The Austronesian people[14] are various groups in Southeast Asia, Oceania and East Africa that speak languages stemming from the Austronesian family. They include Taiwanese aborigines; the majority of ethnic groups in the Philippines, Malaysia, East Timor, Indonesia, Brunei, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Madagascar, Micronesia, and Polynesia, as well as the Malay people of Singapore, the Polynesian peoples of New Zealand and Hawaii, and the non-Papuan people of Melanesia. All of these people can be connected to the Austronesian language family group. They are also found in the regions of the Southern Thailand, the Cham areas in Vietnam and Cambodia, and the Hainan region of China, parts of Sri Lanka, southern Myanmar, southern tip of South Africa, Suriname and some of the Andaman Islands. On top of that, Austronesian diaspora also can be found in the United States of America, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, as well as West Asian countries. The people of the Maldives also possess traces of Austronesian genes via gene flow from the Malay Archipelago.[15] The territories populated by Austronesian-speaking peoples are known collectively as Austronesia.

Prehistory and history

Austronesian expansion map
Colorized photograph of a Tsou warrior wearing traditional clothing, pre-World War II

Archaeological evidence demonstrates a technological connection between the farming cultures of the "south", meaning Southeast Asia and Melanesia, and sites that are first known from mainland China; whereas a combination of archaeological and linguistic evidence has been interpreted as supporting a "northern" origin for the Austronesian language family in mainland southern China and Taiwan.

It is theoretically possible that a few thousand years before the Southward expansion of the Han dynasty and of Vietnam, Austronesian speakers spread down the coast of southern China past Taiwan as far as the (Gulf of Tonkin). In time, the spread of other language groups such as Austroasiatic, Tai-Kadai, Hmong-Mien and Sino-Tibetan (such as Chinese) led to the assimilation and eventual sinicization of all (proto) Austronesian-speaking populations that remained on the mainland (a process which continues today in Taiwan).[16] In a recent treatment, all Austronesian languages were classified into 10 subfamilies, with all the extra-Formosan languages grouped in one subfamily and with representatives of the remaining nine known only in Taiwan.[17] It has been argued that these patterns are best explained by dispersal of an agricultural people from Taiwan into insular Southeast Asia, Melanesia, and, ultimately, the remote Pacific. Although this model—termed the "express train to Polynesia"[18][19]—is broadly consistent with available data, concerns have been raised.[20]

Alternatives to this model posit an indigenous origin for the Austronesian languages in Melanesia or Southeast Asia.[21][22][23][24]

Genetic analyses suggest that the Austronesian people in South East Asia had spread over Sundaland (the land mass of Southeastern Asia before rising sea-level created the islands of South East Asia) and evolved in situ over the last 35,000 years.[25] Nevertheless, in 2016, DNA analysis carried out found that one of the genetic markers used in the study but not the others supports a small-scale "out-of-Taiwan" hypothesis.[26] The studies suggest that only a small fraction of the Taiwan genetic lineages are found among the people of South East Asia, and it is argued that these movements of people from Taiwan, while smaller in scale, had a strong impact on culture and language the people.[27][28][29]

Migration and dispersion

Genomic analysis of cultivated coconut (Cocos nucifera) has shed light on the movements of Austronesian peoples. By examining 10 microsatelite loci, researchers found that there are 2 genetically distinct subpopulations of coconut – one originating in the Indian Ocean, the other in the Pacific Ocean. However, there is evidence of admixture, the transfer of genetic material, between the two populations. Given that coconuts are ideally suited for ocean dispersal, it seems possible that individuals from one population could have floated to the other. However, the locations of the admixture events are limited to Madagascar and coastal east Africa and exclude the Seychelles. Sailing west from Maritime Southeast Asia in the Indian Ocean, the Austronesian peoples reached Madagascar by ca. 50–500 AD, and reached other parts thereafter. This forms a pattern that coincides with the known trade routes of Austronesian sailors. Additionally, there is a genetically distinct subpopulation of coconut on the eastern coast of South America which has undergone a genetic bottleneck resulting from a founder effect; however, its ancestral population is the pacific coconut, which suggests that Austronesian peoples may have sailed as far east as the Americas.[30][31][32]

"Out of Taiwan" model

An Atayal tribal woman from Taiwan with tattoo on her face as a symbol of maturity, which was a tradition for both males and females.
A Rukai village chief visiting the Department of Anthropology in the Tokyo Imperial University during Japanese rule.

