Asian Ancestry of Pacific Islanders

Where Pacific Islanders came from has long been debated by scholars and scientists. Many of them believed that the first Polynesian settlers arrived from Southeast Asia. Some scientists also speculated that today’s Pacific Islanders were an offshoot of Australo-Papuan populations of Australia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, who arrived in the region 40,000-50,000 years ago.

In the 1940s a Norwegian adventure and ethnographer named, Thor Heyerdahl, believed that people of Polynesia had ancestral ties to the ancient Peruvians. This theory went against all prevailing scientific thought at the time,  which held that the islands were populated by people from South Asia.

To prove his theory, Heyerdahl enlisted five friends to join him on an amazing journey. He built Kon-Tiki, a roughly 40-foot log raft out of balsa wood, similar to those used in ancient times. On April 28, 1947, Heyerdahl and his crew departed Callao, Peru. They spent 101 days at sea, eventually crashing into an atoll and then taking shelter on a small island in the South Sea. Although he had proved that an ancient voyage from South America to Polynesia was possible, he could not prove that it had actually occurred.

Nevertheless, a new study this month (published in Nature) revealed that ancient DNA could upend the understanding of the seafaring people who traveled vast distances to make their home in the Pacific. Vanuatu and Tonga’s first inhabitants may have come from Asia and not from neighboring Papuan populations in New Guinea, Australia and the Solomon Islands as previously imagined.

The team analyzed DNA from three skeletons found in a cemetery in Vanuatu and one sample from a Tongan cemetery — all around 3,000 years old. The results indicate the first people of Vanuatu may have come from Taiwan and perhaps the northern Philippines, moving on, a short time later to Tonga. Matthew Spriggs, a professor at the Australian National University and one of the researchers involved in the study said, “Their original base population is Asian. They were straight out of Taiwan and perhaps the northern Philippines.”They traveled past places where people were already living, but when they got to Vanuatu there was nobody there. These are the first people.”


A skull placed in a Lapita vessel from the burial site near Port Vila, Vanuatu

Spriggs said another DNA sample from a Lapita skeleton in Tonga returned similar results.He added that it now appeared the Asiatic Lapita first colonized the South Pacific, then intermingled with a second wave of Australo-Papuan settlers to create the region’s modern genetic mix.

Professor Ron Pinhasi from University College Dublin said that the study was made possible by improved methods of extracting material from skeletal remains.”The unexpected results about Oceanian history highlight the power of ancient DNA to overthrow established models of the human past,” he said. In fact, sourcing ancient DNA in tropical areas where remains quickly deteriorate is one challenge that has held back study in this area. Stuart Bedford, professor at the College of Asia-Pacific at the Australian National University and report co-author said, “This is the first time we’ve been able to extract such early DNA in the Pacific.”

To make the analysis, the researchers used a sample from the petrous bone — a bone in the skull near the ear — that they’ve found to be best at preserving DNA that’s many thousands of years old. “If you’re going to get  DNA from an ancient population, you’ve got to go for this bone,” Bedford said.

Ultimately, the DNA tells a more detailed story than the cultural traces the Lapita people left behind. In Bedford’s view, the report reinforces the cultural mix that’s already known and celebrated in the Pacific. “In many ways, it’s the European divisions of the Pacific — Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia — [it’s] those old colonial style boundaries that are being challenged,” he said.



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World Day for Audiovisual Heritage 2016

Mark your calendar- October 27, 2016 is World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. The theme for this year is: “It’s Your Story – Don’t Lose It”

Many sound recordings, moving images and other audiovisual material are lost because of neglect, natural decay and technological obsolescence. Organizations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) felt that more audiovisual documents would be lost if stronger and concerted international action was not taken. A proposal to commemorate a World Day for Audiovisual Heritage was approved at a UNESCO general conference in 2005. The first World Day for Audiovisual Heritage was held on October 27, 2007.

