A researcher from Maori television’s
Native Affairs programme called me last week to ask for some help with a
feature on the gang of politically motivated pseudo-historians who insist,
against all of the evidence, that white people – Celts, or Vikings, or
Phoenicians, or even immigrants from some distant planet - settled New Zealand
thousands before the ancestors of Maori, and created a technologically
sophisticated and peaceable civilisation here.
From 2008 to 2012 I wrote a number of
pieces on the pseudo-historians for this blog and other sites, and even
appeared on radio once or twice to discuss the phenomenon, but because I lived
in Tonga I lost touch with their activities. I warned Native Affairs that Matthew Dentith, whose meticulous and perhaps
masochistic investigations into all manner of curious beliefs have been
rewarded with a book contract by a top academic publisher, was probably a
better source on the recent antics of the ‘whites were here first’ crowd.
I have to admit that a year in Tonga has
made me resigned to, if not sanguine about, the phenomenon of pseudo-history.
For reasons I can’t now remember, I had imagined that the malady was confined
to my white-skinned, traditionally imperialistic tribe, and that once I’d
despatched myths of pyramids in the Waipoua Forest and observatories on the
hilltops of Auckland it would be more or less cured. After a year of sitting
around kava circles hearing stories about drowned cities in the Pacific,
ancient UFO bases in the Tongan countryside, and the Lamanite founders of
Polynesia, I no longer imagine that fantastic and imperiocentric
versions of history are the preserve of palangi culture.
A couple of weeks ago I discovered a
discussion about the history of the Pacific at the Tonga Topix site, after one
the participants in the discussion mistakenly cited a post on this blog as
evidence for his views.
Many of the people arguing at the
Tongan Topix site appeared to be Mormons from Western Polynesia, and I doubted
whether they’d have much sympathy for a monolingual palangi atheist who turned up to tell
them that their narrative of the past, with its epic migration to the Americas and the Pacific by the people of the Old Testament, was wrong. At the same time, I didn’t like
the idea that my blog had suddenly become a cog in the vast and creaky
machine of Mormon historiography.
Here are some excerpts from the long
and less than fruitful argument I ended up having at Tonga Topix.
we polynesians r seed of Joseph that
was sold to Egypt…we r part of da 12 tribes of Israel, point blank folks ,if we
come frm asia wouldn't we be lookin slant eyed…we look more like native
Nobody claims a close connection
between Han Chinese or Japanese and Polynesians. Have a look at an Ainu person or at one
of the indigenous people of Taiwan. They look rather like Polynesians. There's
overwhelming genetic, linguistic, and archaeological evidence to support the
idea that Polynesians are, like the Ainu and the indigenous Taiwanese, descendants
of the Austronesian people who emerged from Asia four or five thousand years
ago. The evolution of Polynesian culture took place in the region we now call
I don't think original Polynesians were
Asians...however, they did mix later on... you can't really rule out migrations
from South America as some of our myth migrations kinda fits in with what Uiha
is talking about? The mayans believe in a descending God...so do
Polynesians...Maybe it’s a mayan belief that we believe in a descending God
from the heavens? Maybe the descending God is Jesus?
mr hamilton no body knos wer polynesian
people originated frm ,u n sum scientists claim we came frm asia, a slant eyed
culture ,how absurd is that POLYNESIANS DON"T LOOK ASIANS…u all delusional
,frm theorizin n guessin wer polys come frm ,jussa like da numnut darwin dat
say man come frm apes…u all more delusional than darwin
Once again, Uiha, the ancestors of the
Polynesians, the Austronesian peoples who came out of mainland Asia and Taiwan
five thousand or so years ago, are not the same people as the Han Chinese, the
Japanese, the Koreans, and so on. Google some images of the Ainu, the
indigenous people of Japan, or the indigenous peoples of Taiwan.
David Burley has dated Lapita pottery pulled from sites along Tongatapu's Fanga'uta lagoon at close to
three thousand years old. Are you suggesting that the people who settled at
Nukuleka and elsewhere on the lagoon were the same people in the Bible, which
records events which are supposed to have occurred about three thousand years
ago? How did they travel across the world, develop a distinct material culture,
and set up shop in Tonga?
The sad thing is that Tongans who buy into this stuff are recycling the myths
concocted by discredited white men like Heyerdahl and the early Mormons.
