The Polynesians

















The mysterious origins of the Polynesians, is a subject that has generated a great deal of controversy over the years. 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 are a wise, proud, competitive and spiritually aware culture, possessing a complex society with Kings and Queens. Hardly the sort of culture one would expect to be generated amongst a small group of isolated individuals living on coral atolls and small volcanic islands.

Despite this, many scientists still believe Polynesian society has emerged from a small group of individuals out of the 'big man' Melanesian society, a society which is structured in a completely different manner to Polynesian society. Melanesians take the richest, most charismatic man as their leader, whereas Polynesians have a complex class society that is based on a hereditary system that goes back 16,000 years to a lady called Lailai. Many scientists still believe Polynesians 'mysteriously' lost their dark skin, frizzy hair, their Melanesian genes and their knowledge of pottery when they arrived in Polynesia - an assumption that has no credible scientific backing. Polynesians worshipped different gods to the Melanesians, they used different sailing craft, different tools and artifacts, including; pestles, harpoons, lures and two piece fishhooks which are all strikingly similar in design to Kwakuitl and Haida artefacts of Canada.

Many scientists still firmly believe that the Polynesians made Lapita pottery, despite the fact that this pottery is not found in Polynesia. It is only found on Western Pacific Islands amongst Melanesian artifacts. On many Melanesian islands archaeological deposits show there have been few changes in culture right up to the pottery making society that still exists on these islands today.

For many years it seemed that the truth about Polynesian origins was going to slip from our grasp forever, but recently, genetics has started to provide us with the answers we have all been looking for. As a result, the understanding of world prehistory and in particular, Pacific prehistory is undergoing some radical new changes.
There is mounting genetic and cultural evidence to suggest that ocean currents have played a much bigger part in assisting with man's colonisation of the World than ever expected. Many modern scholars have, grossly underestimated the ability of early man to successfully navigate the oceans. They have assumed the ocean to be a barrier to cultural interaction, but now, genetics is highlighting similar gene pools on opposite sides of the oceans, indicating that ocean currents have acted like rivers distributing man around the planet. Proof that the oceans were seen as highways in ancient times, are 20,000 year old paintings in Borneo and the Kimberley region of Australia showing high prowed ocean going boats with over 30 people in them.

Genetics is showing that there has been far more cross-cultural interaction between the "Old World" and the "New World" than ever imagined. For example: 10-13,000 year old Caucasian and African genes have been found in America. 6-8,000 year old Taiwanese genes have been found in America. 3-4,000 year old Mayan genes have even been found in Greece and Greek genes have been found in Peru (James L. Guthrie, 1998). It has now been determined that 6-8,000 year old Southern and East Asian genes, rather than Siberian genes form the basis of populations in Canada, California, Central America, South America and Polynesia. In fact the Bering land bridge hypothesis appears to have no scientific backing whatsoever. Scientists are beginning to admit there was no ice free corridor during the height of the last Ice Age. The only people to use this route were the Pan Polar cultures, people that were already adapted to living in a cold climate, and chose to stay there. Instead the entry of Asians into America appears to have been by sea, utilizing the Kuroshio current and westerly winds of the North Pacific.

Linguists have now shown that the Austronesian language spoken in the Solomon islands is the most ancient form of this language, estimated to be over 15,000 years old. The Polynesian version of Austronesian is from Taiwan only 6,000 years ago, showing a direction of dispersal opposite to what has previously been believed.

Furthermore, Austronesian words are common in both Central America (Maya, Lenca) and amongst Quechua tribes along the West Coast of South America, helping to confirm cultural influence from East Asia 6-8,000 years ago.  Contrary to popular belief, genetic evidence indicates that Polynesia was not populated via Melanesia, but was populated by people who have ancient connections to the Tibetans and Thais. Specific genetic markers and bottlenecks indicate they left East Asia 6000 years ago, but did not spend any time in Micronesia nor Melanesia, but instead spent ~4,000 years in Alaska and Canada and arrived in Hawaii 2,200 years ago. Many genetic, cultural and artifact similarities with the Haida and Kwakuitl of Canada confirm this connection. Other groups from Central and South America appear to have influenced cultures of the Pacific after this initial period of colonisation.

The possibility that America has played a big part in the populating of the Pacific has been a taboo subject for many years, despite the fact that wind and ocean currents prevail from that direction. Fortunately a new generation of free thinking scientists are examining the genetic evidence and are reexamining all the American connections that have for so long been swept under the carpet. As a result, ancient legends that have been ignored and misunderstood, can now be given back their 'mana' and the 'American Isolationists' will soon be seen as branch members of the 'Flat Earth Society'.

The route taken by the Polynesians to Hawai'i is recorded in the The Ancient History of Hookumu Ka Lani & Hookumu Ka Honua by Solomon L.K. Peleioholani. This legend is confirmed by genetic evidence outlined in later chapters.  Haida Gwai'i is strictly the homeland of the Haida, but four related tribes - the Tlingit, Kwakuitl, Nuutka and Salish all have much in common (genetically and culturally) with the Polynesians. The Pima and Maya are also closely genetically related to Polynesians.

It is interesting that the last major rise in sea level, 6-8,000 years ago coincides with both; an exodus from Asia via the Kuroshio Current to America, as well as an exodus out of America via the Gulf Stream back to Europe, returning from America as accomplished seafarers, ending their genetic isolation away from Europe as seen in the genetic record of the Berber, Basque, Armorican and Irish people to become the Celtic Sea Kings and Serpent Warriors (viz spiral/serpent decorations, Dingle Peninsula). Anasazi legends describe the sinking of the large land now the Bahama Banks (the gateway to Europe via the Gulf Stream). Interestingly Anasazi Petroglyphs, legends and language has much in common with the Irish and Basque pople.

The exodus of Blonde/Red haired Caucasians (Urukehu) out of Harappa in 1500BC is described in a Maori legend which describes Central America as "The Long Skinny Land" and Peru as "The Very Large Land." The exodus of the Charapa people from Puna Island into the Pacific is described in the Rongo Rongo tablets of Rapa nui (see Appendix). Other Peruvian and Marquesan legends describe the voyage of Kon Tiki Viracocha into the Pacific from Peru.

Verifying the arrival of Caucasians into the Pacific are the Moai of Rapa nui who sport classic Caucasian features - thin lips and aquiline noses. The red haired families of Rapa nui are direct descendants of these people.The earliest expansion of Homo sapiens into Melanesia were the Pygmies 100,000 years ago bringing Plasmodium Falciparum.  Another expansion of Africans occured 10,000 years ago bringing Plasmodium Vivax and may have been responsible for the spread of South American Coconut, Afro/American cotton, African gourd, African Jackbean across the Pacific.

Around 1500BC, the Olmec civilization flourished which it has been argued has both African and Chinese influences in its culture. Clearly 1500 BC was a time of blossoming of many cultures - all conducting sea trade with each other sharing ideas, but all developing their own individual character. The Melanesian expansion Eastwards to Fiji and beyond is directly related to Lapita pottery in the archaeological record. The Lapita people were red haired individuals living amongst the Melanesians, their descendants can be seen in the red haired people of Missima Is and the blond haired Tolai. There are two theories as to their origins.

1. Their time of arrival in the Bismark Archipelago ~1500BC suggests a connection to an exodus of these people from NW India by the Dravidians.
2. They may be connected to an extinct population in Micronesia where massive megalithic ruins cover many Islands.

Fijian legend has it that Lutunasobasoba arrived from Tanganyika. (a little side note - why do Fijians call a sunshower a "Monkey's Birthday"? - something also said in Africa - and no monkeys in Fiji).

The voyage of Egyptian navigator Maui in 232BC is covered in a later chapter. Tiki Petroglyphs from the Taino people in the Virgin Islands are almost identical to Bella Coola and East Asian petroglyphs and show the extent of the migrations of the "Tai/Hai" people after the destruction of their Megalithic civilization 6-8,000 years ago by rising sea levels as seen in numerous underwater ruins between Taiwan and Japan.

