and rather flat noses. Heyerdahl claimed that when Jakob Roggeveen first discovered Easter Island in 1722, he supposedly noticed that many of the natives were white-skinned. Heyerdahl claimed that these people could count their ancestors who were "white-skinned" right back to the time of Tiki and Hotu Matua, when they first came sailing across the sea "from a mountainous land in the east which was scorched by the sun." The ethnographic evidence for these claims is outlined in Heyerdahl's book "Aku Aku: The Secret of Easter Island".

Heyerdahl proposed that Tiki's neolithic people colonized the then-uninhabited Polynesian islands as far north as Hawaii, as far south as New Zealand, as far east as Easter Island, and as far west as Samoa and Tonga around A.D. 500. They supposedly sailed from Peru to the Polynesian islands on "pae-paes"--large rafts built from balsa logs, complete with sails and each with a small cottage. They built enormous stone statues carved in the image of human beings on Pitcairn, the Marquesas, and Easter Island that resembled those in Peru. They also built huge pyramids on Tahiti and Samoa with steps like those in Peru. But all over Polynesia, Heyerdahl found indications that Tiki's peaceable race had not been able to hold the islands alone for long.

He found evidence that suggested that seagoing war canoes as large as Viking ships and lashed together two and two had brought Stone Age Northwest American Indians to Polynesia around A.D. 1100, and they mingled with Tiki's people. The oral history of the people of Easter Island, at least as it was documented by Heyerdahl, is completely consistent with this theory, as is the archaeological record he examined (Heyerdahl 1958). In particular, Heyerdahl obtained a radiocarbon date of A.D. 400 for a charcoal fire located in the pit that was held by the people of Easter Island to have been used as an "oven" by the "Long Ears," which Heyerdahl's Rapa Nui sources, reciting oral tradition, identified as a white race which had ruled the island in the past (Heyerdahl 1958).

There are the following cultural similarities between the American Indians of coastal Canada and Polynesians (From Thor Heyerdahl, American Indians in the Pacific):

*Rubbing noses as a form of greeting;
*Formal principles of rank; lineage, and kinship
*Use of mats or rugs for money
*Fish hook and harpoon design
*Tattooing tools and techniques Tiki design and its spiritual significance.
*Design of stone pounders along with their spiritual significance
*Use of gourds for containers instead of pottery
*Canoe design and building techniques, such as use of hot rocks for steaming hulls open
*Earth oven procedure
*House design with entrance through totem's legs
*Protruding tongue carvings and characteristic eye design in carvings
*Inlaying of shells into carvings
*Weaving styles
*Stone bowl manufacture and design
*The gaping angry mouth motif on the handle of clubs

Irving Goldman, author of "Ancient Polynesian Society", has this to say on the comparison between Kwakuitl 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."

The traditional name for the Haida homeland of Queen Charlotte Island is Haida'gwai'i, very similar linguistically to Hawai'i (homeland).Names such as Tonga's (southern) Strait and Hakai'i Channel appear to also be relic names suggesting an Austronesian past to this area.

The "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 Islands 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. [VAN TILBURG, Jo Anne. 1994. Easter Island: Archaeology, Ecology and Culture. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press] 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.

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 Tonga, Niue, Samoa and the northwestern Polynesian outliers.

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 in Melanesia, leaders were chosen in Polynesia based on their hereditary bloodline. Samoa however, had another system of government that combines elements of hericy and real-world skills to chose country leaders. This system is called matai. [Peoples of the World by National Geographic]

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. [Encyclopedia Britannica, 1995]

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 Zealand, 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 Island, supplement this with tourism income. [cite web | title=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Island | url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Island | accessmonthday=November 18 | accessyear=2005 ] Some have more unusual sources of income, such as Tuvalu which marketed its '.tv' internet top-level domain name [cite web | title=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Tuvalu | url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Tuvalu | accessmonthday=November 18 | accessyear=2005 ] or the Cooks that relied on stamp sales. A very few others still live as they did before Western Civilization encountered them.Fact|date=May 2008

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 Island in the Solomon Islands.

From a single chicken bone recovered from the archaeological site of El Arenal-1, on the Arauco Peninsula, Chile, recent research of a radiocarbon date and an ancient DNA sequence indicates that Polynesian navigators also reached the Americas at least 100 years before Europeans, introducing chickens to South America. [ [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/05/science/05chic.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1181091707-e+ZDVqnF+pbc2icNHD+SfQ First Chickens in Americas Were Brought From Polynesia] , by John Noble Wilford, New York Times, June 5, 2007.] [ [http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/104/25/10335 Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile] , by Alice A. Storey, "et al.", PNAS, June 19th, 2007.]

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 favour, perhaps creating a very 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. [cite journal|url=http://www.ethnomath.org/resources/bryan1938.pdf|title=Marshall Islands Stick Chart|last=Bryan|first=E.H.|year=1938|journal=Paradise of the Pacific|volume=50|pages=12–13|unused_data=|issue-7]

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.

* (overseas United States territory)
* Anuta (in the Solomon Islands)
* Bellona Island (in the Solomon Islands)
* (self-governing state in free association with New Zealand)
* (part of Chile, called "Rapa Nui" in Rapa Nui)
* Emae (in Vanuatu)
* ("overseas territory", a territory of France)
* (a state of the United States)
* Kapingamarangi (in the Federated States of Micronesia)
* Mele (in Vanuatu)
* (self-governing state in free association with New Zealand)
* Nuguria (in Papua New Guinea)
* Nukumanu (in Papua New Guinea)
* Nukuoro (in the Federated States of Micronesia)
* Ontong Java (in the Solomon Islands)
* Pileni (in the Solomon Islands)
* (a British Overseas Territory)
* Rennell (in the Solomon Islands)
* Rotuma (in Fiji)
* (independent nation)
* Sikaiana (in the Solomon Islands)
* Takuu (in Papua New Guinea)
* Tikopia (in the Solomon Islands)
* (overseas dependency of New Zealand)
* (independent nation)
* (independent nation)
* (overseas territory of France)

See also

* Polynesian mythology
* Polynesian languages
* List of Polynesians
* French Polynesia
* Society Islands
* Polynesian Society
* Polynesian Voyaging Society



*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.
*cite book | author=Gatty, Harold | title=Finding Your Ways Without Map or Compass | publisher=Dover Publications, Inc | year=1999 | id=ISBN 0-486-40613-X
*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

External links

* [http://www.southpacific.org/ South Pacific Organizer]
* [http://www.jeanhervedaude.com/Ile%20de%20Paques%20histoire%20par%20les%20timbres.htm History of Easter Island illustrated by stamps]
* [http://www.mapsouthpacific.com/ Map South Pacific]
* [http://www.maori.info/ Useful introduction to Maori society, including canoe voyages]
* [http://polynesia.com/ Polynesia (Polynesian Cultural Center)]
* [http://www.tritonfilms.com/lewisreview.htm Lewis commenting on "Spirits of the Voyage"]
* [http://www.abc.net.au/gnt/history/Transcripts/s1066068.htm Interview with David Lewis]
* [http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/11/15/1037080913844.html Obituary: David Henry Lewis—including how he came to rediscover Pacific Ocean navigation methods]
* [http://www.tropic-island.net/gallery/album.php?id_album=12 Photogallery - French Polynesia (Tahiti, Moorea, Motu Tiahura)]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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