The World Day for Audiovisual Heritage aims to raise general awareness of the need for urgent measures to be taken. It also focuses on acknowledging the importance of audiovisual documents as an integral part of national identity. Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova,says:

“We have 10 to 15 years left to transfer available audiovisual recordings to digital media and prevent their loss. We need to join forces to change the situation – for it is of the utmost importance that this recent history be understood and shared not only for issues of identity and affiliation but also for a clearer grasp of relationships and challenges in contemporary societies.”


Reel to reel and VHS tapes of the media archives- Multimedia Unit, Center for Flexible Learning, University of South Pacific

UNESCO works with organizations, governments and communities to promote the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage each year. Activities and events include:

  • Competitions, such as a logo contest, to promote the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage.
  • Local programs organized as a joint effort between national film archives, audiovisual societies, television or radio stations, and governments.
  • Panel discussions, conferences, and public talks on the importance of preserving important audiovisual documents.
  • Special film screenings.

Countries previously involved in observing the day included (but were not exclusive to) Canada, Denmark, Thailand, and the United States.

For more information check out the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives Website.

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Historic Map Of Vanuatu Finds Home In National Archive

Last month there was an interesting article from the Vanuatu Daily Post that slipped past my noticed and which I must immediately share. The article was about a 113 year old map that was given a permanent home at the National Archives of Vanuatu.

The map shows the Havannah Harbour area and is part of a series produced in 1939 for the French state company, Societe Francaise Nouvelle Hebrides (SFNH), which was at the time trying to validate all of its historical land claims. There are 31 maps which cover Efate. Efate and Aore Islands were the only maps completed by SFNH as funding ran out during WW1.

This map was for many years part of the archives collected by the late Professor Darrell Tryon of the Australian National University (ANU) who was a wonderful friend of Vanuatu, committing much of his academic career to the study of the country’s languages (which he started in the late 1960s), and was a key mentor for the Vanuatu Cultural Center fieldworkers whose annual conference he was involved in running for 30 years!


Map of Efate Island

The map was found among Tryon’s archives by another ANU academic and Vanuatu researcher Dr Chris Ballard who immediately recognized its importance. He has been researching these very maps and has visited archives in France and New Caledonia to see if other copies exist but it seems that the only copies of these maps that have survived are those held by the National Archives of Vanuatu.

Rather than send such a valuable item by post, Ballard handed the map to another academic, archaeologist Dr Stuart Bedford, who was about to leave for Vanuatu. It arrived safely to be presented to Lazare Asal, Director of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, and Margaret Austrai Terry, Chief Librarian of the of the Vanuatu National Library. And it was handed over on International Archive Day.

The chief archivist, Augustine Tevimule said, “This is a missing piece of the 1913 Efate puzzle. It is wonderful that it has found its way back to Vanuatu and can be joined with maps of the same series. These maps are both unique and fragile but we have already scanned the map, along with others from the SFNH series, so that the public can access them without their becoming damaged.”

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Unique Culture Of Takuu Atoll At Risk

We often hear about how climate change and rising sea levels are threatening islands in the Pacific. Indeed, it is a real issue that needs to be given more attention. I recently came across the article below from Radio Australia about a very unique, yet isolated, Pacific atoll (One that I have never even heard of before) that may be gone in the near future…


The Takuu group of atolls, also known as the Mortlock Islands, is a place so remote that it could easily be forgotten — and for centuries it was. The tranquil necklace of coral islands lie some 240 kilometres northeast of Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea, a far-flung section of the Pacific Ocean that even today is rarely visited by anyone. It is home to a rich and historic culture spanning 1,000 years, but the resilient people and their idyllic island home face an increasingly dire threat from climate change.


Made up of 13 coral islands, most of the population lives on the tiny island of Nukutoa, in homes built on the water’s edge. No part of the island group protrudes higher than two metres above sea level, with most being less than one metre. Swelling tides are now regularly inundating the islands, salting the earth needed to grow food. They are a people who have been self-sufficient for centuries, but now they are increasingly reliant on food aid that arrives only sporadically.  Geologist Dr Thomas Mann, who wrote his PhD on the geology of coral islands including Takuu Atoll, said, “The atoll itself appears to be tectonically stable or very slightly rising. What that means is that the local sea levels around the atoll would be sinking — but of course there is the climate related sea level rise which is pretty strong in this part of the Pacific.”

