AskDefine | Define Polynesian

Dictionary Definition

Polynesian n : a native or inhabitant of Polynesia

User Contributed Dictionary



From etyl grc sc=polytonic + sc=polytonic



  1. Of, from, or pertaining to Polynesia.



  1. A person from Polynesia.
  2. A language group spoken by these people.


person from Polynesia
language group of Polynesia

Extensive Definition

Polynesia (from Greek: πολλα many, νησια islands) is a subregion of Oceania, comprising a large grouping of over 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean.


Polynesia is generally defined as the islands within the Polynesian triangle. The term "Polynesia", meaning many islands, was first used by Charles de Brosses in 1756, and originally applied to all the islands of the Pacific. Jules Dumont d'Urville in an 1831 lecture to the Geographical Society of Paris proposed a restriction on its use.
Geographically, and oversimply, Polynesia may be described as a triangle with its corners at Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island. The other main island groups located within the Polynesian triangle are Samoa, Tonga, the various island chains that form the Cook Islands and French Polynesia. Niue is a rare solitary island state near the centre of Polynesia.
Polynesian island groups outside of this great triangle include Tuvalu and the French territory of Wallis and Futuna. Rotuma in the northern Fijian islands and some of the Lau group to Fiji's southeast have strong Polynesian character too. There are also small outlier Polynesian enclaves in Papua New Guinea, the Solomons, The Caroline Islands, and in Vanuatu. However, in essence, it is an anthropological term referring to one of the three parts of Oceania (the others being Micronesia and Melanesia) whose pre-colonial population generally belongs to one ethno-cultural family as a result of centuries of maritime migrations.


The Polynesian people are by ancestry a subset of the sea-migrating Austronesian people and the tracing of Polynesian languages places their prehistoric origins in the Malay archipelago. The spread of pottery and domesticates in Polynesia is connected with the Lapita-culture that, around 1600–1200 BC, started expanding from New Guinea as far east as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. During this time the aspects of the Polynesian culture developed. Around 300 BC this new Polynesian people spread from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to the Cook Islands, Tahiti, the Tuamotus and the Marquesas Islands. This was supported by Patrick Kirch and Marshall Weisler when they performed X-ray fluorescence sourcing of basalt artifacts found on both islands.
Between 300 and 500 AD, the Polynesians discovered and settled Rapa Nui (Easter Island). This is supported by archaeological evidence as well as the introduction of flora and fauna consistent with the Polynesian culture and characteristic of the tropics to this subtropical island. Around AD 500 Hawai'i was settled by the Polynesians and around AD 1000 Aotearoa (New Zealand) was settled as well. The migration of the Polynesians is impressive considering that the islands settled by them are spread out over great distances—the Pacific Ocean covers nearly a half of the Earth's surface area. Most contemporary cultures, by comparison, never voyaged beyond sight of land.

Cultures of Polynesia

Polynesia divides into two distinct cultural groups, East Polynesia and West Polynesia. The culture of West Polynesia is conditioned to high populations. It has strong institutions of marriage and well-developed judicial, monetary and trading traditions. It comprises the groups of Tonga, Niue, Samoa and the northwestern Polynesian outliers.
Eastern Polynesian cultures are highly adapted to smaller islands and atolls, principally the Cook Islands, Tahiti, the Tuamotus, the Marquesas, Hawaii, Rapa Nui and smaller central-pacific groups.
The large islands of New Zealand were first settled by Eastern Polynesians who adapted their culture to a non-tropical environment.
Religion, farming, fishing, weather prediction, out-rigger canoe (similar to modern catamarans) construction and navigation were highly developed skills because the population of an entire island depended on them. Trading of both luxuries and mundane items was important to all groups. Many low-lying islands could suffer severe famine if their gardens were poisoned by the salt from the storm-surge of a hurricane. In these cases fishing, the primary source of protein, would not ease loss of food energy. Navigators, in particular, were highly respected and each island maintained a house of navigation with a canoe-building area.
Settlements by the Polynesians were of two categories: the hamlet and the village. Size of the island inhabited determined whether or a not a hamlet would be built. The larger volcanic islands usually had hamlets because of the many zones that could be divided across the island. Food and resources were more plentiful and so these settlements of four to five houses (usually with gardens) were established so that there would be no overlap between the zones. Villages, on the other hand, were built on the coasts of smaller islands and consisted of thirty or more houses—in the case of atolls, on only one of the group so that food cultivation was on the others. Usually these villages were fortified with walls and palisades made of stone and wood.
However, New Zealand demonstrates the opposite; large volcanic islands with fortified villages.
As well as being great navigators these people were artists and artisans of great skill. Simple objects, such as fish-hooks would be manufactured to exacting standards for different catches and decorated even when the decoration was not part of the function. In some island groups weaving was a strong part of the culture and gifting woven articles an ingrained practice. Stone and wooden weapons were considered to be more powerful the better they were made and decorated. Dwellings were imbued with character by the skill of their building. Body decoration and jewellery is of international standard to this day.
The religious attributes of Polynesians were common over the whole Pacific region. While there are some differences in their spoken languages they largely have the same explanation for the creation of the earth and sky, for the gods that rule aspects of life and for the religious practices of everyday life. People travelled thousands of miles to celebrations that they all owned communally.
Due to relatively large numbers of competitive sects of Christian missionaries in the islands, many Polynesian groups have been converted to Christianity. Polynesian languages are all members of the family of Oceanic languages, a sub-branch of the Austronesian language family.