They've internalised a false version of their history, and ignored the data unearthed by both palangi and Polynesian scientists over the last
You claim that people only arrived in
the Americas about three thousand years ago. It's hard to know where to begin
replying to such a notion, but it might be worth mentioning Monte Verde, a site
in southern Chile which has become famous for being the oldest known human
settlement in the Americas. Monte Verde has been extensively excavated, and
scientists have dated it using radiocarbon techniques, the analysis of pollen
spore, and stratigraphy. They estimate it was settled about twelve thousand years
I looked into this Mormon claim to descendants
of the ancient people of the Americas voyaging to the isles of the Sea and
their time frame would have been about 550 AD and there were more than one
voyage there and back and these people were coming to live it wasn't an
expedition... from what we know to be true about our ancient people, that came
from the Gods and we were fair skin folks w a bridge to our nose n t average
height for a man was 6ft. So, of science can improve upon all that we welcome
Anything is possible? Polynesians in
early days were noted to be fair skinned people? I’m just stating possibilities
n questions as we wont know the truth until we depart from this life. With
Asians going into Tonga these days,4 generations from now and the next DNA
sample will have Tongans under Asia n their descendants will be taught they
came from Asia...
We can observe the histories of many Pacific
societies and see evidence of migrations changing the material culture and
ideas. For example, we can look at Kiribati and note the names of Samoan
mountains that turn up there, despite the flatness of the landscape, or we can
look at the way that a Tongan vocabulary has overwhelmed the substrate of a
non-Tongic language in Niuafo'ou.
It is reasonable, on the basis of
evidence like this, to suppose a Samoan migration to Kiribati and a Tongan
migration to Niuafo'ou. But where are the thousands of American words in Tongan
and other Polynesian languages? Where are the tools made in American styles,
out of American stone? Where is the DNA?
tonga has pyramid tombs for the ancient
kings…pyramid building for interning deceased royals is not an Asian fang, it
reeks biblical…Lapita people were water folks they weren't into building these
type of structure…There's no way that these ocean folks could evolved on they
own into these types skills necessary to accomplish out pf nowhere in the middle
of the ocean such remarkable accomplishments.
The notion that some cultures are static,
and can’t change without contact with superior people from distant regions of the world, belongs to nineteenth
century European thought. Whether or not they receive stimulus from outside,
cultures change continually in all sorts of ways. Aotearoa had very little if
any contact with the rest of Polynesia, and yet Maori society in the North
Island evolved profoundly in a few short centuries, moving from a virtually
hunter gatherer basis to a sedentary basis and seeing the construction of
monumental sites. In the Chathams things moved in the other direction, as the
Moriori evolved a simpler culture to deal with an extreme environment.
In his classic book The Evolution of the
Polynesian Chiefdoms Patrick Vinton Kirch tries to create a theoretical
framework in which the changes that Pacific societies went through can be
understood. He emphasises the growth of population and the depletion of
resources on small islands, and links these events to the growth of hierarchy
and to warfare. It's no surprise Tonga, with its fertile soil but limited area,
became very hierarchical and martial over the centuries.
If you're going to claim that the Lapita people didn't develop into
Tongans, but instead were helped out by a migration of American people, then
you need to show us the material, genetic, and linguistic evidence for such an
event. The shoreline of Fanga'uta lagoon has been extensively excavated, and we
have a clear picture of the layers of materials found there. Where is the layer
of materials - tools, weapons, and so on - that hails from the Americas? Where
are the American words in Tongan? Where is the non-Austronesian DNA?
So what if they didn't find anything in
Nukuleka? There’s evidence but still hidden under ground n evidence at the
bottom of the seabed...pity uz cant get there, like getting to the bottom of
the waters between Eua n Tongatapu… Tonga didnt have the resources or tools say
what the Americas had...but they adapted with what they had? They had no
massive rock slabs so they got it from Uvea...they wanted bigger boats so they
chop the trees in the Lau group...who taught dem? Obviously some foreigners
came with this knowledge, they were also sun worshippers...
not only do we have physicle evidence
,but spiritual evidence, JESUS CHRIST appeared to da people of da americas,n
established his church among them n the LORD taught them of the FATHER IN
HEAVEN ,n ordained them with the HOLY PRIESTHOOD ,n da HOLY CHOST,n wen JESUS
ascended to da sky,the LORD promised dat he will return,the native americans
speak of da great white spirit wen da europeans came to da north americas ,n da
actec montezuma made a fatal mistake by mistaking Cortez as da great white god
dat promised to return frm da sky, n in Tonga captain was told of da OTUA dat
lived in PULOTU(HEAVEN),daannngggg we all jussa conected da dots n proved we
originated frm america ,n da BOOK OF MORMON is a true account of da people of
da americas,n THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST AND OF THE LATTER DAY SAINTS is da
true church of CHRIST that was established by JESUS here on da americas n was
written on GOLDEN PLATES that GOD gave to JOSEPH SMITHin the name of JESUS
CHRIST HALLELUJAH praise da LORD amen
Tongans are mixed, many of us got mela
and poly blood, due to karate kung fuing all over the pacific. It is mainly
Sa's that claim to be pure polys. Evidence is evidence buddy, you came from
down through south east Asia.
The idea that Tongans had to wait
around for some pale-skinned South Americans to turn up
and teach them how to create monumental architecture is not credible. There are
numerous examples of societies developing such architecture on their own.