The hypothesis put forward in this website is not a new one, many scholars in the 19th Century, with their intuition and innocence, expressed similar beliefs to what is in this article. Even Captain Cook believed there to be a connection between the Maori and the Kwakuitl (of Vancouver Is). Little did they know that genetics over one hundred years later would prove them to have been much closer to the truth than most modern scientists. More recent scholars/writers such as Thor Heyerdahl, Charles Hapgood, Graham Hancock, Andrew Collins and Barry Fell did not go far enough in their assertions, as new found genetic evidence, also proves them right in many aspects of their work. 

When reading the following pages, one must remember that; as there have been repeated genetic inputs into populations around the world far more regularly than previously thought, the face of man has been continually changing through time. It is all too easy and sometimes convenient for one to believe that everything stays the same, but we know that not to be the case.  Genetics describes a very different story to what we have been taught in school about the prehistory of man. We need to listen to this new story and stop trying to make it fit into all the old hypotheses by ignoring these new crucial pieces of genetic evidence that connects cultures on opposite sides of ocean. Many of these cultural similarities were put down to 'parallel evolution', but with common ancestry visible in the genes, this whole field needs to be reexamined.

It seems that many scientists and authors of articles that disagree with mainstream ideas on prehistory have been repeatedly ridiculed and condemned for their work. Archaeological sites and genetic studies that have had the potential to upend mainstream views have been refused funding repeatedly. Conversely, graduates are given copious amounts of funding for doing research on subjects that stroke the ego of the professor in control of the program, creating an end result that is far from the truth. The longer these professors sit in their ivory towers ignoring the truth the more foolish they will become. Bizarre and obscure theories such as the 'fast train', 'slow train' and 'entangled bank' have confused the issue even more, driving people away from subject in a cloud technical jargon and misinformation. Unfortunately, as time moves on, legends, culture and language is lost and it becomes progressively harder to find the truth and easier for so called authorities on the subject to distort the facts, hide the truth and ignore areas of study which might debunk their own fragile hypothesis.

Although this website's main objective is to explore the genetic and geographical origins of the Polynesian people, in so doing, it has led me far back in history, leading me to realise that it is not merely Pacific prehistory that has been misinterpreted. Unexplained parallels between civilized societies around the world have perplexed researchers ever since the study of world cultures began. Supernatural or cosmic intervention has often been the only way such parallels could be explained, but it seems the answer is much simpler - sea trade.

Cultural and technological traits common to cultures on opposite sides of the planet are clearly shadows of past maritime civilizations that have been and gone in our distant past. Rising sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age have all but obliterated any solid evidence of these civilizations prior to 6,000 years ago, making it very difficult to piece together the ancient history of man. Slowly, with modern science at our fingertips, and an unbiassed mind, this picture of a much more complex past is beginning to take shape. Genetics is showing quite clearly that the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans were crossed many times in the past, especially from 12,000 years ago through to the Bronze Age. This trans oceanic contact has contributed significantly to the gene pool found in America. New archaeological finds are confirming trans oceanic contact did occur. With this new information, old legends as well as cultural and technological similarities are finally making sense as these periods of globalization through sea trade are identified.

Natural catastrophic events have also heavily influenced the history of man. Geologists have found numerous examples of major catastrophic events, (meteor strikes) that have ended the reign of specific plants and animals in the distant past. Similarly, the history of man has also been punctuated by many lesser catastrophes involving meteor strikes which have caused volcanic eruptions (Ice core samples often show Iridium in volcanic ash layers), earthquakes, tsunamis, earth dimming events, drought and ice ages. These events have been identified in Antarctic and Greenland ice cores as well as in tree ring analysis and appear to coincide with major upheavals in human prehistory seen as genetic bottlenecks and the 'End of Ages' in native folklore. These catastrophic natural events have ended periods of globalisation, leaving isolated pockets of people to reinvent society as they see fit. Hence the old saying; "The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth." It seems that history does repeat itself, therefore, by looking into our past we have an insight into predicting the future.

This website was created a few months after the death of Thor Heyerdahl (April 2002) when I realized that despite the truths he spoke, most people had failed to understand the implications of the discoveries he had made during numerous quests of research and discovery. Hopefully in future years with the assistance of this website, people will eventually come to understand Thor Heyerdahl and Pacific prehistory a little better.

Thor has clearly been an inspiration to me and my research, his books 'Aku Aku', 'Early Man and the Ocean' and 'American Indians in the Pacific' should be read by everyone who has an interest in Pacific Prehistory. Ever since I was a child living in the Pacific, the complexities of Pacific history and its people, have always intrigued me. Not merely through Thor's work but from my own experiences and observations. Many commonly held beliefs regarding Polynesian origins from Melanesia (the Lapita people) did not sit right and I have always wanted to get to the truth of the matter. Some of the things which helped spark my curiosity which has resulted in a lifelong quest for the truth are shown below.





Human occupation of Oceania - those vast reaches of the Pacific encompassing Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia - began on New Guinea (Papua and Papua New Guinea). It is on New Guinea that archaeologists have dug primitive stone tools and charcoal more than 25,000 years old from camp sites used during the last Ice Age, when sea levels were lower and the distances between Australia, New Guinea and the other Indonesian islands were much less.

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An early stick chart from Micronesia shows the waves
and currents around the islands which are represented by shells.


When melting ice raised the level of the ocean and increased distances between land falls, New Guinea and its dark-skinned inhabitants - Melanesians - became more isolated until the coming of the brown-skinned people - out of island Asia - Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan. In their outrigger and double canoes with sails of plaited leaves, the latter reached New Guinea and nearby islands about 4,500 years ago, but did not dislodge the Melanesians they found already living there.  Among the seafarers who moved eastward in small groups by various routes, were ancestors of the Polynesians. Using Fiji as a staging area, some eventually sailed on to uninhabited Tonga and Samoa.

To have developed the physical types, language, and culture that the Polynesians share in common, these Polynesian forebears must have been isolated for a time in a home group of islands. A chain of archaeological discoveries leads us to believe that this isolation started in the islands of Tonga and Samoa roughly 3,000 years ago.

Beginning in 1909 in New Britain, archaeologists have found a type of pre-historic decorated pottery at various Melanesian sites. In 1947, samples were also excavated in Fiji, Melanesia's easternmost extension. Five years later the same pottery was uncovered at Lapita in New Caledonia. Now called Lapita-style pottery, these artefacts clearly trace the visits and attempted settlements of a maritime people moving along a Melanesian route towards Polynesia.

Lapita style of pottery from Fiji (above) and other locales document
the eastern movement of ancient voyagers through Melanesia to Samoa and Tonga,
where some landed as early as 1140 B.C. Here, from a rootstock comprised of perhaps
a few families, evolved over a millennium the language, physique, and culture of today's Polynesians.


Lapita pottery was excavated in Tonga in 1963-64, and has recently been found in Samoa as well - both in western Polynesia. Tonga is the longest-inhabited island group in Polynesia, with radiocarbon dates as early as 1140 B.C.  Thus we conclude that Tonga's first settlers, the people who made Lapita ware, were the first true Polynesians.

Language ties indicate that this migration continued via Samoa eastward to the Marquesas, where the oldest sites in Eastern Polynesia have been found.Far to the southeast of the Marquesas lies evidence of a truly remarkable feat - a voyage to Easter Island, some 2,400 miles away, in the face of prevailing winds and currents. Polynesia's easternmost outpost, Easter Island, is not only the most isolated inhabited island in the Pacific, but it is only 15 miles long. Assessing its chances of being discovered by early Polynesians, we can conclude only that their sailing canoes were already capable of traversing the breadth of the Pacific, and that on one such voyage, Easter Island was fortuitously sighted. Radiocarbon dating in 1955-56 indicates its discovery and settlement as early as A.D. 400.

The sites on Easter Island show clear evidence when considered in conjunction with the archaeology and languages of the Society and Marquesas Islands indicate strongly that the pre-historic culture of Easter Island could have evolved from a single landing of Polynesians from a Marquesan island, fully equipped to colonise an uninhabited volcanic island. Their success in making this windswept sixty-four square miles, without an edible native plant, not only habitable but also the seat of remarkable cultural achievements, is testimony to the genius of these Polynesian settlers.

