Outriggers, Suva harbour, Beqa in the background.
Photo L. Marsh
The populating of the Pacific Rim and hence the Pacific, has been a very complex affair with tribal inputs stemming from ancient civilizations in Asia, America, Africa and the Mediterranean. It appears that the ancient civilizations in India, S.E.Asia, South America and the the Carribean, were much more ancient and much greater civilizations than anyone has ever imagined. Most of the evidence lies under many metres of sediment and coral. Catastrophic events such as comet impacts, Tsunamis and massive Volcanic eruptions have changed the course of man's history many times in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Such catastrophic events would have changed the genetic balance of the population by random chance and each time the emergent population would have had different qualities, unique to the lucky survivors. The survivors would have been fragmented, eventually regrouping to form a variety of new population bases. The new cultures would be reinvented according to the surviving knowledge, genes and needs of the people in their new environment. It should also be noted that if the core of a civilization is destroyed much technology can be lost. The old adage that the 'meek shall inherit the earth' and the 'Phoenix shall rise from the ashes' has happened many times in the past. The idea that there has always been a slow upward trend in the development of civilization since the days of the cave man, is a rather simplistic picture of our past. There have been many rapid developments, followed by a hiatus, then slowly it all begins again. It may even be found that previous species of humans may well have had periods of development far more advanced than previously thought. There are many archaeological enigmas that abound around the world that can be answered by this process involving natural calamities on a global scale. There is no need to have these mysteries answered by aliens arriving from another planet, they are merely previous peaks in mans development, prior to destruction by mother nature. If one doubts the rate of development possible from early man, one just needs to look at how rapid the development of technologies has been over the last 200 years.
Can we really be so bold as to assume that we are so much more special than our ancestors. Apparently our intelligence has not changed significantly in the last 20,000 years.
Not only have natural catastrophes changed the course of history, but there is much that has been lost to conquering tribes. This is not to say the defeated did not contribute to the resultant culture. Their language and history may have been lost, but genetic and cultural elements of that pre-existing culture remain. The victorious tribe does not make an effort to tell the history of the vanquished, but they glean what they can use and trash the rest. Therefore when attempting to use language to trace the history of man, we must remember it will only tell us half the story.
The Polynesians are the product of many encounters, with tribes of differing backgrounds, that is why their early history has so many conflicting stories. It is also why they are culturally rich. They did not come from one place, but they came from many places. They as a culture were created in the Pacific.
The Polynesians are a combination of fragments of civilizations from both east and west, with a history going back a very long way. The Hawaiian genealogy goes back to Lai Lai who existed 16,000 years ago, but unfortunately such stories have, sadly, been passed off as mere folklore.
Due to their isolation, people on the scattered isles of the Pacific have retained cultural traits from their ancestral civilizations. Isolated island communities are in some ways veritable time capsules of past civilizations, with certain belief systems dating back over 12,000 years. By comparing cultural traits throughout the region and identifying what they have in common, we can start to build up a picture of what these ancient civilizations were once like. To ignore these connections is to ignore a veritable treasure trove of information. I have merely scratched the surface in this article and much work is yet to be done. Unfortunately 140m of water, tens of metres of sediments and the passage of time make it very hard to piece together this most interesting period of human prehistory.
Not only this, but there has been a disturbing tendancy in recent times to attribute many supposedly
'un-Polynesian traits' within Polynesia, to recent cultural contact in the last 500years. To suggest that the ancient genealogies and depth of Polynesian culture is a recent concoction of cultures, is an absolute insult to any self respecting Polynesian.
Some examples of theories that are an insult to Polynesian heritage are contained in;
1.Gavin Menzie's '1421The Year The Chinese Discovered The World', where he asserts that the Taiwanese genes in Maori must be from Chinese voyagers less than 600 years ago - with no mention that these Taiwanese genes show a separation from Taiwan 6,000 years ago! I do not doubt that the Chinese explored the world, but many of his assertions of cultural diffusion from the Chinese sailors is questionable.
2.Robert Langdon's 'The Lost Caravel Revisited' asserts that the Basque genes of the red headed Easter Islanders prove that they are descendants of an early Portuguese shipwreck in the 15th Century. He makes no mention of the fact that the Moai were built between 1100AD and 1400AD - well before any possible arrival of Portuguese sailors. The Moai depict long skulled Caucasian features similar to the surviving Red Heads of the island. Unfortunately Robert had no idea that the same Basque genes were also in relic native American populations, such as the Araucanians, whose origins also came from the Atlantes people. To suggest that these wretched sailors squirmed their way into many of the chiefly families of Polynesia and then concocted an ancient Polynesian genealogy that bears no resemblance to their Portuguese past is absolutely preposterous.
3.Martin Doutre's "Ancient Celtic New Zealand" does mention many examples of seemingly un Polynesian characteristics, but once again he is forgetting that both the Celts of Europe and the native Americans from Peru all originated from the same ancient civilization that existed in America and carried with them many common characteristics. Not only this, but there is mounting evidence that proves that Austronesians were actively trading with Europe 4,000 years ago, remnants of these people can be found in the remains of the Etruscan culture, archaeological evidence on Malta, numerous tombs with round headed Austronesian skeletons throughout coastal Europe and outrigger petroglyphs in Norway. Red slipped pottery was a hallmark of these Austronesian traders, stretching from Borneo, around Africa, across to South America and into the Mediterranean.