Economy of Polynesia

With the exception of New Zealand, the majority of independent Polynesian islands derive much of their income from foreign aid and remittances from those who live in other countries. Some encourage their young people to go where they can earn good money to remit to their stay-at-home relatives. Many Polynesian locations, such as Easter Island, supplement this with tourism income. Some have more unusual sources of income, such as Tuvalu which marketed its '.tv' internet top-level domain name or the Cooks that relied on stamp sales. A very few others still live as they did before Western Civilization encountered them.

Polynesian navigation

"The following DNA evidence will help clarify the division between Polynesians, Melanesians and Micronesians.(from; S.W. Serjeantson “The Colonization of the Pacific – A Genetic Trail 1989 pp 135,162-163,166-7) "The following genes set them apart: Polynesians lack HLA-B27 , whereas it is common amongst Melanesians. Polynesians have had little contact with Micronesians. There are only a limited number of similarities in the HLA system. It is clear that Micronesia has had an independent source of HLA genes, probably from the Philippines, as indicated by the high frequency of HLA-Bw35 which is absent from Melanesian and Polynesian groups. HLA-B13, B18 and B27 are found throughout Melanesia. These antigens are sporadic in Western Polynesia and are essentially absent from the populations of Eastern Polynesia. The few sporadic occurrences are attributable to recent foreign admixture. These antigens are also rarely found in Micronesia. HLA-A11 and B40 are significantly associated with each other in Melanesia, but are not linked in Polynesian Populations. HLA data cannot support the theory of Polynesian evolution within Melanesia. Gene frequency distributions, as well as linkage relationships, clearly place Maoris of New Zealand in the Eastern Polynesian branch, together with Hawaiians and Easter Islanders. The HLA-A-B linkage relationships seen in Hawaiians are present also in Maoris and are consistent with a split in these populations 1,000 years ago." For more information on this, see ( and ).

Island groups

The following are the islands and island groups, either nations or subnational territories, that are of native Polynesian culture. Some islands of Polynesian origin are outside the general triangle that geographically defines the region.



  • Finney, Ben R (1976). New, Non-Armchair Research. In Ben R. Finney (1963), Pacific Navigation and Voyaging, The Polynesian Society Inc.
  • Finney, Ben R (1976) (editor). Pacific Navigation and Voyaging, The Polynesian Society Inc.
  • Finding Your Ways Without Map or Compass
  • Lewis, David (1976), A Return Voyage Between Puluwat and Saipan Using Micronesian Navigational Techniques. In Ben R. Finney (1963), Pacific Navigation and Voyaging, The Polynesian Society Inc.
  • Sharp, Andrew (1963). Ancient Voyagers in Polynesia, Longman Paul Ltd.
  • Kayser, M., Brauer, S., Weiss, G., Underhill, P. A., Roewer, L., Schiefenhšfel, W., and Stoneking, M. (2000). Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y Chromosomes Current Biology, 2000, volume 10, pages 1237-1246
  • Kayser, M., Brauer, S., Weiss, G., Underhill, P. A., Roewer, L., Schiefenhšfel, W., and Stoneking, M. (2000). Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y Chromosomes (correction Current Biology, 2000, volume 11, pages 1-2

External links

Polynesian in Arabic: بولنيسيا
Polynesian in Franco-Provençal: Polinèsie
Polynesian in Asturian: Polinesia
Polynesian in Min Nan: Polynesia
Polynesian in Bosnian: Polinezija
Polynesian in Bulgarian: Полинезия
Polynesian in Catalan: Polinèsia
Polynesian in Chuvash: Полинези
Polynesian in Czech: Polynésie
Polynesian in Welsh: Polynesia
Polynesian in Danish: Polynesien
Polynesian in German: Polynesien
Polynesian in Estonian: Polüneesia
Polynesian in Modern Greek (1453-): Πολυνησία
Polynesian in Spanish: Polinesia
Polynesian in Esperanto: Polinezio
Polynesian in Basque: Polinesia
Polynesian in Persian: پلی‌نزی
Polynesian in French: Polynésie
Polynesian in Galician: Polinesia
Polynesian in Korean: 폴리네시아
Polynesian in Croatian: Polinezija
Polynesian in Indonesian: Polinesia
Polynesian in Icelandic: Pólýnesía
Polynesian in Italian: Polinesia
Polynesian in Hebrew: פולינזיה
Polynesian in Javanese: Polinésia
Polynesian in Pampanga: Polynesia
Polynesian in Swahili (macrolanguage): Polynesia
Polynesian in Latin: Polynesia
Polynesian in Latvian: Polinēzija
Polynesian in Lithuanian: Polinezija
Polynesian in Hungarian: Polinézia
Polynesian in Dutch: Polynesië
Polynesian in Japanese: ポリネシア
Polynesian in Norwegian: Polynesia
Polynesian in Norwegian Nynorsk: Polynesia
Polynesian in Polish: Polinezja
Polynesian in Portuguese: Polinésia
Polynesian in Tahitian: Pōrīnetia
Polynesian in Romanian: Polinezia
Polynesian in Quechua: Pulinisya
Polynesian in Russian: Полинезия
Polynesian in Scots: Polynesie
Polynesian in Simple English: Polynesia
Polynesian in Serbian: Полинезија
Polynesian in Serbo-Croatian: Polinezija
Polynesian in Finnish: Polynesia
Polynesian in Swedish: Polynesien
Polynesian in Thai: โพลินีเซีย
Polynesian in Turkish: Polinezya
Polynesian in Ukrainian: Полінезія
Polynesian in Wolof: Polineesi
Polynesian in Samogitian: Polinezėjė
Polynesian in Chinese: 玻里尼西亞
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