A study of excavated adzes, fish hooks, ornaments and other artefacts indicates that Tahiti and the other Society Islands must have been settled soon after the Marquesas. Present information indicates that Hawaii and New Zealand were settled after A.D. 500. Radiocarbon techniques permit us to assign tentative dates to this entire Pacific migration: entry into West Polynesia about 1000 B.C., reaching East Polynesia about the time of Christ completing the occupation by A.D. 1000.  Having reached the Pacific's farthest outpost, the early Polynesians possessed the skills to return. It is doubtful that one way voyages could account for the early presence in the Hawaiian islands, for example, of twenty odd cultivated plants of Tahiti and the Marquesas. Thus we conclude that the early Hawaiians repeatedly negotiated the longest sea route in Polynesia returning to Tahiti and then again to Hawaii, known as "child of Tahiti".

The patterns of waves in the Pacific Ocean
help guide the Hokule'a, a traditional voyaging canoe,
on its 1400-mile round trip between Hawaii and Easter Island.


The formation of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the construction of a 60 foot Polynesian double canoe re-enacted these voyages and served in many ways to recapture the unique knowledge, skills, and spirit of the Polynesian seafaring pioneers.

It has been over a millennium since the Polynesians sailed their open canoe across the Pacific, using stars, signposts of the sea, and the strange, perilous liquid paths of currents to move from one island to the next. Most were fifty-five to sixty foot V-sectioned craft, built of wide planks lashed to the frames with sennit and caulked with breadfruit sap. Hoisting their mat sails, they could cover one hundred to a hundred and fifty miles a day in open sea conditions. In Polynesia, the double canoe was the preferred style; in Micronesia, the single outrigger. Both were constructed with adzes of basalt or clamshell, drills fashioned from shark's teeth or shell.
In these vessels the Pacific Islanders made their great voyages of discovery and colonisation. They date from the advent of the New Stone Age, when newly developed heavy woodworking tools made it possible to adze planks and join them to the frames of boats, just as bark or skin had been sewn in earlier times. The swift and capacious vessels of the Lapita navigators were probably little changed by Captain Cook's day. In 1779, Cook recorded canoes much faster than his Endeavour.
With Polynesian ability to preserve food for long period, a range of 5,000 miles in winds that were not too unfavourable would have been possible for these great canoes - ample for exploratory probes eastwards.

The Polynesians generally sailed into the wind by tacking, coming about and changing the side of the sail presented to the wind, as modern sailors do. The Micronesians (and the Polynesians of the Tuamotus and some western island groups) changed the course by shifting the sail from end of the canoe to the other, with the same side always to the wind. Thus the vessels were "double ended", with bow and stern having the same design. Both outriggers and the method of tacking by changing ends seem to have originated in Indonesia.





Tracing the earliest settlement of the Pacific, scientists conclude from studies from artefacts (particularly a widespread archaic type of pottery called Lapita ware) that it was launched somewhere in the islands of Southeast Asia. Through the millenniums, migrations swept generally eastward across the ocean, but ultimately the waves spread towards every compass point - as far north as Hawaii, as far south as New Zealand, even westward again to the so-called Polynesian outliers in Micronesia and Melanesia.


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The obscure people who made Lapita pottery reached Tonga before 1000 B.C. There, and in Samoa, they settled down and developed the language and culture we now call Polynesian. From its cradle in the Tonga-Samoa region, Polynesian culture began its spread over the Pacific about the time of Christ. When Europeans arrived some fifteen centuries later, they found Polynesians occupying a vast triangle that covers almost a fourth of the Pacific.

Indeed, although the void of written language or any instruments, guided solely by their censors, the early Polynesians ranged over an area bigger than all the Soviet Union and China combined. For years, scholars had debated whether this vast area was settled mostly by accident - by wind-blown castaways, by people wandering blindly - or by navigational skill of the first magnitude.

Later studies revealed that the latter was the case. Following is an introduction to the navigational techniques used by the early navigators.
In addition to their more advanced navigational techniques, the early navigators used some simple facts as an aid to their navigation. The first of these was the occurrence of trade wind clouds over invisible islands over the horizon. What the navigator could see was the reflection of the island in the under surface of the cloud. This green reflection was an obvious sign to the navigator that there was an island or atoll over the horizon.

The second simple navigational technique adopted by our forefathers was to follow the movements of the birds. Such birds as the frigate bird and the tern roost ashore and then feed at sea. Dawn and dusk flight paths pointed the way to land.

When travelling greater distances, the early navigators steered by the stars. They directed their canoes towards a particular star in the constellation Leo and when that star moved too high and too far to the left, they followed the next star that rose from the same point on the horizon. Then the next and after that the next and so on until dawn broke.
The star-compass technique is still practised over much of the Pacific. What is more impressive however is the island navigator's uncanny skill to steer by wave motion - swells reflected from islands beyond the horizons. The skilled navigator comes to recognise the profile and characteristic of particular ocean swells as he would the faces of his friends, but he judges their direction more by feel than by sight.

The complex patterns produced by swell reflected and refracted among the islands are recognised by navigators throughout Oceania. The Marshall Islanders illustrate the process using stick charts as seen below.


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An early stick chart from Micronesia shows the waves
and currents around the islands which are represented by shells.

The skills of the navigator are part of our Micronesian and Polynesian heritage. It is the last legacy of uncounted generations of the great captains of all mankind. They have learned to steer by star horizon courses, by cloud formations, bird zones and the wave patterns broken by islands. In many areas, they enjoy greater prestige than the local village chiefs. They were men of rare, unusual and impressive talent and skills. It is to be hoped that these are not lost to future generations.





Lapita Pottery & Polynesians


Lapita pottery has long been held as the key to Polynesian colonization of the Eastern Pacific, despite there being no hard evidence to prove it. In fact the deeper one delves into the archaeology, chronology and gene trees of the Pacific one finds that there is no connection whatsoever between Polynesian and Lapita culture. The following article outlines many of these discrepancies. In fact it is quite embarrassing how poorly the scientists have interpreted the facts.

Lapita pottery is a finely decorated (dentate stamped) coil built, low fired pottery commonly found in archaeological sites in the Western Pacific. The earliest Lapita sites are in the Bismark Archipelago and are dated at 3,900 years BP. The Lapita culture does not predate the arrival of Melanesians, who have lived in New Guinea and it's surrounding Islands for over 40,000 years. Lapita pottery is commonly found in coastal locations on the Islands of New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomons, New Caledonia, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. The Lapita people are believed to have spread eastwards and colonized Fiji, Samoa and Tonga ~3,500 years ago which predates the arrival of the Polynesian people in the Pacific by 1,300 years. Lapita pottery is common on most Melanesian islands and is often found associated with Melanesian deposits, but is not found amongst any Eastern Polynesian archaeological deposits in Hawai'i, Rapa Nui, Aoteoroa, Tahiti, Tuamotus, Raiatea, Raivavae or Rarotonga or any other Eastern Polynesian Islands. The archaeological assemblage on Melanesian Islands shows a gradual progression of design styles which merged with classic Melanesian designs such as Mangassi and Naviti styles, marking the end of the Lapita culture in the archaeological record at about 420BC Matthew Spriggs " The Lapita Cultural Complex". This was over 400 years before Polynesians arrived in Western Polynesia (Samoa and Tonga).

According to geneticists, Polynesian expansion in the Pacific was rapid. Genetics clearly shows that the pure strain of Eastern Polynesian genes began expanding 2,200 years ago in isolation from all other Pacific cultures, outlined by Bing Su and Mark Stoneking in Polynesian Y Chromozome. Their research also shows that Polynesians finally made contact with Melanesians merely 1,000 years ago. As you will see from evidence presented here, the Lapita people lived at a different time to Polynesians, in a different geographical area and were physically, genetically and culturally different to Polynesians.

Lapita the name

Lapita pottery has been misunderstood from the day it was discovered when an archaeologist picked up a piece of pottery from the bottom of his pit. Some natives arriving on the scene exclaimed "Xaapeta!" Which means "He dug a pit!" Unfortunately the scientist thought the natives were getting excited about the piece of rubble he was holding in his hand and decided that the exclamation "Xaapeta" was the name of the culture the pottery represented. Unfortunately he misheard them and decided the word said was Lapita, and through his "scientific" paper, the Lapita name has stuck.

Is Lapita Polynesian, Melanesian or ....... ?