Slowly submerged by swelling tides, years of uncertainty surrounding the atoll’s future has led to a gradual decline in population — only about 300 people remain at Takuu Atoll. Dr Richard Moyle of the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre has spent years documenting and compiling their language and music.”There’s only about half as many people there as there were when I was there last, about six years ago” Dr Moyle said.

Unique culture:

This pattern of emigration could be the prelude to an even greater tragedy: Takuu’s unique culture could be washed away with the islands. The people of Takuu are Polynesian — unique among their Melanesian neighbours — and their culture has remained intact for centuries despite the precarious nature of life on a secluded atoll.

One of the few Pacific peoples to have resisted Christianity, many Takuu people are still fervent adherents to their own traditional religion with a host of deities and deceased relatives regularly worshipped by tribal elders. They are also prolific musicians.”In the period I was there, in their active repertoire they had more than 1000 songs,” Dr Moyle said.”It connects them with the past in the form of ancestors.”


The Takuu Atoll

The island’s future is in doubt:

Despite the mounting challenges the atolls face, Mr Arehu, who is a Takuu Atoll expatriate now living in Port Moresby, remains optimistic his people can retain their culture.”We are maintaining that link with our culture, teaching dances and talking to our kids. We will keep it at heart and we are proud of that part of our culture,” he said. But the intruding waters and lack of resources may mean some change is inevitable. Arehu adds, “I think there will come a time when we will have to move the island. For any reason, for global warming, we will have to move the island, the people will need to make a decision in time.”

If climate change is to blame for the rising seas at Takuu Atoll, the people there are among the first climate refugees in the world — a tragedy exacerbated by the sad fact that they have made no contribution to global emissions. That goes for all the other people out on the other atoll’s too. Finally, Dr. Moyle adds, “they may survive, but without help their culture may not. But I can’t see a viable long-term future for the island.”



Although I have extracted and paraphrased from the Radio Australia article, I encourage you to look at the written piece in its entirety by clicking here. There are also some very vivid photographs connected to the article.

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Culture Support in the Solomon Islands

The Solomon Star in the Solomon Islands has reported that the Culture and Tourism Minister, Bartholomew Parapolo (who has been the guest of honor at the  Kodili Festival in Buala, Santa Isabel Island, this week) has announced that the Democratic Coalition for Change Government (DCCG) will continue to support the development and promotion of cultural festivals as a tourism attraction. Minister Parapolo said, “My ministry will continue to support cultural festivals that encourages rural participation, promotes tourism, encourages the preservation of our cultures and promotes nation-building.”


Construction of cultural village, Honiara, Solomon Islands

The minister believes that culture is very important to develop the tourism sector, and that in turn it will help bring about tangible development and business opportunities for the rural people. “From visitors survey conducted in the past by Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau (SIVB), culture and cultural experiences were highlighted as the number of reasons why people decided to visit our country. This shows that our cultures are very important strengths for the development of tourism sector,” he added.

Minister Parapolo also feels that their culture is very important not only in forgoing a sense of belonging and feeling of unity, but it has economic values when expressed through art, performance, artifacts and through sharing with different people. He uses the current the Kodili festival as an example where he believes that the festival will attract tourists to Isabel Island if it is promoted strongly in the future. He states, “Tourism therefore opens up new opportunities for our cultures to become tourism products and attractions.”

The Minister concluded his speech by telling the audience that the DCCG was happy with the initiative and would like to congratulate the provincial government and the people of Isabel for what they have done to put on such a wonderful festival.


Canoe, Solomon Islands

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Pacific Languages and Culture Threatened

I came across an interesting article from the Samoa Observer the other day that I would like to share. Dr. Cresantia Frances Koya Vaka’uta, Associate Dean Research and Internationalization from the University of the South Pacific Suva Fiji, told the Pacific Islands University Research Network (P.I.U.R.N) conference at the National University of Samoa (N.U.S) that Pacific languages are threatened and cultures are being raided and even stolen by foreign interests.“At least 50% of the world’s languages are at risk and about 90% of the languages may be replaced by dominant languages by the end of the 21st Century,” she said.