There was no need to go to
'Uvea, because of the supplies of beach rock in Tonga. The quarries on
Pangaimotu, Fafa, and Hihifo beaches show that plenty of rock was taken
locally. Some stone might have come from 'Uvea, but by that time monumental
architecture would have been well and truly established.
Samonga claims that the excavations of
archaeologists at Nukuleka and other places in present-day Tonga are worthless,
because the ancient people that came from the Americas settled on islands that
have since sunk to the bottom of the sea.
There are two problems with this idea.
In the first place, a lot of study on the geology of Tonga has been done, and
we know which islands were where thousands of years ago. Maps of the
palaeoshoreline of Tongatapu, for example, show how much of present-day
Nuku'alofa was underwater when the Lapita people
arrived close to three thousand years ago. There was less, not more, land in
Tonga thousands of years ago, because sea levels were higher, so the only way an island could
have existed then and sunk since is through some sort of volcanic eruption or
earthquake. I'm not aware of any evidence for such an event. If it occurred
then it would surely have left a tephra, or layer of debris, in the soil for excavators to find.
Let's assume, though, for the sake of argument, that a large number of
Americans came to Tonga long ago, built a civilisation on an island, and then
saw that civilisation disappear. The problem of the lack of evidence for any
sort of influence from the Americans on Tongans remains. Where is the American
DNA in Tongans? Where are the American artefacts? Where are the American words?
Perhaps it could be argued that the Americans stayed on one remote island, had
no contact with Tongans, and then disappeared without a trace under the water.
But even if that outlandish scenario were assumed to be true, the fact would
still remain that there is no discernible trace of American influence on Tongan
culture or in Tongan blood.
I can only assume that those who want to make Americans into the ancestors of
Tongans have religious reasons.
l will make a claim that upon
discovering Tonga some witnesses inquired about a set of stones steps found
right on to Nuku'alofa warf, that was really high and it turns out they were
remnants of a pyramid t size of t ones in S America it was said it was made in
a zigzag form exactly like ancients Americas n Egypt. Bcoz of natural disasters
it sustained damage n t natives slowly took the stones for personal use and
later it was probably destroyed.
Hi Scott, I'm reading through a lot of
your comments & blogs & what I wanted to ask you is; You put a lot of emphasis
in theories from scholars & discoverers, papers & journals but I see
nothing from traditional polynesian methods. We are all cultures which hand
down our skills & history by word of mouth, stories, dance, song, folklore
& teaching none of which you mention, does this mean it is not a valid
source for you?
Just so you understand my point I have
learnt everything I know about my culture in the first instance in this way
& continue to learn by this method & now papers, theories etc in which
I try to align what I already know. How is it that our most powerful source of
knowledge handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth (which
could essentially describe journals are but read generations later with no one
to fill in the questions or the small details) not also be included in our
assumptions, validations of how we come to be?
foreigners need to stop theorizin about
our proud heritage
Hi Maorigurl, you make a fair point. I
accept that there is a disconnect between the motives and methods that many
Polynesian have when they talk about their history and the motives and methods
of most academics investigating the ancient history of the Pacific. Academics
often want dates, and like rigorous empirical methods, whereas folks telling
stories round the kava bowl rely on oral history, songs and so on, and are less
interested, in my experience, in getting some precise date for an event than in
making some sort of point to their listeners.
But I don't think this is necessarily an ethnically-based difference, because
some of the key academics studying Pacific history are Polynesian, and the fact
is that many palangi - the palangi who live in the rural region of NZ where I
grew up, for instance - also have little interest in academic study of the
past, rely on oral tradition, and are less interested in getting the dates
right than making some practical point.
The Tongan historian Sione Latukefu did a lot of oral history in Tonga, but
wrote a famous essay insisting that this evidence had to be backed up with
other types of evidence, like the written record or archaeological data. And Te
Rangi Hiroa/Sir Peter Buck seems to have taken a similar position.
I think that oral history can help us understand a culture, but I am sceptical
about how much we can rely on it for facts. It seems to me that when people
tell a story they are telling you about how they see the event they are
describing, and that this is what is valuable. Whether the event occurred in
the way they describe, or occurred at all, is another question.
I think there are particular problems with trying to use oral history to
establish chronologies of past events. It's amazing how quickly dates get
muddled when stories pass from mouth to mouth.
A student of mine was doing a history
of his village of Kala'au, and some of his informants discussed the visit of a
group of scientists interested in the huge rock that sits near their homes. The
scientists visited in 2008, but the villagers, when talking to my student last
year, thought they had turned up in 2004.
Last November I visited the village Kolomaile
on 'Eua and talked with some of the elders there about the raid on 'Ata by
slavers, which occurred in 1863. The elders dated the event to 1887.
I think that people like Uiha show the
importance of getting the facts of the past right, even if, as you point out,
the facts aren't all that matter when we think about and talk about the past.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]