Many articles written on Pacific culture have assumed without question that the Lapita pottery people were Polynesians, resulting in a circular argument asserting that archaeological relics of the Lapita pottery culture in the Western Pacifc was clear evidence that Polynesians passed through island Melanesia into the Central Pacific. To come to this conclusion, one must ignore the fact that; Polynesians never made pottery, never used shell money and they never buried their dead in urns - three key characteristics of the lapita culture. The Lapita culture was most certainly part of the Western Pacific story, and relics of this society can still be found there, where Lapita style pottery and shell money were still used in Melanesia until recent times. (Patrick Kirch, Prehistoric Exchange in Western Melanesia). The archaeological record shows that there is no doubt that Lapita people co-habited with the Melanesians, not only in the archaeological tool kit of both cultures, but studies of a Lapita skeleton named 'Mana Man' found in Moturiki, Fiji shows that his skeleton is distinctly Melanesian. Robert Keith-Reid states; "The tentative conclusion was that the Lapita style pottery was carried to Moturiki from the Melanesian Santa Cruz/Reef Islands, 1,000km from Moturiki. Mana Man is estimated to have been buried between 1000 B.C. and 800 B.C. and was the second Lapita-age skeleton discovered in the Pacific Islands."

John E Tyrrell and Schechter have found a culture in New Guinea on the Sepik coastline near Aitape that continues the traditional Lapita designs to this day. These designs represent turtles and go hand in hand with a creation myth whereby they believe a turtle became the first island for man and woman. This myth parallels many Native American myths that also assert that the turtle created the first land for man and woman. In fact North America is known by many Native American nations as Turtle Island. Melanesian type skulls found in Panama as well as the distinctly African looking Olmec heads of the Yucatan, suggests that people similar in appearance to Melanesians may have arrived from America with the turtle creation myth during Olmec sea trade 3-4,000 years ago. Another possibility is that this myth may also have arrived when Malaria - Plasmodium vivax arrived in Melanesia 10,000 years ago. This is also the time of the most rapid rises in sealevel at the end of the last Ice Age, which caused a massive dislocation of coastal populations globally. As flooding and the loss of land is the basis of the turtle myth, this is the most logical scenario. The other possibility is that Native American red heads arrived in Island Melanesia with the turtle creation myth. Ancestral figures who were tall with pale skin and red hair are often mentioned in Native American as well as Pacific legends (see Migrations, Myth and Magic from the Gilbert Islands by Rosemary Grimble). In fact the answer may be; "all of the above".

Fundamental differences between Lapita and Polynesian Culture

The most basic difference between the Lapita and Polynesian culture is; "Ceramics were not manufactured by Polynesian societies at any time in East Polynesian prehistory. Therefore trying to connect Lapita and plainware pottery with Polynesians is illogical." (Anita Smith in; An Archaeology of West Polynesian Prehistory, 2002). Polynesians also had a totally different tool kit. Lapita potters used bows and arrows, spears and nets to catch fish. They did not use fishhooks or harpoon heads, whereas the Polynesian fishing kit consisted of: two piece fishing hook, trolling lure and harpoon head which interestingly is very similar to Haida-gwaii artefacts of Canada. Other items unique to Eastern Polynesia and absent in the Lapita cultural complex identified by Anita Smith are the; two piece fishhook, trolling lure, harpoon head, whale tooth pendant, reel ornament, pearl shell breastplate and tattooing needle. These seven items are all commonly found at Polynesian sites but were not found at any Lapita, plainware or Melanesian sites. She also identified 5 artefacts (shell beads, shell net sinker, shell armband/ring, shell adze and polishing/grinding stone) that were not found at any Polynesian sites. The following table clearly shows a complete absence of these key Polynesian artefacts from all Melanesian sites
The wide jaw and slender long limb bones are characteristics of the 6-7ft tall, red haired Caucasians whose skeletons have been found in the Nevada desert, South America and caves in New Zealand. The Easter Islanders and some families from Sardinia and Sicily also exhibit the distinctive features of the ancient red haired seafarers.  It should be pointed out that the wide low jaw is found in some Polynesian people, but it is always associated with the most Caucasian looking individuals. The characteristic 9 based pair deletion of Polynesians is unlikely to be found amongst the following individuals.



As Maori, Marquesan and Rapa Nui legends all speak of some of their ancestors arriving from South America - not from Melanesia, I find it difficult to connect these ancient Caucasian features with the Lapita people. They may have come from the same group of seafarers ~4,000 years ago, and as their mobility was not restricted by oceanic distance, the possibility that descendants of these people entered the Pacific from opposite sides at different times is not a difficult concept to grasp. During the history of these people, they have been called a number of names; the Maurya of India, the Mauri of Africa, the Mauli of Chile, the Maori of New Zealand and the Moors of Spain. Another common name given to these people are the Berbers. In Africa today descendants of these people call themselves the Amazigh or 'Free Men' their language is Tamazight. In America, the Alligewi people of the Mississippi Mound Building culture are also known as "The Free Men" - their language is Tallegwi. The common prefix T, denoting 'language', is no coincidence. These people are part of the Hokan language group of America, all of which are believed to be descendants of the Berbers. ............................................


By Peter Marsh



























Pareo or pareu: in the old days, the pareo was made of tapa, tree bark pounded until a more or less thick layer was obtained. It is decorated with local patterns: hibiscus or tiare flowers. The pareo is an important part of the Polynesians' daily life, as much for men who wear it as a skirt or as shorts, as for women who can tie it in a thousand and one ways.

The History and Origins of the Pareo

Clothing of Tahiti (French Polynesia) traditionally was made of ti leaf, banana leaf, lauhala leaf, coconut fiber, inner wild hibiscus bark, ulu (breadfruit) bark, and inner paper mulberry bark. Ulu bark and paper mulberry bark were used to make a fabric called tapa. The paper mulberry was the most popular bark used for this purpose.
The word pareo has been used generically to mean any wrap which holds true for other similar words such as sarong. A pareo did not evolve from a sarong or vice versa. Each of these cultures has unique designs. A wrap with Indonesian designs is a sarong and a wrap with Tahitian designs is a pareo.

It's as easy as a point and click. Today, a pareo can arrive on your doorstep in a very short amount of time. You can even get instructions on how to make and how to tie a pareo readily available to anyone with a computer and access to the internet. It's a contrast in study to the ancient Tahitians and their pareos and dress.Unlike other populated areas of the world, the islands in the South Pacific did not use plants to make woven fabric. Although cotton and other fabric making plants were available, the islanders did not acquaint themselves with traditional textiles and woven materials common in western society. Instead they made clothing and light garments from tapa (beaten bark) or woven leaves, most notably the lauhala (pandanus).

The most common dress for the men was the maro, a simple loin-cloth. Similar to the malo of Hawaii, this traditional dress consisted of a single narrow piece of tapa wrapped around the waist and between the legs. It was a practical dress for the hot and humid climate that Tahiti experiences almost all year round.
Women of ancient Tahiti wore a pa-u or pareu (pareo), a garment tied around the waist that usually draped to the knees. Prior to contact with western ideals, women often went topless during the regular course of the day. As western influence entered the Tahitian society as well as other South Pacific islands, the women gradually adapted the pareo to mimic western women's wear. Most visible was a simple tie over one shoulder and leaving the opposite shoulder bare. It was a practical adjustment that gave modesty to their island wear.

In cooler weather and during celebrations or festivals, men and women both added a tiputa (tapa poncho). With a vertical slit to allow for the head through, and open sleeves and sides, it allowed for a limited amount of protection. At times it was decorated with printed designs such as leaves, ferns, or depictions close to the individual.  Clothing in general was of a loose nature other than the everyday maro. As tapa making is a labor intensive process, tailoring to the individual for such a short time in which the tapa was useful, was not practical. The tapa cloth layers were called 'ahu (draped tapa).

Everyday common clothes were usually brown due to the natural coloring produced from the bark of the banyan and the paper mulberry trees. For special occasions, times of celebration, and for those of high rank or importance, a beautiful white tapa made from the bark of the ulu (breadfruit) tree was worn. It was called the ahupuupuu. Royalty also wore tiputa embellished with red and black feathers, robes of tapa and pareu made of fine mats.

It's important to know that the change from tapa to conventional western style cloth was a gradual process. The initial introductions to the cloth were by western explorers. They would come in military attire fashioned in cloth textiles. As a gift or trade with the arii (royalty) they would sometimes offer pieces of clothing that were admired by the islanders. It was a symbol of status to those ancient islanders. Gradually as more and more ships arrived, more clothing was introduced and more people were able to obtain the cloth.

