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No. 26 (March 1959)
– 21 –

ORIGIN OF THE POLYNESIANS

A very successful week end school on the origin of the Polynesians was held under the auspices of the Regional Council of Adult Education, Auckland, in Te Poho-o-Rawiri Carved Meeting House, Kaiti, Gisborne. About 100 people both Maori and Pakeha attended the two days, 27 and 28 September 1958.

The students were welcomed to the marae by three of the kaumatuas in the persons of Herora Kaa, a former Judge of the Maori Land Court and Chairman of the Trustees of the Poho-o-Rawiri Marae, Hetekia te Kani te Ua and Kahutia te Hau both highly respected citizens of the district. Representatives of the Welfare Section of the Department of Maori Affairs were also in attendance and in co-operation with the members of the Turanganui Maori Women's Welfare League looked after the arrangements regarding the school and acted as hosts and hostesses in providing sumptuous morning and afternoon teas.

The panel of lecturers consisted of Dr M. Winiata of Auckland, Dr B. Biggs, lecturer in linguistics at the Auckland University, Mr J. Golson, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the Auckland University, Mr V. Fisher, ethnologist at the Auckland Museum and Dr J. Stavely, haemologist at the Auckland Public Hospital.

The purpose of the school was to evaluate the evidence provided by modern science concerning the probable origin of the Polynesian peoples.

Dr Winiata restated the evidence from Polynesian traditions and showed that three areas have been suggested by interpreters of traditions as a home for the Polynesians—Asia, the North West Coast of Canada and Peru. Mr Percy Smith and Sir Peter Buck working through Polynesian traditions traced the Polynesian migrations back westward along the Malayan Archipelago to India. Thor Heyerdahl on the other hand interpreted Polynesian and American traditions as locating the homeland of the people in Pre-Inca Peru and on the West Coast of Canada. Dr Winiata observed in conclusion that it was possible the Pacific was peopled from both the West and the East at different periods in history.

Dr Biggs suggested that the regular existence of sound-meaning correspondences between languages would justify belief in a genetic relationship between those languages. However, one cannot be absolutely certain on these grounds that the speakers of the languages concerned were necessarily racially connected. He cited White and Negro Americans speaking a common form of English as examples. Dr Biggs traced definite links between the Polynesian languages and showed the genetic links with those of South East Asia, while no evidence was present so far for links with the languages of the Americans.

Mr Golson dealt at length with Thor Heyerdahl's theory of American origins. Heyerdahl showed a methodological weakness in assembling his material, in that he selected cultural aspects that backed his own scheme. Mr Golson suggested that any truly scientific work must consider all the evidence. He then proceeded in a positive way to demonstrate from the types of adzes and fish hooks found in the Pacific a probable link with sources in Siberia. The conclusion was the existence of a central dispersal point in that area and movements of people over thousands of years both Westward to the South through Asia, and Eastwards to the South across the Behring Straits to the Americas. The Polynesians were the evident product of migrations from the West.

Mr V. Fisher dealt with a material culture and plant life. He stressed the difficulties of migrations from the East because of vast distances. He pointed out close similarities between the material artifacts of the Polynesian peoples and suggested migrations from the West. Speaking about the kumara, Mr Fisher stated that botanists are definite that this staple Polynesian food plant originated from South America. He thought that the kumara was fetched by Polynesian navigators from America and dispersed in the Pacific area.

Dr Stavely, dealing with the distribution of blood groups in the Pacific area, stressed the value of the work done in this field in the last year or two. His own researches among the Tuhoe people, when combined with the findings from other world regions showed a definite link between the Polynesians and the tribes of the North West Coast of Canada. He suggested, following the Siberian source proposed earlier by Mr Golson, a direct entry of migrations into the Pacific from that area.

Mr S. R. Morison, Director of Adult Education, was a very competent chairman of the school.