The Native Peoples of the Pacific

From ancient times the Great Islands close to Southeast Asia have drawn forth its people and converted them into seafarers. As these people developed skill and daring they struck out eastward across the seas, eventually reaching the most remote islands in the vast Pacific. The farther east they pushed, the smaller and more widely scattered were the islands they found. Nevertheless, the islands formed a loose chain serving as steppingstones from Asia.


On the eastern side of the Pacific, no islands in profusion stood off the coasts of the Americas. The American shores were more sparsely populated and from more recent times. Except for the Galapagos Archipelago and a few isolated islands several hundred miles off the Americas, uninhabited and with no traces of the near-by American Indians or the distant Polynesians, the Pacific ocean stretched westward wide and empty for several thousand miles.

The islands of Indonesia close to Asia were inhabited from very early times, probably before man appeared in America. But the islands of Polynesia, in the middle of the Pacific, were the last favorable lands to be occupied by man.

The people who first entered the Pacific and the earlier of the succeeding waves of settlers differed considerably from each other in physical type, language, and culture. We know that even precursors of modern man, that is the Java ape-man, Pithecanthropus, and the more evolved Solo man, roamed Java many thousands of years ago. In their time land bridges existed between Indonesia and Asia.

The first varieties of men like ourselves were probably the ancestors of the small, heavy-browed, dark, but wavy-haired Australian aborigines. In Indonesia they have been practically obliterated, but archeologically they are represented by two skulls found at Wadjack in Java. Clear traces of their blood appear here and there in Melanesia, notably in the south part of New Ireland, in northern New Hebrides, and in New Caledonia. It is doubtful, however, that they reached the eastern Melanesia islands until they had become mixed with later comers of higher culture.

Dark, woolly-haired, round-headed, pygmy Negroids, whom we call Negritos, were also very early in the western Pacific, judging from their distribution. They are to be found all through the mountainous interior of New Guinea, of the larger islands of the Philippines, and of the Malay Peninsula. They also live in the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. The Negritos may have preceded the Australoids, but if so it is doubtful that they went as far as Australia. It has been suggested that these people came into the islands during the last ice age, about 25,000 years ago, when the sea was lower and some land bridges existed.

The Oceanic Negro, taller and more advanced culturally than the Negrito, has been in New Guinea and adjacent islands for a very long time, long enough to evolve numerous local languages quite unrelated to one another. His presence is quite a mystery, for no trace of him seems to exist in western Indonesia. Is he, by any chance, an Australoid-Negrito hybrid? By mixture with the Australoids the Negrito could have gained a larger stature, and by mating with the Negritos the Australoids could have taken on the frizzly hair of the Oceanic Negro, sometimes called the Papuan.

Another theory, however, explains the Negrito as being an Oceanic Negro, dwarfed as a result of generations of living in the mountains and jungles as a refugee. But if we accept this explanation, to which some physical anthropologists find objection, we are left without one for the presence of the Oceanic Negro.

A recognizable physical type appearing in the swamplands of Sumatra, in parts of Borneo and the Celebes, and as far east as Ceram is the Veddoid, only a little taller than the Negrito but lighter in skin color and having wavy hair. People like them live in the interior of Ceylon (The Veddas), in India (Dravidian tribes), and in the Malay Peninsula (the Sakai). All of them are primitive people who have been pushed away from favorable lands. They come the nearest to being living representatives of the Australoids in the Indies. Their frailness has been attributed to mixture of Australoid with the less coarsely molded people who came into the area. It is difficult to place them racially or in point of time. They represent an archaic stock, however.

Two varieties of Oceanic Negro are discernible: a woollyhaired, long-headed, more Australoid, homely individual called the Papuan, and a frizzly-haired, less long-headed, more Indonesian type called the Melanesian. The Melanesians crowd the islands to the north, east, and southeast of New Guinea and are well established along the north, east, and southeast coasts of this great island. The Papuans occupy in largest numbers the coast of New Guinea not taken by the Melanesians and the interior of this and many of the other islands. The Papuan type is also dominant in New Caledonia and quite strong in some of the islands of the New Hebrides. The term Melanesian is applied by some to both types of Oceanic Negro.