European explorers of the 1700s introduced textiles and the advent of industrial advances. But it was when the Christian missionaries arrived a short time later that cotton clothing replaced the bark wraps. The missionaries desired to "civilize" the Tahitians and taught them that there should be a degree of modesty. They introduced European clothing and textiles, higher in quality and more durable than the traditional tapa cloth.

With trade routes established, supply lines for breadfruit, vanilla, and coconuts were not the only things Westerners saw potential for. It was not until merchant ships, with purposes to trade and make a profit in a new market, did the clothing of Westerners take a more dominant role. Not only was the westerners cloth easier to work with, but it also was more durable, functional, long-lasting, stronger and capable of absorbing a variety of dyes to ornament.

Eventually the use of tapa as clothing became obsolete. Western style of dress was modified and adapted to suit island lifestyles. In the 20th century, the dawning of the modern day pareo began. It was after a wartime shortage of cotton from England during World War II, that the value of the modern pareo become apparent. Pareos became scarce. But with the war over, production began again.

Tahitian designs on the fabric were either freehand drawings resembling designs in wood carving and tattoos or prints using fern leaves and flowers. Modern Tahitian designs follow one of two methods: highly stylized tattoo, flower and fern patterns screened onto fabric through manufacturing or hand-dyed with the use of fern or flower stencils. The fabric is generally 2 yards in length and can be made out of cotton, rayon or silk. Many designs feature bright colors and reflect the beautiful colors seen in the islands.










Polynesia Tattoo History

It was not until the latter part of the 19 th century that western anthropologists made an effort to inquire into the significance of tattooing within the context of traditional Polynesian life. A few papers on Polynesian tattooing appeared in anthropology journals around the turn of the century, and about the same time several anthropologists wrote books that included descriptions of Polynesian tattooing. Unfortunately, however, what we know of Polynesian iattooing is only a small fragment of the whole. The vast majority of the designs, together with the wealth of associated traditions, myths, and religious observances have been lost forever. And we know little of the significance of Tattooing as it was perceived by the Polynesians themselves: we know it only as it was seen through European eyes.
Polynesian tattooing, as it existed before the arrival of Europeans in the South Pacific, was the most intricate and skillful tattooing in the ancient world. It had evolved over thousands of years throughout the islands of the Pacific and, in its most highly developed forms, was characterized by elaborate geometrical designs which were often added to, renewed. and embellished throughout the life of the individual until they covered the entire body. In beauty and complexity, ancient Polynesian tattooing rivals the best work of modern masters of the art.

Where did it come from? And why was it so highly developed in Polynesia? For the answers to these questions we must look to the geography of the Pacific islands and to the history and culture of their inhabitants. The tropical islands of the Pacific were characterized by lofty volcanic peaks, wide valleys, fertile soil, lush vegetation and secluded coral lagoons teeming with brightly colored fish. The natives were isolated and protected from natural enemies, predators and disease. To many early European explorers the Polynesians seemed to be the prototype of the mythical noble savage living in a state of innocence. In Typeer, Herman

Melville wrote of the Marquesans:

In beauty of form they surpassed anything I had ever seen .. Nearly every individual of their number might have been taken for a sculptor's model.. I have seen boys in the Typee Valley of whose 'beautiful faces' and "promising animation of countenance" no one who has not beheld them can form any adequate idea. Cook, in the account of his voyages, pronounces the Marquesans as by far the most splendid islanders in the South Seas. Stewart. the chaplain of the U.S. ship Vincennes, in his "Scenes in the South Seas', expresses in more than one place, his amazement at the surpassing loveliness of the women; and says that many of the Nukuheva damsels reminded him forcibly of the most celebrated beauties in his own land.'
Unlike the inhabitants of many other parts of the world, Polynesians did not spend their days struggling to obtain the bare necessities of life in a hostile environment. They excelled at arts and crafts. Everything they made was decorated' canoes, bowls, war clubs and tools. Even their bodies were punctured with elaborate designs. Tattooing was a natural part of their life and art; they had the time, the temperament, and the skill to pursue it and bring it to a high degree of perfection.

European seafarers who visited the Pacific during the 18th and 19th centuries recognized the fact that the inhabitants of the islands must have had a common origin. They spoke related languages, were of similar appearance, and shared many cultural traits. But where did they come from, and how did they navigate the thousands of miles of uncharted ocean between the islands? For over two hundred years, academics and popular wriiers concocted a bewildering variety of theories to answer these questions. Only within the last three decades has the accumulated evidence of discoveries in archaeology, linguistics, physical anthropology and botany made it possible to piece together an accurate picture of the migrations of the ancestors of the Polynesians, who originated in Southeast Asia and gradually populated the islands of Northern Melanesia, moving on to New Guinea about 50,000 years ago. A few of the larger islands adjacent to New Guinea were settled significantly later, approximately 11,000 years ago. By 7,000 BC, the inhabitants of these islands had developed agriculture, fishing techniques, and sophisticated watercraft capable of long ocean voyages. Within a span of only 300-400 years, these ancient voyagers, (often called Lapita peoples after a type of pottery they produced) successfully colonized the majority of the islands in Melanesia: the Solomons, Hebrides, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. By 1200 BC, a Proto-Polynesian culture was beginning to develop in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. Here, over a period of some thousand years. the Polynesian language, culture and art evolved. Not long before the time of Christ these early Polynesians embarked on an unprecedented feat of navigation, voyaging over thousands of miles to discover islands that lay far beyond the horizon. Between zoo and boo AD they sailed east, establishing settlements in Tahiti. the Marquesas, Easter Island, Hawaii, and most of the approximately too smaller habitable islands of the Pacific. About 1,000 AD, they settled in New Zealand, the largest and southernmost of the Polynesian islands.

As they made their way across the Pacific, they left a record of their travels in the form of pottery and other artifacts. The pottery, which was characterized by fine craftsmanship and a refined sense of proportion, was produced from about 1500 BC to the time of Christ, and has been discovered at many archaeological sites throughout Melanesia to Tonga and Samoa. This pottery provides evidence of the existence of the widespread Lapita culture, ancestor to the later Polynesian cultures.

Capita pottery is of special interest for the history of tattooing because it provides us with the oldest evidence as to the nature of the ancient Polynesian tattoo designs. Much Capita pottery bore incised decorations consisting of V-shaped elements, interlocking geometrical patterns, and stylized motifs resembling masks and sea creatures. Similar motifs are found in tattoo designs throughout Polynesia, and even the technique of incising the designs as a series of closely spaced punctures or stipples suggests that the technique used in the decoration of pottery was similar to that used in tattooing).

Figurines decorated with similar designs have been found together with tattooing instruments at many Capita archaeological sites. The instruments, some of which are over 3,000 years old, consist of flat, chisel-shaped pieces of bone measuring two to four centimeters in length and filed sharp at one end to form a comb-like series of pointed teeth. Such an instrument was attached to the end of a long wooden handle. The artist dipped the instrument in a black pigment made of soot and water and executed the tattoo by striking the instrument with a small mallet. This technique, which is not found in any other part of the world, was common throughout the Pacific and is still used today by traditional tattoo artists in Samoa).

Although the production of Capita pottery had ceased by the time of Christ, the art of tattooing became more and more sophisticated. According to ancient legends, versions of which have been recorded in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, two female tattooists brought the art of tattooing from Fiji to Tonga and Samoa. They embarked from Fiji chanting "women alone are tattooed, but not the men," but in the course of their voyage they encountered a variety of misadventures ranging from stubbed toes to encounters with hurricanes and giant man-eating clams. By the time they arrived in Tonga, they had become confused and were chanting, "only men are tattooed, but not the wornen.

It was in Tonga and Samoa that the Polynesian tattoo developed into a highly refined art Tongan warriors were tattooed from the waist to the knees with a series of geometrical patterns, consisting of repeated triangular motifs, bands, and areas of solid black. Priests who had undergone a long period of training and who followed strictly prescribed rituals and taboos during the process executed the tattooing. For the Tongan, the tattoo carried profound social and cultura significance.

