Dennis Ngawhare: The heritage of the curious explorers

Dennis Ngawhare delves into some of the history around the migration of people through the Pacific.

Dennis Ngawhare delves into some of the history around the migration of people through the Pacific.

OPINION: E kore au e ngaro, he kakano i ruia mai i Rangiātea: I shall not be lost because I am a seed sown at Rangiātea.

Rangiātea is an island northwest of Tahiti, and this whakatauākī (saying) links the people of Taranaki (and other Māori in Aotearoa) to this ancient island homeland.

Furthermore it is now possible to trace back thousands of years through archaeological/genetic/linguistic tools to Asia, perhaps the ultimate homeland of the ancestors of the Māori.

In my last column I rejected flawed theories proposing a pre-Polynesian settlement of Aotearoa New Zealand and in order to support my statements, this column will be a part of a mini series of articles detailing migration from Asia to these islands.

READ MORE: Dennis Ngawhare: What is indigenous to Aotearoa New Zealand?

My tūpuna (ancestors) sailed the vastness of Te Moananui-a-Kiwa (The Great Ocean of Kiwa) to establish their home in Taranaki and their story deserves reflection.

Perhaps 5000 years ago, the tūpuna stood on the shores of the Asian continent looking at the sun rising on the eastern horizon. While there are many reasons for migration including conflict, over-population and lack of resources, explorers who dared to venture beyond the horizon were guided by their curiosity.

Amongst the extensive literature on Pacific and Polynesian settlement, Atholl Anderson in the recent publication Tangata Whenua: A History summarises a lot of the research around this kaupapa (topic).

Archaeological and genetic evidence definitely connects the tūpuna back to Taiwan, and then over to the Asian mainland. Linguistically Te Reo Māori is a branch of the Austronesian mother language, and is shared with indigenous Taiwanese and most of the languages of the Pacific.

Over hundreds of generations people travelled from one island to another following the sun and forming new settlements. Around 3,500 years ago in the region now known as the Bismarck archipelago (the islands of New Britain, New Ireland and Manus near Papua New Guinea) a culture evolved that was distinguished by elaborate pottery.

The modern term for those people are the Lapita, named after the area where the first pottery shards were discovered by Caucasian archaeologists. Subsequently this pottery was discovered in over 200 different sites between Bismarck, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Tonga and Samoa connecting their settlements.

Scholars have ben fascinated with the Lapita cultural complex for decades because it would appear the Lapita introduced stone tools, vegetables, plants, livestock and dogs into the Pacific over many generations.

While it is unknown what those people called themselves, they were the first settlers into the eastern Pacific. Perhaps the most important innovation was the waka-unua (double-hulled canoe) capable of carrying dozens of people at a time.

The scholar Andrew Sharp in 1957, advocated an accidental drift theory for the discovery and colonisation of the islands of Oceania. However, accidental drift theory doesn't take into consideration the hundreds of islands that were settled along with food and livestock enabling complex societies to flourish.

Since the 1970s there have also been multiple double hulled vessels built in Hawai'i and New Zealand that have sailed the Pacific routes without modern navigational technology.

This mātauranga whakatere (navigational lore) was nearly lost in Oceania.

It was a Pwo (master navigator) named Mau Piailug, from the island Satawal (Caroline Islands) who helped reinvigorate traditional navigational techniques when he shared his knowledge with the Polynesian Voyaging Society of Hawai'i. Mau feared those navigational techniques would be lost because the young people of his island were being influenced by western education and culture.

Traditional sailing techniques relied on a huge range of tohu (signs) about star constellations, wind, clouds, birds, waves, currents, salinity of water and other tohu to find land.

After the Lapita period, and perhaps 2000-1500 years ago there was a drive into the central Pacific from Tonga and Samoa, specifically in what is now the Society and Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia.

From here waka journeyed north, east and south to settle a myriad of islands and the archetypical Polynesian culture was established. This period was also when Raiatea/Rangiātea became a political, religious and cultural centre of Polynesia. At the Opua site, in the bay of Awarua, the marae named Taputapuatea was built of stone. Rangatira (chiefs) and tohunga (experts/priests) from other islands would regularly travel to Taputapuatea to share knowledge and participate in religious ceremonies. In Kurahaupō tradition, Rangiātea was a wharekura (house of learning) where the tohunga Te Moungaroa trained. In Aotea tradition, Turi left Rangiātea to sail to Aotearoa due to conflict with the ariki (high chief) Uenuku.

Stones were also taken from Taputapuatea to establish other marae around the Pacific, thereby confirming Rangiātea as an important centre of influence. In fact, Taputapuatea marae was recently declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Extensive tribal traditions tracing back to Rangiātea, however beyond Rangiātea archaeological, linguistic and genetic information continues to vindicate the settlement of the Pacific by Polynesians.

As the whakatauākī states, we are seeds from Rangiātea. Those seeds originated in Asia and were then carried across the ocean by a thousand generations of ancestors, to be planted under our tūpuna maunga Taranaki.  

 - Stuff


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