4.An obscure New Zealand scientist recently asserted that the Rongo Rongo tablets were merely created by the hands of idle islanders attempting to mimmick the writing of the early Spanish explorers - what total drivel!
This certainly does not explain why Rapa script bears many similarities to the Ha'Rapa script of India.
This most appalling 'scientific' paper was a poor attempt to discredit and belittle Polynesian heritage. A racist motive can only be assumed.
We must stop this Eurocentric mindset. Europe is not the centre of the universe. Keep in mind that Europe was under ice during the last ice age and therefore has no ancient heritage, so to suggest that they were the ones to bring culture to the world is nonsense.
The dogma of isolationism is also an ingrained belief system that has not allowed scientists the freedom to compare and contrast cultural similarities of civilizations that are geographically separated by oceans. Uniformitarianism has also limited scientists scope in understanding how natural catastrophes have shaped humankind.
It is high time all scientists took a long hard look at all the evidence, especially those artifacts that do not fit into the presently accepted models of prehistory. So much has been destroyed, hidden away or ignored because the scientists do not understand it's place in prehistory.
Diffusion of ideas between cultures has always been happening and will continue to happen. Without it we would stagnate and become very narrow minded.
Early man has moved around the world sharing ideas far more than previously thought and oceanic voyages have played a big part in this. Early man was far more adventurous than todays average European, not only that, but because of their intricate knowledge of mother nature, they were far more able to survive in what Europeans would call a hostile environment.
My hat goes off to people like Tim Severin and Thor Heyerdahl who dare to step outside the square of "normal thinking", who put their lives on the line to prove that long distance sea voyages in ancient times was possible and therefore played an important part in the development civilizations around the world.
The Author (at 10 yrs), with father, Brian and chief in 1964 after a walk
to Wainivundi Falls to view ancient Lycopodium noded grass.
Photo by Loisette Marsh
As a child I was immersed in cultures totally different to my European heritage; in particular; Fijian, Hindu, Chinese and Polynesian. I realised at an early age that what was right in one culture, was often wrong in another culture. I also found that the European explanation for 'the way things were' was often tainted with hidden agendas, either religious or developmental. I therefore tried to keep an open mind when hearing legends and stories from the islanders and did my best to filter out the Eurocentric dogma that pervaded colonial Fiji. Since travelling around the central Pacific as a child, I have been weighing up the evidence on how the Polynesians entered the Pacific, and have found some of the hypotheses 'wanting' in their logical reasoning. I have to admit that the treatment Thor Heyerdahl got from the academics used to anger me, as he seemed to have a much better grasp on the reality of the situation in the Pacific. Thor was highly respected by the islanders to the point that he was made an honorary chief of Rapa nui. This would never happen to an 'academic' spouting off hypotheses about fast trains, slow trains, express trains and entangled banks, in fact quite the opposite, he would be the laughing stock of the village.
It is high time we put an end to the many Euro-centric ideas that have tainted our thought processes when trying to build up a picture of how the world once was.
Lets listen to the oral history of these people, and may the inner spirit of these culturally rich people soar once again.
It may be too late, but someone, somewhere may still have some writings from early scholars who have taken heed of Polynesian oral history, describing early voyages, especially details outlining the interactions that occurred around Ra'iatea, Tonga and Samoa so we can better understand the order of events and ultimately how the Pacific was populated.
If so, please email me at the address; email@example.com
Making a canoe out of a breadfruit tree, Kioa
Many thanks to Dean Pua Keko'olani for bringing to my attention the important work of Solomon Peleioholani and also for finding in his family tree, Chief Nuu, the first arrival in Hawaii from Haida-gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands, Canada) 2,200 years ago.
AKU AKU - Thor Heyerdahl
AMERICAN INDIANS IN THE PACIFIC -Thor Heyerdahl
AMERICA B.C. - Barry Fell
AN EARLY CHRONOLOGY OF THE HAWAIIAN ISLANDS - Terry L. Hunt and Robert M. Holsen
FROM MAUI TO COOK - David Lewis
GATEWAY TO ATLANTIS - Andrew Collins
HLA GENES AND ANTIGENS - SW Serjeantson
MAN'S CONQUEST OF THE PACIFIC - Peter Bellwood
MAPS OF THE ANCIENT SEA KINGS - Charles Hapgood
NEW ENGLAND ANTIQUITIES RESEARCH ASSOCIATION
- Human Lymphocyte Antigens: Apparent Afro-Asiatic, Southern asian, & European HLAs in Indigenous American Populations - James L. Guthrie
OUT OF ASIA - Peopling the Americas and the Pacific - Edited by Robert Kirk and Emoke Szathmary
POLYNESIAN VOYAGERS - By Elsdon Best
THE COLONIZATION OF THE PACIFIC - A Genetic Trail - Edited by Adrian V.S. Hill
THE EASTER ISLAND INSCRIPTIONS - and the translation and interpretation of them -A.Carroll, M.A., M.D., 1892
THE LAPITA CULTURAL COMPLEX - origins, distribution, contemporaries and successors - Matthew Spriggs
THE LAPITA HOMELAND PROJECT - Peter White, Jim Allen and Jim Specht
THE KON-TIKI MAN - Christopher Ralling
THE SEVEN DAUGHTERS OF EVE - Bryan Sykes
WE THE NAVIGATORS - David Lewis
UNDERWORLD - Kingdoms of the Ice Age - Graham Hancock
VIKINGS OF THE SUNRISE - Peter H. Buck