In ancient Samoa, tattooing played an important role in both religious ritual and warfare. The tattoo artist held a hereditary and highly privileged position. He customarily tattooed young men in groups of six to eight, during a ceremony attended by friends and relatives who participated in special prayers and celebrations associated with the tattooing ritual. The Samoan warrior's tattoo began at the waist and extended to just below the knee. Samoan women were tattooed as well, but female tattooing was limited to a series of delicate flower-like geometrical patterns on the hands and the lower part of the body.

About zoo AD, voyagers from Samoa and Tonga settled in the Marquesas. Here, over a period of more than a thousand years, one of the most complex Polynesian cultures evolved. Marquesan art and architecture were highly developed, and Marquesan tattoo designs, which in many cases covered the entire body, were among the most elaborate in all of Polynesia.
By 1,000 AD the Polynesian peoples had successfully colonized most of the habitable islands east of Samoa. Distinctive cultural traits evolved in each of the Polynesian island groups, and by the time of European contact the peoples of the various islands had their own unique languages, myths, arts and unique tattoo styles.


The following selection is taken from Voyages and Travels in Various Parts el the World by Georg H. von Langsdorff. London, 1513.
The most remarkable and interesting manner which the South-sea islanders have of ornamenting their naked bodies consists in punctuation, or, as they call it, tattooing. This kind of decoration, so common among many nations of the earth, merits greater attention from travelers than it has hitherto received. It is undoubtedly very striking, that nations perfectly remote from each other, who have no means of intercourse whatever, and according to what appears to us never could have had any, should yet be all agreed in this practice.

Among all the known nations of the earth, none has carried the art of tattooing to so high a degree of perfection as the inhabitants of Washington's Islands [the Marquesas]. The regular designs with which the bodies of the men of Nukubiva are punctured from head to toot supplies in some sort the absence of clothing; for, under so warm a heaven, clothing would be insupportable to them. Many people here seek as much to obtain distinction by the symmetry and regularity with which they are tattooed, as among us by the elegant manner in which they are dressed; and although no real elevation is designated by the greater superiority of these decorations, yet as only persons of rank can afford to be at the expense attendant upon any refinement in the ornament, it does become in tact a badge of distinction.
The operation of tattooing is performed by certain persons, who gain their livelihood from it entirely, and I presume that those who perform it with the greatest dexterity, and evince the greatest degree of taste in the disposition of the ornaments, are as much sought after as among us a particularly good tailor. This much, however, must be said, that the choice made is not a matter of equal indifference with them as it is with us; for if the punctured garment be spoiled in the making, the mischief is irreparable, and it must be worn with all its faults the whole life through.

While we were at the Island, a son of the chief Katanuah was to be tattooed. For this purpose, as belonging to the principal person in the island, he was put into a separate house for several weeks which was tabooed; that is to say, it was forbidden to everybody except those who were exempted from the taboo by his father, to approach the house; here he was to remain during the whole time that the operation continued. All women, even the mother, are prohibited from seeing the youth while the taboo remains in force. Both the operator and the operatee are fed with the very best food during the continuance of the operation: to the former these are days of great festivity. In the first year only the ground-work of the principal figures upon the breast, arms, back and thighs is laid; and in doing this, the first punctures must be entirely healed, and the crust must have come off before new ones are made. Every single mark takes three or four days to heal; and the first sitting, as it may be called, commonly takes three or four weeks. When once the decorations are begun, some addition is constantly made to them at intervals of from three to six months, and this is not infrequently continued for thirty or forty years before the whole tattooing is complete.

The tattooing of persons in a middling station is performed in houses erected for the purpose by the tattooers, and tabooed by authority. A tattooer, who visited us several times on hoard the ship, had three of these houses, which could each receive eight or ten persons at a time: they paid for their decorations according to the greater or less quantity of them, and to the trouble the figures required. The poor islanders, who have not a superabundance of hogs to dispose of in luxuries, but live chiefly themselves upon breadfruit, are operated upon by novices in the art, who take them at a very low price as subjects for practice, but their works are easily distinguishable, even by a stranger, from those of an experienced artist. The lowest class of all the fishermen principally, but few of whom we saw, are often not able to afford even the pay by a novice, and are therefore not tattooed at all.

The women of Nukuhiva are very little tattooed, differing in this respect from the females of South-Sea islands. The hands are punctured from the ends of the fingers to the wrist, which gives them the appearance of wearing gloves, and our glovers might well borrow from them the patterns, and introduce a new fashion among the ladies, of gloves worked a la Wsahington. The feet, which among many are tattooed, look like highly ornamented half-boots; long stripes are besides sometimes to be seen down in the arms of the women, and circles round them, which have much the same effect as the bracelets worn by many European ladies. Some have also their ears and lips tattooed. The women are not, like the men, shut up in a tabooed house while they are going through this operation: it is performed without any ceremony in their new houses or in those of their relations.

The figures with which the body is tattooed are chosen with great care, and appropriate ornaments are selected for the different parts. They consist partly of animals, partly of other that have some reference to the manners and customs of the islands; and every figure has here, as in the Friendly Islands [Tonga], its particular name. Upon an accurate examination, lines, diamonds, and other designs, are often distinguishable between rows of punctures which resemble very much the ornaments called A la Grecque. The most perfect symmetry is observed over the whole body; the head of a man is tattooed in every part; the breast is commonly ornamented with a figure resembling a shield; on the arms and thighs are stripes, sometimes broader, sometimes narrower, in such directions that these people might very well be presumed to have studied anatomy, and to be acquainted with the course and dimensions of the muscles. Upon the back is a large cross, which begins at the neck, and ends with the last vertebra. In the front of the thigh are often figures, which seem intended to represent the human face. On each side of the calf of the leg is an oval figure, which produces good effect. The whole, in short, displays much taste and discrimination. Some of the parts of the body, the eyelids, for example, are the only parts not tattooed....




The myths, magic and mysteries that determine the status of women in the Trobriand Islands, based on the findings of a 1918 ethnological study. The ideas of the native concerning kinship and descent, with their assertion of the mother's exclusive part of propagation; the position of woman within the household, and her considerable share in economic life: these imply that woman plays an influential role in the community, and that her status cannot be low or unimportant. In this section it will be necessary to consider her legal status and her position in the tribe; that is, her rank, her power, and her social independence of man.

The kinship ideas of the natives are founded on the matrilineal principle that everything descends through the mother. She is entrusted with the real guardianship of her family which remains not with herself, but with her brother. This can be generalized into the formula that, in each generation, woman continues the line and man represents it; or, in other words, that the power and functions which belong to a family are vested in the men of each generation, though they have to be transmitted by the women.


Let us examine some of the consequences of this principle. For the continuation and very existence of the family, woman, as well as man, are indispensable; therefore both sexes are regarded by the natives as being of equal value and importance. When you discuss genealogies with a native, the question of continuity of line is constantly considered in relation to the number of women alive. This was noticeable whenever a man of a sub-clan of high rank, such as the Tabalu of Omarakana, discussed the ethnographic census of its members: the fact that there were a great number of women would be emphasized with pleasure, and said to be good and important. That there were only two women of that sub-clan of high rank in Omarakana, while there were several male members, was obviously a sore point, and every Tabalu informant volunteered the statement that there were, however, more women in the younger line of Olivilevi, a village in the south of the island also ruled by the Tabalu. A man of any clan would often, in speaking of his family relations, expatiate on the number of his sisters and of their female lineage. Thus girls are quite as welcome at birth as boys, and no difference is made between them by the parents in interest, enthusiasm, or affection. It is needless to add that the idea of female infanticide would be as absurd as abhorrent to the natives.

The general rule that women hand on the privileges of the family and men exercise them, must be examined as it works. When we do so we shall be able to understand the principle better and even to qualify it somewhat. The idea of rank--that is, of an intrinsic, social superiority of certain people as their birthright--is very highly developed among the Trobriand Islanders; and a consideration of the way in which rank affects the individual will best explain the working of the general principle.

are hung in the sun after having been stained with crimson and purple dye. In the inner circle of this lagoon village (Teyava) only yam houses can be seen.
Rank is associated with definite hereditary groups of a totemic nature, which have already been designated here as sub-clans. Each sub-clan has a definite rank; it claims to be higher than some, and admits its inferiority to others. Five or six main categories of rank can, broadly speaking, be distinguished, and within these the minor grades are of but small importance. For the sake of brevity and clarity, we will chiefly concern ourselves with a comparison of the sub-clan of Tabalu, the highest of all in rank, with its inferiors.