An element in the ancestry of Austronesian-speaking peoples, the one which carried their ancestral language, originated on the island of Taiwan. This occurred after the migration of pre-Austronesian-speaking peoples from continental Asia between approximately 10,000–6,000 BC.[33][17] Other research has suggested that, according to radiocarbon dates, Austronesians may have migrated from mainland China to Taiwan as late as 4000 BC.[34] Before Taiwan, Austronesian speakers are thought to have[by whom?] been descended from the neolithic cultures of Southeastern China, such as the Hemudu culture or the Liangzhu culture.[35][36][37] According to the mainstream "out-of-Taiwan model", a large-scale Austronesian expansion began around 5000–2500 BC. Population growth primarily fuelled this migration. These first settlers may have landed in northern Luzon in the archipelago of the Philippines, intermingling with the earlier Australo-Melanesian population who had inhabited the islands since about 23,000 years earlier. Over the next thousand years, Austronesian peoples migrated southeast to the rest of the Philippines, and into the islands of the Celebes Sea, Borneo, and Indonesia. The Austronesian peoples of Maritime Southeast Asia sailed eastward, and spread to the islands of Melanesia and Micronesia between 1200 BC and 500 AD respectively. The Austronesian inhabitants that spread westward through Maritime Southeast Asia had reached some parts of mainland Southeast Asia, and later on Madagascar.[33][38]

Sailing from Melanesia, and Micronesia, the Austronesian peoples discovered Polynesia by 1000 BC. These people settled most of the Pacific Islands. They had settled Rapa Nui (Easter Island) by 300 AD, Hawaii by 400 AD, and into New Zealand by about 1280 AD. There is evidence, based in the spreading of the sweet potato, that they reached South America where they traded with the Native Americans.[39][40]

In the Indian Ocean they sailed west from Maritime Southeast Asia; the Austronesian peoples reached Madagascar by ca. 50–500 AD.[31][32]

"Southeast Asian origin" model

This "out of Taiwan model" has been recently challenged by a 2008 study. Examination of mitochondrial DNA lineages shows that they have been evolving within Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) for a longer period than previously believed. Population dispersals occurred at the same time as sea levels rose, which may have resulted in migrations to the Philippines as far north as Taiwan within the last 10,000 years.[25][41] The population migrations were most likely to have been driven by climate change — the effects of the drowning of a huge ancient subcontinent called ‘Sundaland’ (that extended the Asian landmass as far as Borneo and Java). This happened during the period 15,000 to 7,000 years ago following the last Ice Age. Rising sea levels in three massive pulses caused flooding and the partial submergence of the Sunda subcontinent, creating the Java and South China Seas and the thousands of islands that make up Indonesia and the Philippines today.[23] The researchers however later found genetic evidence indicating that movements of people from Taiwan to the islands of South East Asia did occur, but they were smaller in scale which nevertheless brought about much larger linguistic and cultural changes.[26]

Findings from HUGO (Human Genome Organization) in 2009 also show that Asia was populated primarily through a single migration event out of Africa whereby an early population first entered South East Asia before they moved northwards to East Asia.[42] They found genetic similarities between populations throughout Asia and an increase in genetic diversity from northern to southern latitudes. Although the Chinese population is very large, it has less variation than the smaller number of individuals living in South East Asia, because the Chinese expansion occurred very recently, following the development of rice agriculture — within only the last 10,000 years.

Formation of tribes and kingdoms

A Tagalog Maginoo (noble class) couple, both wearing blue-coloured clothing (blue being the distinctive colour of their class).
Borobudur, the world's largest Buddhist temple, was built under the reign of the Sailendra dynasty, which was bound by dynastic alliance with the city-state of Srivijaya.

By the beginning of the first millennium CE, most of the Austronesian inhabitants in Maritime Southeast Asia began trading with India and China. The adoption of Hindu statecraft model allowed the creation of Indianized kingdoms such as Tarumanagara, Champa, Langkasuka, Melayu, Srivijaya, Medang Mataram, Majapahit, and Bali. Between the 5th to 15th century Hinduism and Buddhism were established as the main religion in the region.