She adds that internal forces including a community’s negative attitude towards its own language. Dr. Vaka’uta uses New Zealand as an example explaining that the state of pacific languages in this country matters because of the large numbers of Pacific people residing there. She states, “The 2006 NZ census showed an estimated 91% of all Niueans live in NZ, as do, 73% of all Cook Islanders, 44% of Tongans and 74% of Samoans.”

Her findings led to the call for Pacific Languages Week, now an established annual event, and the Pacific Languages Commission in NZ. “In 2006 alone, the NZ government devoted about NZ$600,000 [US$437,958] to the preservation of Pacific Island Languages,” Dr. Vaka’uta said. Despite these efforts, she said that the 2013 Census data on Pasifika communities showed all Pacific languages spoken by NZ born populations continued to decline.

Dr. Vaka’uta explained that Pacific Universities should prioritize cultural heritage and sustainability through knowledge and research on contextualized learning experiences in particular Pacific pedagogues. “Encourage focused research and research funding for culture, the arts and languages,” she said.“Contributing to policy and legislature particularly in the areas of national language, Cultural and Educational policies.”

“Knowledge creation and sharing to often academic research only resides in technical reports, academic papers in international journals and publications, or in University library collections.” She also adds,“A lot of that has been done is not widely accessible or presented in easy to consume, non academic or technical language. We could also engage more purpose fully with cultural communities and art practitioners.”

A language revitalization is currently underway in the Cook islands between USP and government, but Dr. Vaka’uta thinks that this has problems. One issue raised was that while NZ efforts are commendable, they focus on conversational Cook Island Maori while the national interest is in safeguarding the depth and proficiency of the full language. Other areas that could be supported through integration of courses and programs included Pacific Literatures, Pacific Art and Culture, Heritage Management, Cultural Statistics, and Heritage & Contemporary Arts.

Dr. Vaka’uta believes that investment is key and there will need to be national support to ensure continued viability of Islands linguistic and artistic offerings. She concludes, “The Pacific Future we seek is one in which we will grow a movement of Pacific Island thinkers, researchers, leaders – who are agents of change and who will continue to hold the land and our people, firmly and safely in their care.”


Village girls making mats, Solomon Islands

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ICA Congress 2016 Update

The International Council on Archives (ICA) Congress took place last week from September 5-10 in Seoul, South Korea. The international conference took place at the Coex Convention & Exhibition Center located in Samseong-dong of Gangnam-gu district and is of South Korea’s largest convention and exhibition centers. Indeed, the place is immense that boasts a four-story center with four exhibition halls and 48 meeting rooms.


The stone statue, Maitreya, Bongeunsa Temple

Most of the participants of the Congress took time from the busy schedule to visit the Bongeunsa Temple which was conveniently situated across the street from the Coex. The Bongeunsa Temple is a Buddhist temple that dates back to 794. In 1939, and again during the Korean War (1950-1953), most of the temple buildings were heavily damaged or destroyed by fire. Between 1941 and 1982, repairs and renovations have been done to try to restore it to its past glory.The highlight of the temple is a 28 meter (91 foot) stone statue of Maitreya, the Future Buddha. This statue is one of the tallest stone statues in the country. The oldest remaining building is a library that was constructed in 1856. The library contains Flower Garland Sutra woodblock carvings and 3,479 Buddhist scriptures including the works of Kim Jeong-hee.

I will have a full report of the Congress very soon. But, until then, I would like to share some photos with you…


The city of Seoul was ready for the conference as banners strewed the streets.


The auditorium was used for participants to have lunch. It was also used as the venue for the Gala towards the end of the conference.


Here is another auditorium where the Congress kicked-off and where the distinguished keynote speakers gave their talks during the week.


The front facade of the COEX convention center.


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