Every village community "belongs to" or is "owned by" one such sub-clan, and the eldest male is the headman of the village. When the sub-clan is of highest rank, its oldest male is not only headman of his own village, but exercises over-rule in a whole district, and is what we have called a chief. Chieftainship and rank are, therefore, closely associated, and rank carries with it, not only social distinction, but also the right to rule. Now, one of these two attributes, but one only, social distinction, is shared by men and women alike. Every woman of the highest rank, that of Tabalu, enjoys all the personal privileges of nobility. The male members of the clan will perhaps say that man is more aristocratic, more guya'u than woman, but probably this merely expresses the general assumption of male superiority. In all concrete manifestations of rank, whether traditional or social, the two sexes are equal. In the extensive mythology referring to the origin of the various sub-clans, a woman ancestress always figures beside the man (her brother), and there are even myths in which a woman alone inaugurates a line.

Another important manifestation of rank is the complex system of taboos, and this is equally binding on man and woman. The taboos of rank include numerous prohibitions in the matter of food, certain animals especially being forbidden, and there are some other notable restrictions, such as that prohibiting the use of any water except from water-holes in the coral ridge. These taboos are enforced by supernatural sanction, and illness follows their breach, even if it be accidental. But the real force by which they are maintained is a strong conviction on the part of the taboo keeper that the forbidden food is intrinsically inferior, that it is disgusting and defiling in itself. When it is suggested to a Tabalu that he should eat of stingaree or bush pig he shows unmistakable signs of repulsion; and cases are quoted in which a man of rank has vomited, with every sign of nausea, some forbidden substance which he had taken unwittingly. A citizen of Omarakana will speak of the stingaree eaters of the lagoon villages with the same disgusted contempt as the right-minded Briton uses towards the frog-and snail-eaters of France, or the European towards the puppy - and rotten-egg-eaters of China.

Now a woman of rank fully shares in this disgust, and in the danger from breaking a taboo. If, as does occasionally happen, she marries a man of lower rank, she must have all food, all cooking utensils, dishes, and drinking vessels separate from her husband, or else he must forego all such diet as is taboo to her; the latter is the course more usually adopted.

Rank entitles its possessions to certain ornaments, which serve both as its insignia and as festive decorations. For instance, a certain kind of shell ornament, the red spondylus shell-discs, may only be worn on the forehead and on the occiput by people of the highest rank. As belts and armlets they are also permitted to those next in rank. Again, an armlet on the forearm is a mark of the first aristocracy. Varieties and distinctions in personal adornment are very numerous, but it will enough to say here that they are observed in exactly the same manner by male and female, though the ornaments are more frequently made use by the latter.
Certain house decorations, on the other hand, such as carved boards and ornaments of shell which are in pattern and material exclusive to the several higher ranks, are primarily made use of by the male representatives. But a woman of rank who marries a commoner would be fully entitled to have them on her house.

The very important and elaborate ceremonial of respect observed towards people of rank is based on the idea that a man of noble lineage must always remain on a physically higher level than his inferiors. In the presence of a noble, all people of lower rank have to bow the head or bend the body or squat on the ground, according to the degree of their inferiority. On no account must any head reach higher than that of the chief. Tall platforms are always built on to the chief's house, and on one of these he will sit so that the people may freely move below him during tribal gatherings. When a commoner passes a group of nobles seated on the ground, even at a distance, he has to call out tokay ("arise"), and the chiefs immediately scramble to their feet and remain standing while he crouches past them. One would think that so uncomfortable a ceremonial of homage would have been circumvented in some way; but this is not the case. Many times when a commoner would pass by the village grove when a chief was in conversation, he would call out tokay, and though this would happen every quarter of an hour or so, the chief had to rise while the other, bending low, walked slowly by.

Women of rank enjoy exactly the same privilege in this matter. When a noble woman is married to a commoner, her husband has to bend before her in public, and others have to be still more careful to do so. A high platform is erected for her and she sits upon it alone at tribal assemblies, while her husband moves or squats below with the rest of the crowd.

The sanctity of the chief's person is particularly localized in his head, which is surrounded by a halo of strict taboos. More especially sacred are the forehead and the occiput with the neck. Only equals in rank, the wives and a few particularly privileged persons, are allowed to touch these parts, for purposes of cleaning, shaving, ornamentation, and delousing. This sanctity of the head extends to the female members of the noble sub-clans, and if a noble woman marries a commoner, her brow, her occiput, her neck and shoulder, should not--in theory at least--be touched by the husband even during the most intimate phases of conjugal life.

Thus in myth, in the observance of taboo, and in the ceremonial of bending, the woman enjoys exactly the same privileges of rank as the man; but she never exercises the actual power associated with it. No woman is ever the head of any sub-clan, and thus she cannot be a chieftainess. What would happen should there be no male members in a given generation it cannot be said, for there are no actual cases of this on record; but the interim regency of a woman seems by no means incompatible with the ideas of the Trobriand Islanders. The privilege of polygamy is the foundation of a chief's or headman's power, and women, of course, have no such similar privilege of polyandry.

Many other social functions of rank are directly exercised by men alone, the women participating only in the social prestige. Thus ownership of canoes, for instance, is vested in the headman--though all the villagers enjoy definite rights in them--but his kinswomen only have the benefit of the renown (butura), that is, the privilege of talking in proprietary terms of the canoes and of boasting about them. Only in exceptional cases do they accompany their men-folk on over-sea expeditions. Again, all sorts of rights, privileges, and activities connected with the kula, a special system of exchange in valuables, are the prerogatives of men. The woman, whether the man's wife or sister, is only occasionally drawn personally into the matter. For the most part she but basks in reflected glory and satisfaction. In war, men have the field of action entirely to themselves, though the women witness all the preparations and preliminary ceremonies, and even take an occasional peep at the battlefield itself.

It is important to note that in this section, when comparing the parts played by the sexes, we have had quite as often to set the brother and sister side by side as the husband and wife. Within the matrilineal order, the brother and the sister are the naturally linked representatives of the male and female principle respectively in all legal and customary matters. In the myths concerning the origin of families, the brother and sister emerge together from underground, through the original hole in the earth. In family matters, the brother is the natural guardian and head of his sister's household, and of her children. In tribal usage, their respective duties and obligations are strictly regulated, and these form, as we shall see, one of the main strands in the social fabric. But in their personal relations the strictest taboo divides brother from sister--and prevents any sort of intimacy between them.

As woman is debarred from the exercise of power, land ownership and many other public privileges, it follows that she has no place at tribal gatherings and no voice in such public deliberations as are held in connection with gardening, fishing, hunting, over-sea expeditions, war, ceremonial trade, festivities and dances.


On the other hand, there are certain ceremonial and festive activities in connection with which women have a great deal both to say and to do. The most important of these in solemnity and sanctity, as well as the most imposing in display and extent, are the mortuary ceremonies. In the tending of the corpse, the parade of grief, the burial with its manifold rites and long series of ceremonial food distributions: in all these activities, which begin immediately after the death of any important tribesman and continue at intervals for months or even years afterwards, women play a large part and have their own definite duties to fulfil. Certain women, standing in a special relationship to the deceased, have to hold the corpse on their knees, and fondle it; and while the corpse is tended in the hut, another category of female relatives performs a remarkable rite of mourning outside: a number of them, some in couples facing each other and some singly, move in a slow dance, forwards and backwards across the central place, to the rhythm of the wailing dirge. As a rule, each of them carries in her hand some object worn or possessed by the deceased. Such relics play a great part in mourning and are worn by the women for a long time after their bereavement. The wrapping u of the corpse and the subsequent vigil over the grave is the duty of yet another category of the dead man's womankind.

Some functions of burial notably the gruesome custom of cutting up the corpse, are performed by men. In the long period of mourning which follows, the burden of the dramatic expression of grief falls mostly on the women; a widow always mourns longer than a widower, a mother longer than a father, a female relative longer than a male of the same degree. In the mortuary distributions of food and wealth, based on the idea that the members of the deceased's sub-clan give payment to the other relatives for their share in the mourning, women play a conspicuous role, and conduct some parts of the ceremonial distributions themselves.