Muslim traders from the Arabian peninsula were thought to have brought Islam by the 10th century. Islam was established as the dominant religion in the Indonesian archipelago by the 16th century. The Austronesian inhabitants of Polynesia were unaffected by this cultural trade, and retained their indigenous culture in the Pacific region.[43]

Kingdom of Larantuka in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara was the only Christian (Roman Catholic) indigenous kingdom in Indonesia and in Southeast Asia, with the first king named Lorenzo.[44]

Western Europeans in search of spices and gold later colonized most of the Austronesian-speaking countries of the Asia-Pacific region, beginning from the 16th century with the Portuguese and Spanish colonization of some parts of Indonesia (present day East Timor), the Philippines, Palau, Guam, and the Mariana Islands; the Dutch colonization of the Indonesian archipelago; the British colonization of Malaysia and Oceania; the French colonization of French Polynesia; and later, the American governance of the Pacific.

Meanwhile, the British, Germans, French, Americans, and Japanese began establishing spheres of influence within the Pacific Islands during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Japanese later invaded most of Southeast Asia and some parts of the Pacific during World War II. The latter half of the 20th century initiated independence of modern-day Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and many of the Pacific Island nations.

Geographic distribution

Map showing the distribution of the Austronesian language family (light pink). It roughly corresponds to the distribution of the Austronesian people.
A Balinese from Indonesia performing Barong dance
A young Māori man from New Zealand (Aotearoa) performs in a kapa haka group

Austronesian peoples consist of the following groupings by name and geographic location.

According to a recent studies by Stanford University, there is wide variety of paternal ancestry among the Austronesian people, aside from European introgression found in Maritime Southeast Asia, Oceania, and Madagascar. They constitute the dominant ethnic group in the Malay Peninsula, Maritime Southeast Asia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and Madagascar. An estimated 380,000,000 people living in these regions are of Austronesian descent.

The peoples constitute the dominant ethnic groups in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, the southernmost part of Thailand and East Timor, which together with Singapore. Outside this area, they inhabit Palau, Guam and the Northern Marianas, most of Madagascar, the Cham areas of Vietnam and Cambodia (the remnants of the Champa kingdom which covered central and southern Vietnam), and all countries in the Micronesian and Polynesian sphere of influence.


The native culture of Austronesia varies from region to region. The early Austronesian peoples considered the sea as the basic feature of their life.[citation needed] Following their diaspora to Southeast Asia and Oceania, they migrated by boat to other islands. Boats of different sizes and shapes have been found in every Austronesian culture, from Madagascar, Maritime Southeast Asia, to Polynesia, and have different names. In Southeast Asia, head-hunting was restricted to the highlands as a result of warfare. Mummification is only found among the highland Austronesian Filipinos, and in some Indonesian groups in Celebes and Borneo.

Decimal numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
PAN, circa 4000 BC *isa *DuSa *telu *Sepat *lima *enem *pitu *walu *Siwa *puluq
Tagalog isá dalawá tatló ápat limá ánim pitó waló siyám sampu
Kadazan iso duvo tohu apat himo onom tu' vahu sizam hopod
Dusun iso duwo tolu apat limo onom tulu walu siyam hopod
Lun Bawang/Lundayeh aceh due telu apat lime enam tudu walu yiwa puluh
Ilocano maysá dua talló uppát limá inném pitó waló siam sangapúlo
Cebuano usá duhá tuló upat limá unom pitó waló siyám napulu
Chamorro maisa/håcha hugua tulu fatfat lima gunum fiti guålu sigua månot/fulu
Indonesian satu/suatu[45] dua tiga[46][47] empat lima[48] enam tujuh delapan[49] sembilan sepuluh
Malay satu dua tiga[50] empat lima enam tujuh lapan sembilan sepuluh
Javanese siji loro telu papat limo nem pitu wolu songo sepuluh
Sundanese hiji dua tilu opat lima genep tujuh dalapan salapan sapuluh
Tetum ida rua tolu haat lima neen hitu ualu sia sanulu
Fijian dua rua tolu lima ono vitu walu ciwa tini
Tongan taha ua tolu nima ono fitu valu hiva -fulu
Sāmoan tasi lua tolu lima ono fitu valu iva sefulu
Māori tahi rua toru whā rima ono whitu waru iwa tekau (archaic: ngahuru)
Tahitian hō'ē piti toru maha pae ono hitu va'u iva 'ahuru
Marquesan e tahi e 'ua e to'u e fa e 'ima e ono e fitu e va'u e iva 'onohu'u
Hawaiian kahi lua kolu lima ono hiku walu iwa -'umi
Malagasy iray/isa roa telo efatra dimy enina fito valo sivy folo


Left: Petroglyph on the western coast of Hawaii. Petroglyphs were symbolic, but could not encode language. Right: An Austronesian abugida known as Baybayin from the Philippines.

