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The Polynesians 區仕美資料整理

Interest in the origins of the Pacific peoples, particularly the Polynesians, was first stimulated during Capt. James Cook's Pacific voyages in the second half of the 18th Century. Since that time the question of where the Polynesians came from and how they so successfully colonised a huge area of the Earth's surface has been tackled by a diverse group of scholars, including anthropologists, linguists, archaeologists, and most recently molecular biologists.

Where is Polynesia ?

Polynesia is a large grouping of over 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean.

Migration Map


Polynesians settlers arrived in Aotearoa/New Zealand around the tenth century, and by the twelfth century settlements were scattered over most of the country.

What the Polynesians found was a land much different to the South Pacific tropical isles of Polynesia. Instead they found a land of mountains with a more seasonal climate. There were no large mammals to hunt for food, but there was a large flightless bird called the Moa. The Moa stood up to 15 feet tall and the Maori found it easy prey. By the time Europeans had reached New Zealand the Moa was hunted to extinction.

Up until relatively recently, New Zealand was thought to have been settled by Polynesians between 950 and 1130 AD, arriving in a number of twin hulled or outrigger canoes. The first group of canoes was known as “The Great Fleet”, thought to be the first mass arrival of Polynesian settlers.

The Great Fleet would have been made up of seven canoes, but historians today question the exactitude not only of the above time period, but also of The Great Fleet theory itself. Geographically, and just simply, Polynesia may be described as a triangle with its corners at Hawai'i, 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.

The mysterious origins of the Polynesians, is a subject that has generated a great deal of controversy, a topic of great interest and debate to world scientists over the years. In fact, millions of dollars is spent every year by top universities, like Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford and many others in China, U.S.A and Europe, seeking to trace the origins of the Polynesian people. They have studied many populations in Asia, North and South America, Melanesia and Micronesia and still today no exact match.

The Polynesians live in some of the most isolated communities in the world, yet the people of Polynesia possess a richness of culture, that indicates a great deal of interaction has occurred with other cultures in their formative years. They were isolated from an ancient people called the Proto-Polynesians. The Proto-Polynesians migrated coastally from ancient Europe through Asia into Melanesia and finally into isolated Polynesia, Samoa-Tonga 2000-500BC. The migrant Proto-Polynesians were an ethnically mixed Europoid-Mongoloid-Negroid ancient people. They flourished in island isolation and genetically produced a unique oceanic entity called the ‘Polynesians.’

By the 1830s, after the arrival of Europeans, the word ‘Māori’ (meaning ‘ordinary people’) was being used to distinguish them from ‘Pākehā’ (‘white people’).

Polynesian culture

Chronologically, the development of Polynesian culture can be divided into four different historical eras:

• Exploration and Settlement (c. 1800 B.C. - c. 700 A.D.)
• Pre-European Growth (c. 700 - 1595)
• European Discovery and Colonization until World War II (1595 - 1945)
• Modern times (After World War II) (1945 - present)

A village in the highlands of Fiji.

Exploration and Settlement (c. 1800 B.C. - c. 700 A.D.)
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 ..

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 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 A.D., 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 875AD.

There are suggestions that Polynesian voyagers reached the South American mainland and made contact with indigenous South Americans. The sweet potato, known in Polynesian languages as kumara or kumala is widely grown around the Pacific but originated in the Andes. There is no 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 causes the limited linguistic entropy of the Polynesian languages.

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, which are not surrounded by fringing coral reefs, and consequently, have no low coastal plains.

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:

• Chile
o Easter Island
• France
o Wallis and Futuna
o French Polynesia is made up of several groups of Polynesian islands, the most famous island being Tahiti in the Society Islands group, which is also the most populous island, and the seat of the capital of the territory (Papeete).

Map of French Polynesia

Tahiti was estimated to have settled by Polynesians between AD 300 and 800 coming from Tonga and Samoa, although some estimates place the date earlier. The fertile island soil combined with fishing provided ample food for the population.

• Germany
o Western Samoa
• the United Kingdom
o Niue
o the Cook Islands
o New Zealand
o Niue
o Tokelau
o Tuvalu (as the "Ellice Islands")
o Pitcairn and its associated islands
• United States
o American Samoa
o Hawaii
o most of the Line Islands
o most of the Phoenix Islands

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

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
• Tonga (from the United Kingdom) in 1970
• 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

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 area of the Pacific ocean is now called the “Polynesian Triangle” and includes Hawaii to the north, Easter Island to the southeast, and New Zealand to the southwest. As a result of these migrations, the native Hawaiians and the Maoris of New Zealand all originate from common ancestors and speak a similar language collectively known as Maohi.

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.

The era of European exploration began in the 1500s when “ships without outriggers” began to arrive. In 1521, Magellan spotted the atoll of Pukapuka in what is now the Tuamotu Atolls and, in 1595, the Spanish explorer Mendaña visited Fatu Hiva Island in the Marquesas. More than 170 years later, Captain Samuel Wallis and the H.M.S. Dolphin was the first to visit the island of Tahiti during his journey to discover terra australis incognita, a mythical landmass below the equator thought to balance the northern hemisphere. Wallis named the island of Tahiti “King George III Island” and claimed it for England.

In the 1800s, the arrival of whalers, British missionaries, and French military expeditions forever changed the way of life on Tahiti and created a French-British rivalry for control of the islands. The Pomare Dynasty ruled Tahiti until 1847 when Queen Pomare finally accepted French protection of the islands of Tahiti and Moorea.

In 1880, following the queen’s death, King Pomare V was persuaded to cede Tahiti and most of its dependencies to France. In 1957, all the islands of Tahiti were reconstituted as the overseas French territory called French Polynesia. Since 1984, a statue of autonomy was implemented and, in 1998, French Polynesia became an overseas country with greater self-governing powers through their own Assembly and President. With these powers, the country is now negotiating international agreements with foreign states in matters of commerce and investment.

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.

Maori dance in New Zealand

The culture is deeply rooted in religion, with ceremonial dances, offerings, and temples living in the streets. It is a blend of an ancient people and more recent hispanic culture. The culture is well known for it's food, and unique crafts and celebrations

About 9% of New Zealanders are classified as Maori; nearly all have some European ancestry. Though largely integrated into modern urban life, many Maori keep alive traditional cultural practices and struggle to retain control of their ancestral lands. Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, is an extremely isolated small Pacific island that was once covered in a thick forest and was settled by people somewhere around 900 AD. Rapa Nui's subtropical forest contained tall large trees suitable for canoe building, housing, fuel for cooking, and suitable for forming the rollers and other structures for moving and raising enormous carved statues.

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