The Polynesian people consist of various ethnic groups that speak Polynesian languages, a branch of the Oceanic languages, and inhabit Polynesia. The native Polynesian people of New Zealand and Hawaii are minorities in their homelands.
Polynesian warrior canoes
Polynesians, including Samoans, Tongans, Niueans, Cook Islands Māori, Tahitian Mā'ohi, Hawaiian Māoli, Marquesans and New Zealand Māori, are a subset of the Austronesian peoples. They share the same origins as the indigenous peoples of maritime Southeast Asia, Madagascar, and Taiwan. This is supported by genetic, linguistic, and archaeological evidence.
The origins of the Polynesian people are addressed in the theories regarding human migration into the Pacific, which began about 3,000 years ago. These are outlined well by Kayser et al. (2000). The most widely accepted theory is that modern Austronesians originated from migrations out of Taiwan between 3000 and 1000 BC; travelling via the Philippines and eastern Indonesia and from the northwest ("Bird's Head") of New Guinea, on to Island Melanesia by roughly 1400 BC, reaching the western Polynesian islands right about 900 BC. However, Soares et al. (2008) have argued for an older pre-Holocene Sundaland origin within Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) based on mitochondrial DNA.
Paternal Y chromosome analysis by Kayser et al. (2000) also showed that Polynesians have significant Melanesian genetic admixture. However, a follow-up study by Kayser et al. (2008) discovered that only 21% of the Polynesian autosomal gene pool is of Melanesian origin, with the rest (79%) being of East Asian origin. Another study by Friedlaender et al. (2008) also confirmed that Polynesians are closer genetically to Micronesians, Taiwanese Aborigines, and East Asians, than to Melanesians. The study concluded that Polynesians moved through Melanesia fairly rapidly, allowing only limited admixture between Austronesians and Melanesians. Thus the high frequencies of mtDNA B4a1a1 in the Polynesians are the result of drift and represent the descendants of a few East Asian females who mixed with Papuan males. The Polynesian population experienced a founder effect and genetic drift.
A popular theory among scholars and native Royal Polynesian Monarchy (Tongan, Tahitian, Hawaiian; Monarchies) is that the genesis point from which Polynesia was finally populated was through the Polynesian Island archipelagos of Samoa (Sacred Center). The Islands of Samoa are theorized to have been the gestation point from where which the initial roots of Polynesia patiently formulated over time, religion, philosophy, spirituality, language, Arts, culture and then spread forth through eastern Polynesia through the spreading of Samoa's Religion (Aitu, Kahuna, Tafuna). Through their Polynesian Aitu religion, the worship of animal, human deities and a pantheon of Gods and Demi-Gods which would grow exponentially in Eastern Polynesia, with the construction of monolithic Tiki Deities in Tahiti, Rapanui and the spread of the spiritual belief of Mana; a Polynesian spiritual life force which governs all living beings.
The last place to be settled by Polynesians was Aotearoa (New Zealand) estimated at around 1300AD.
Recent DNA studies show that the Atayal people from Taiwan and the Kankanaey people of the northern Philippines, who later mixed with Melanesians, were most probably among the original ancestors of modern Polynesians.
The results of research at the Teouma Lapita site (Efate Island, Vanuatu) and the Talasiu Lapita site (near Nuku'alofa, Tonga) published in 2016 supports the 'out of Taiwan' theory although with the qualification that the migration bypassed New Guinea and Island Melanesia. The conclusion from the research published in 2016 is that the initial population of those two sites appears to come directly from Taiwan or the northern Philippines and did not mix with the ‘AustraloPapuans’ of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. DNA analysis of modern Polynesians indicates that there has been intermarriage that results in a mixed Asian-Papuan ancestry of the Polynesians. The research at the Teouma and Talasiu Lapita sites implies that the migration and intermarriage, which resulted in the mixed Asian-Papuan ancestry of the Polynesians, occurred after the first initial migration to Vanuatu and Tonga. The preliminary analysis of skulls found at the Teouma and Talasiu Lapita sites is that the skulls lack Australian or Papuan affinities and instead have affinities to mainland Asian populations.
Female dancers of the Hawaii Islands
depicted by Louis Choris
, c. 1816
('ava) makers (aumaga) of Samoa. A woman seated between two men with the round tanoa (or laulau) wooden bowl in front. Standing is a third man, distributor of the 'ava, holding the coconut shell cup (tauau) used for distributing the beverage.
There are an estimated 2 million ethnic Polynesians and people of Polynesian descent worldwide, the majority of whom live in Polynesia, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The Polynesian peoples are shown below in their distinctive ethnic and cultural groupings (estimates of the larger groups are shown):
- Native Hawaiians: Hawaii – c. 140,000 (including multiracial: 400,000)
- Tahitians (Maohi): Tahiti – c. 178,000 (including multiracial: 250,000+)
- Cook Islands Māori: Cook Islands – 98,000+ (including New Zealand and Australian residents)
- Māori: New Zealand Aotearoa – c. 790,000 (including multiracial)
- Moriori: Rēkohu Chatham Islands – c. 738 (2013 New Zealand Census)
- Rapanui: Easter Island – c. 5,000 (including mixtures and those living in Chile)
- Austral Islanders: Austral Islands – ~7,000
- Mangareva: Gambier Islands – c. 1,600
- Tuamotu: Tuamotu Archipelago – c. 16,000
- Marquesas Islanders: Marquesas Islands – c. 11,000
- Samoan: Samoa, American Samoa – c. 249,000 (worldwide: 500,000–650,000)
- Tongan: Tonga – c. 104,000 (from all countries: 150,000+)
- Tuvaluan: Tuvalu – c. 10,000
- Tokelauan: Tokelau – c. 1,500
- Niuean: Niue – c. 20,000–25,000 (vast majority live in New Zealand)
- Uvea and Futuna: Wallis and Futuna
- Kapingamarangi and Nukuoro: The Federated States of Micronesia
- Nuguria, Nukumanu and Takuu: Papua New Guinea
- Anuta, Bellona, Ontong Java, Rennel, Sikaiana, Tikopia and Vaeakau-Taumako: Solomon Islands
- Emae, Makata, Mele (Erakoro, Eratapu), Aniwa, and Futuna: Vanuatu
- Fagauvea: Ouvéa (New Caledonia)
Polynesian bodies typically have larger bone and muscle mass than Caucasian bodies, which has implications for BMI comparability in measuring obesity. Polynesians physical characteristics help them perform well in some physical sports, including American football and rugby union.
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