With the possible exception of rongorongo on Easter Island, writing among pre-modern Austronesians was limited to the Indianized states and the sultanates of Maritime Southeast Asia. These systems included abugidas from the Brahmic family, such as Baybayin, the Javanese script, and Old Kawi, and abjads derived from the Arabic script such as Jawi.

Since the 20th century, new scripts were mostly alphabets adapted from the Latin alphabet, as in the Hawaiian alphabet, Filipino alphabet, and Malay alphabet; however, several Formosan languages are written in zhuyin, and Cia-Cia off Sulawesi has experimented with hangul.


Left: A young Bontoc man from the Philippines (c. 1908) with tattoos on the chest and arms (chaklag). These indicated that the man was a warrior who had taken heads during battle.[51]
Right: A young Māori woman with traditional tattoos (moko) on the lips and chin (c. 1860–1879). These were symbols of status and rank, as well as being considered marks of beauty.

Body art among Austronesian peoples is common, especially elaborate tattooing which has ancient origins.[52] It is particularly prominent in Polynesian cultures, from where the word "tattoo" derives. But tattooing is also prominent among Austronesian groups in Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.[53]

Among the Māori of New Zealand, tattoos (moko) were originally carved into the skin using bone chisels (uhi) rather than through puncturing as in usual practice.[54] In addition to being pigmented, the skin was also left raised into ridges of swirling patterns.[55]

In the Philippines, the Spanish called the Filipinos they first encountered in the Visayas as the Pintados, ("the painted ones" or "the tattooed ones")[56] due to their practice of tattooing their entire bodies.[57] Tattooing traditions were mostly lost as the natives of the islands converted to Christianity and Islam, though they were still practised in isolated groups in the highlands of Luzon and Mindanao. Philippine tattoos were usually geometric patterns or stylized depictions of animals, plants, and human figures.[58][59][60] Some of the few remaining traditional tattoos in the Philippines are from elders of the Igorot peoples. Most of these were records of war exploits against the Japanese during World War II.[61]

Decorated jars and other forms of pottery are also common, with patterns often resembling those used in tattoos. Austronesian peoples living close to mainland Asia were also influenced by Chinese, Indian, and Arabic art forms.


Left: A troupe of Bahau Dayak performers during the Hudoq festival (Harvest festival) in Kalimantan, Indonesia). (c. 1898–1900)
Right: Balinese small familial house shrines to honor the households' ancestor in Bali island, Indonesia.

Indigenous religions were initially predominant. Mythologies vary by culture and geographical location, but are generally bound by the belief in an all-powerful divinity. Other beliefs such as ancestor worship, animism, and shamanism are also practiced. Currently, many of these beliefs have gradually been replaced. Examples of native religions include: Anito, Gabâ, Sunda Wiwitan, Kejawen, and the Māori religion. The moai of the Rapa Nui is another example since they are built to represent deceased ancestors.

Southeast Asian contact with India and China allowed the introduction of Hinduism and Buddhism. Later, Muslim traders introduced the Islamic faith between the periods of the 10th, and 13th century. The European Age of Discovery, brought Christianity to various parts of the region, including both New Zealand and Australia. Currently, the dominant religions are Christianity in the Philippines, much of eastern Indonesia, some parts of Indonesian Sumatra and Borneo, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, most of the Pacific Islands, and Madagascar; Islam found in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, southern Thailand, the southern Philippines and Brunei; Hinduism in Singapore, Bali, some parts of Indonesian Lombok and Java, and some other Indonesian islands. There is also a tiny population in Manado on the island of Sulawesi who professed Judaism, most of whom either have Jewish ancestry who later mixed with the indigenous Minahasans or converts.


Traditional instruments of Gamelan, from the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra, Australia

The Austronesian music in Maritime Southeast Asia had a mixture of Chinese, Indian, and Arabic musical styles and sounds that had fused together with the indigenous Austronesian culture and music. In Indonesia, Gamelan, a type of orchestra that incorporates Xylophone and Metallophone elements, is widely used in its Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic cultural tradition. In some parts of the southern, and northern Philippines, an Arabic gong-drum known as Kulintang, and a gong-chime known as Gangsa, is also used. The Austronesian music of Oceania have retained their indigenous Austronesian sounds. The Slit drums is an indigenous Austronesian musical instrument that were invented and used by the Southeast Asian-Austronesian, and Oceanic-Austronesian ethnic groups.