The Indies and the Philippines together are today populated by nearly a hundred million small, brown-skinned, black-haired Mongoloids, with a few remnants or traces of their predecessors, the Negritos and Australoids. These predominant people, called Indonesians, speak languages belonging to the same family. Like the Oceanic Negro they fall into two types; one is darker, less Asiatic than the other, and, from its distribution in less favorable areas, clearly the earlier. This earlier type has been designated the Proto-Malay (Fig. 16A), and the later type the Malay or Deutero-Malay. Caucasoid features such as wavy hair, high nose bridges, and wide-open eyes run through the Proto-Malay element and even the Malay. The Proto-Malays began filtering into the Philippines and the Indies 8000 to 10,000 years ago. They eventually spread over the entire area, exterminating or driving into less desirable lands the Australoids and Negritos who were probably living in small scattered groups. These Indonesians carried with them and firmly established languages that belong to the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages. The degree to which they exhibited Caucasoid physical traits must have varied, and they certainly intermarried with some of the previous inhabitants. Out of this varied and mixed group, some people of extra large size, from some place, perhaps the Celebes or Borneo, moved to the western fringe of Polynesia and became the ancestors of the Polynesian people.

On the heels of the Proto-Malays came the lighter-framed, lighter- or yellower-skinned Malays, with straighter hair, many of them with the Mongolian eye fold. They came in increasing numbers, in time overrunning the earlier population, especially in the west and along the coasts. Mixing with the previous inhabitants, they formed the people we call the Malays. They have also been called Deutero-Malays. No sharp lines can be drawn between the Proto-Malay and the Malay people now, and the degree of intermixture is most haphazard.

The Malays and some of the Proto-Malays before them possessed large double-outrigger, ocean-going sailing canoes. In the early part of our Christian era these craft were crisscrossing the seas of Indonesia, carrying on trade as far as China, Indo-China, and India.

From Indonesia, whether by expulsion, driven by storm lured by prospects of trade, or spurred by the spirit of adventure, the brown people moved constantly into the islands farther east. Melanesia they found already well occupied. In settling there they became in time more or less absorbed by the earlier population. But they profoundly affected the people they met, creating through intermarriage the typical Melanesian: frizzly-haired, often lighter of skin, finer featured than the Papuan. They deeply influenced, also, the languages of those they met, altering many until they became, superficially at least, Malayo-Polynesian languages.

Most of the tiny islands of the far-flung Micronesian archipelago may have been inhabited when the first of the brown-skinned Indonesians came ashore, but some of the islands may have had settlers of Oceanic Negroes. Micronesia, at the door of Indonesia, would certainly have been settled before the distant islands of Polynesia. The first settlers, finding the islands uninhabited, would have been able to establish themselves, their language and culture, without opposition. From then on, canoe loads of people reaching islands from Indonesia, Melanesia, and, later, Polynesia, especially if they came frequently, would have been able to modify the physical types and culture and, to a less degree, the language. But the original physical types, language, and culture could be expected to exert the dominating influence. Today the Micronesians appear to be predominately Proto-Malay, with outcroppings of Negroid blood in the form of dark skin and frizzly hair. In the west of Micronesia there are more people who look like the Indonesians of the Philippines, and in the eastern part of Micronesia more people who resemble Polynesians.

Sometime after the peopling of Micronesia, Polynesia was reached by the people who became the Polynesian race. Just where did they originate, by what routes did they come, and when? How often these questions have been put, and how varied the answers. This we know. The dispersal of Polynesians within Polynesia has been so recent that they still have little difficulty in understanding one another's tongue. Their languages belong to the Malayo-Polynesian family, now sometimes called the Austronesian, which spread from Indonesia westward as far as Madagascar off the east coast of Africa and eastward as far as Easter Island, 2000 miles from South America. All the Polynesian domesticated animals--the pig, fowl, and dog--and all except one of their important domesticated plants are of Indonesian origin. But the Polynesians exceed in stature and bodily frame the people to the west of them; and those in the most easterly of the Polynesian islands, beyond the reach of later comers from the west, lack in their blood the B and AB blood groupings, are a little longer-headed, and seem more Caucasoid than their western brothers.

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