In the long and complicated ceremonial of first pregnancy and in the rites of beauty magic at festivities, women are the main actors. On certain occasions, such as first pregnancy ritual and the first appearance after childbirth, as well as at big tribal dances and kayasa (competitive displays), women appear in full dress and decoration which correspond to the men's full festive attire.

An interesting incident occurs during the milamala, the annual season of dancing and feasting held after the harvest. This period is inaugurated by a ceremony, the principal aim of which is to break the taboo on drums. In this initial feast there is a distribution of food, and the men, adorned in full dancing attire, range themselves for the performance, the drummers and the signers in the centre of a ring formed by the decorated dancers. As in a normal dance, standing in the central place, the singers intone a chant, the dancers begin to move slowly and the drummers to beat time. But they are not allowed to proceed; almost at the first throb of the drums, there breaks forth from inside the huts the wailing of those women who are still in mourning; from behind the inner row of houses, a crowd of shrieking, agitated female figures rush out and attack the dancers, beat them with sticks, and throw coconuts, stones, and pieces of wood at them. The men are not bound by custom to display too considerable courage and in a trice the drummers, who had so solemnly initiated the performance, have entirely disappeared; and the village lies empty, for the women pursue the fugitives. But the taboo is broken and, on the afternoon of the same day, the first undisturbed dance of the festivities is held.

In full dress dancing it is mainly the men who display their beauty and skill. In some dances, such as those performed in a quick tempo with carved dancing boards or with bunches of streamers men alone may participate. Only in one traditional type of dance for which men put on the fibre petticoats of the female are women not debarred by custom from participations. There are many long, continuous periods of amusements in the Trobriands besides the dancing season, and in these women can take a more active share. The nature of the amusement is fixed in advance, and has to remain the same during the whole period. There are different kinds of kayasa, as these entertainments are called. There is a kayasa in which, evening and after evening, groups of women, festively adorned, sit on mats and sing; in another, men and women, wearing wreaths and garlands of flowers, exchange such ornaments with each other. Sometimes the members of a community prepare small toy sailing canoes and hold a miniature regatta daily on shallow water.

In all the public festivals and entertainments, whether women take an active part or not, they are never excluded from looking on or freely mixing with the men; and this they do on terms of perfect equality, exchanging banter and jokes with them and engaging in easy conversation.


One aspect of public life is very important to the Trobriand Islander and stands apart as something peculiar and specific. The native sets on one side a certain category of facts, one type of human behaviour, and designates these by the word megwa, which may be quite adequately translated as "magic". Magic is very intimately associated with economic life and indeed with every vital concern; it is also an instrument of power and an index of the importance of those who practise it. The position of women in magic therefore deserves very special consideration.

Magic constitutes a particular aspect of reality. In all important activities and enterprises in which man has not the issue firmly and safely in hand, magic is themed indispensable. Thus appeal is made to it in gardening and fishing, in building a large canoe, and in diving for valuable shell, in the regulation of wind and weather, in war, in matters of love and personal attention, in securing safety at sea and the success of any great enterprise; and, last but not least, in health and for the infliction of ailments upon an enemy. Success and safety in all these matters is largely and sometimes entirely dependent upon magic, and can be controlled by its proper application. Fortune or failure, death or plenty, health or disease are felt and believed to be mainly due to the right magic rightly applied to the right circumstances.
Magic consists of spells and rites performed by a man who is entitled by the fulfilment of several conditions to perform them. Magical power resides primarily in the words of the formula, and the function of the rite, which is as a rule very simple, is mainly to convey the magician's breath charged with the power of the words, to the object or person to be affected. All magical spells are believed to have descended unchanged from time immemorial, from the beginning of things.

This last point has its sociological corollary; several systems of magic are hereditary, each in a special sub-clan, and such a system has been possessed by that sub-clan since the time that it came out from the underground. It can only be performed by a member, and is, of course, one of the valued attributes and possessions of the sub-clan itself. It is handed on in the female line, though usually, as with other forms of power of possession, it is exercised by men alone. But in a few cases such hereditary magic can also be practised by women.

The power given by magic to its performer is not due merely to the effects of its specific influence. In the most important type of magic, the rites are intimately interwoven with the activities which they accompany and are not merely superimposed upon them. Thus in garden magic, the officiator plays an economically and socially important role and is the organiser and director of the work. It is the same in the building of a canoe and its magic, and in the rite associated with the conduct of an over-sea expedition: the man who technically directs and is a leader of the enterprise has also the duty or privilege of performing the magic.
The long and complex series of spells which accompany the building of a seagoing canoe can never be made by a woman, and, as no woman ever goes on a ceremonial overseas expedition, the magic of safely and kula which then has to be performed can only be done by a man.

Again there are some important types of magic which are obviously adapted to female hands and lips, for they are attached to activities or functions which by their nature or by social convention exclude the presence of men. Such is the magic associated with the ceremony of first pregnancy; the magic of the expert which gives skill in the manufacture of fibre petticoats; and the magic of abortion.

There are, however, mixed spheres of activity and influence, such as gardening or love-making, the control of the weather or human health, where at first glance there appears to be no association with one sex rather than the other. Yet garden magic is invariably a man's concern and women never perform the important public rites, most scrupulously observed and highly valued by the natives, which are carried out by the village magician over the gardens of the whole community. Even those phases of gardening, such as weeding, which are undertaken exclusively by women, have to be inaugurated by the male garden magician in an official ceremony. Wind, sunshine, and rain are also controlled entirely by male hands and mouths.

In certain mixed activities a man or a woman can equally well perform the required magic, and some minor rites of private garden magic, used by each individual for his or her own benefit, can be carried out indiscriminately by men or women. There is the magic of love and beauty of which the spells are recited by anyone who suffers from unrequited love or needs to enhance his or her personal charm.

The most definite allocation of magical powers to one or other of the sexes is to be found in the dark and dreaded of sorcery: those forces which most profoundly affect human hope and happiness. The magic of illness and health, which can poison life or restore its natural sweetness, and which holds death as it were for its last card, can be made by men and women alike; but its character changes entirely with the sex of the practitioner. Man and woman have each their own sorcery carried on by means of different rites and formula, acting in a different manner on the victim's body and surrounded by an altogether different atmosphere of belief. Male sorcery is much more concrete, and its methods can be stated clearly, almost as a rational system. The sorcerer's supernatural equipment is restricted to its power of vanishing at will, of emitting a shining glow from his person, and of having accomplices among the nocturnal birds. Extremely poor means of supernatural action if we compare them with the achievement of a witch.

A witch - and be it remembered that she is always a real woman and not a spiritual or non-human being - goes out on her nightly errand in the form of an invisible double; she can fly through the air and appears as a falling star; she assumed at will the shape of a fire-fly, of a night bird or of a flying fox; she can hear and smell at enormous distances and she feeds on corpses.

The disease which witches cause is almost incurable and extremely rapid in its action and killing, as a rule, immediately. It is inflicted by the removal of the victim's inside, which the woman presently consumes. The wizard, on the other hand, never partakes of his victim's flesh, his power is much less effective, he must proceed slowly, and the best he can hope for is to inflict a lingering disease, which may, with good luck, kill after months or years of steady labour. Even then another sorcerer can be hired to counteract his work and restore the patient. But there is little chance of combating a witch, even with the help of another witch.

A witch, when she is not old, is no less desirable sexually than other women. Indeed, she is surrounded by a halo of glory due to her personal power and usually she has also that strong individuality which seems to accompany the reputation for witchcraft. But the profession of which, unlike that of sorcerer, is not exercised openly ; a witch may receive payment for healing, but she never undertakes to kill for a feed and for this she differs from the sorcerer. Witchcraft is inherited from mother to daughter and an early initiation has to take place.

There are a number of minor ailments, among them toothache, certain tumours and swelling of the testicles which women can inflict on man by means of magic. Toothache is exclusively a female specialty, and one woman would be called in to cure it when some other has caused it. There are also some form of hereditary magic which can be carried on only by male members of sub-clan, or, exceptionally by the son of such a member.
Thus we can see that the strong tribal position of women is also buttressed by their right to exercise magic - that toughest and least destructible substance of belief.




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