Genetic studies

Genetic studies have been done on the people and related groups.[62] The Haplogroup O1 (Y-DNA)a-M119 genetic marker is frequently detected in Native Taiwanese, northern Philippines and Polynesians, as well as some people in Indonesia and non-Austronesian populations in southern China.[63] A 2007 analysis of the DNA recovered from human remains in archeological sites of prehistoric peoples along the Yangtze River in China also shows high frequencies of Haplogroup O1 in the Neolithic Liangzhu culture, linking them to Austronesian and Tai-Kadai peoples. The Liangzhu culture existed in coastal areas around the mouth of the Yangtze. Haplogroup O1 was absent in other archeological sites inland. The authors of the study suggest that this may be evidence of two different human migration routes during the peopling of Eastern Asia; one coastal and the other inland, with little genetic flow between them.[64]

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis in 2008 suggests that the populations in the islands of South East Asia may have evolved in situ over the last 35,000 years, that they had already established themselves in the region before the Neolithic period, long before the Taiwanese people were proposed to have moved out of Taiwan into the region.[25] Nevertheless, in 2016, DNA analysis carried out found that one of the genetic markers used in the study, haplogroup M7c3c, supports the "out-of-Taiwan" hypothesis, although not from the other genetic markers. Results from these studies suggest that there were movements of Neolithic people from Taiwan to the islands of South East Asia around 4,000 years ago, but they were small-scale affairs, with greater impact in the Philippines.[26] The fractions of Taiwanese Neolithic lineages present in the people of the islands of South East Asia today are estimated to range from 28% in the Philippines to 13.6% in Western Indonesia and 10.3% in Kalimantan.[65] The authors argue that the cultural impact on the people was due to small-scale interactions and waves of acculturation, and that the Taiwanese migrants despite being smaller in numbers had a strong influence on the culture and language of the people as they were seen as an elite or associated with a new religion or philosophy.[27][29] Some researchers have proposed a more complex pattern of settlement and dispersal, where the Austronesians were dispersed from mainland South East Asia via two routes: a northern route through Taiwan before they moved further down to the South East Asian islands, and a southern route through western Indonesia.[66] Others have also found genetic links between the ancestors of Austronesians and people of North and South China.[67][68]

The Austronesian speaking people can now be grouped into two genetically close groups:[citation needed]

See also


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  47. ^ The Sanskrit loanword "Trisila" : "Tri" means 3, "Sila" means "pillar", "principle" appeared in Sukarno's speech
  48. ^ The Sanskrit loanword: Pancasila is the 5 principles of sukarno explained here: Pancasila (politics), "Panca" means 5, "Sila" means "pillar", "principle".
  49. ^ Lapan is a known shortage of Delapan.
  50. ^ In Kedukan Bukit inscription the numeral tlu ratus appears as three hundred, tlu as three, in http://www.wordsense.eu/telu/ the word telu is referred to as three in Malay, although the use of telu is very rare.
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  53. ^ Bellwood, Peter (2007). Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago. ANU E Press. p. 151. ISBN 9781921313127. 
  54. ^ Best, Eldson (1904). "The Uhi-Maori, or Native Tattooing Instruments". The Journal of the Polynesian Society. 13 (3): 166–172. 
  55. ^ Major-General Robley (1896). "Moko and Mokamokai — Chapter I — How Moko First Became Knows to Europeans". Moko; or Maori Tattooing. Chapman and Hall Limited. p. 5. Retrieved 2009-09-26. 
  56. ^ Cummins, Joseph (2006). History's Great Untold Stories: Obscure Events of Lasting Importance. Pier 9. p. 133. ISBN 9781740458085. 
  57. ^ Lach, Donald F. & Van Kley, Edwin J. (1998). Asia in the Making of Europe, Volume III: A Century of Advance. Book 3: Southeast Asia. University of Chicago Press. p. 1499. ISBN 9780226467689. 
  58. ^ Masferré, Eduardo (1999). A Tribute to the Philippine Cordillera. Asiatype, Inc. p. 64. ISBN 9789719171201. 
  59. ^ Salvador-Amores, Analyn Ikin V. (2002). "Batek: Traditional Tattoos and Identities in Contemporary Kalinga, North Luzon Philippines". Humanities Diliman. 3 (1): 105–142. 
  60. ^ Van Dinter; Maarten Hesselt (2005). The World Of Tattoo: An Illustrated History. Centraal Boekhuis. p. 64. ISBN 9789068321920. 
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