It may be thought that in moving towards South America the first Polynesians met with settlers from South America and that mixture with them would account for the make-up of the Polynesians. The fact that botanists are agreed that the sweet potato, which was being grown throughout eastern Polynesia at the time of its discovery by Europeans, is of South American origin gives a valid basis for such speculation. The lack of B and AB blood groupings among many Indian tribes might seem to be further evidence. However, the Australian aborigines also lack the same blood groupings, indicating that this absence may have been original in the islands to the west.
Then, too, no unmistakable evidence of people existing in Polynesia prior to the Polynesians has been produced. If some of the islands had been previously occupied by Melanesians or Indians from America, their former presence would have been revealed by recent research in Polynesia. The most that can be said of the influence of South American people and culture on Polynesia is that it must have been post-Polynesian and, except for the introduction of the sweet potato, slight.
The fundamental cultural relationships between the island groups of Polynesia is brought out by a comparison of their vocabularies. These reflect the total culture of each group and indicate that Polynesia can be divided into two subcultural areas. One includes Samoa, Tonga, and adjacent islands and may be called West Polynesia; the other includes French Oceania, Easter Island, Hawaii, and New Zealand, and may be called, for convenience, East Polynesia. West Polynesia is believed to have been settled first and for a rather long time before there was an expansion to East Polynesia. Tahiti and the other islands of the Society Group were the cradle of East Polynesian culture. The Marquesas were settled before New Zealand, New Zealand before Hawaii, and both Easter Island and Mangareva were settled from the Marquesas. After the first dispersals from Tahiti, contacts took place between island groups, but the fundamental relationships at the time of first settlement have probably not been altered. The Hawaiian people, culture, and language are still more like Tahitian than are the Maori, because the first Hawaiian settlers left the Tahitian homeland later than the first Maori settlers.
Judging from genealogies going back to the time of early settlements and from the amount of change in the dialects since settlement, the great dispersal in East Polynesia would seem to have begun not later than A.D. 900 and to have ended not later than about A.D. 1250. For East Polynesia to develop the characteristics held in common that differentiate it from the rest of Polynesia, the stay in the Tahitian homeland before scattering may well have been 500 years. Likewise, the pause of the Polynesians in West Polynesia is likely to have been even longer. There, evidently, the Polynesians and their culture assumed the characteristics that distinguish them from all others. If the Polynesians as we are accustomed to think of them, and their culture, had existed farther west (excepting the Polynesian outliers settled from Polynesia proper), then we should be finding some definite traces of them. All we find are prototypes.
It is admitted that the Polynesians are a mixed race, but the mixture is rather uniform except for some east and west differences that can be explained on the basis that those who remained in West Polynesia were modified by some later additions, or simply diverged in isolation.
All native types now in the Pacific are certain to survive for centuries to come, but mixture among these people themselves and with the Whites and Asiatics who have come into the region is proceeding at a rapid pace and will continue. Eventually most of the people in Oceania and Indonesia will be a blend of the white and the black or brown races.