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June 26, 2012

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There is a distant link between Madagascar and my home, too. The peoples of Madagascar, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific are Austronesian- linguistically speaking, at least. Long, long ago, some of the Proto-Austronesians of Taiwan (the ancestors of today's 高山族) decided to move south through the Phillipines into Malaysia and Indonesia. One group decided to head west and crossed the Indian Ocean to Madagascar. Another group decided to head east and fanned out through my homeocean. By all the evidence we have, the ancient Polynesians were highly skilled navigators who could read the stars, winds and ocean currents like modern navigators read maps and GPS, and their expansion through the Pacific was certainly not done by accident, rather by exploration and design. So perhaps it was no accident that their ancestors island-hopped southwards, and that some of their cousins struck out westwards?

And your description of Tana Toraja is very beautiful.

Chris, it is so good to hear from you. Thank you for this great comment, too! Whenever I get a comment like your's, it makes me so glad for having written the Post in the first place.

Those double-hulled canoes...

Not that long ago I finished translating a romance novel-- which got me into all kinds of trouble with these "sexy" scenes that were very cheesy and really I felt so embarrassed trying to get right (do people really like that? I kept emailing the author, "Wouldn't it be better without all that? To which he responded, "No, I think that should stay!")

Anyway, the story was set in Hawaii in the times of King Kamehameha and there was all this interesting historical background about the ancient Polynesians. Like you, I just became so fascinated by the skills and courage of these ancient peoples who would just set out across open waters in double-hulled canoes. It is pretty fantastic- the desire to explore; to know; to see.

I guess the Hawaiians had traveled all that way from ancient tahiti and believed that after death they would return to the land of their ancestors-- ie, Tahiti. Which, of course, is remarkable that not only did they travel that far but over the generations they did not necessarily forget where they came from either.

It's like they just glided on the surface of the water--- right across the ocean...

So, are you in Beijing for the holidays? I hope you enjoy the season wherever you are.


Yes, I'm in Beijing, and enjoying it as much as possible- which is actually quite a lot. I'll be enjoying it still more in about a month's time.

The Maori of my homeland are the same. Over the generations- and it's been roughly 1000 years since their ancestors settled there (New Zealand was the last place on earth to be settled by humans)- kept the memory of what they call Hawai'iki alive. Hawai'iki is the ancestral homeland, distant across the ocean. I'm not sure of their traditional beliefs about the afterlife- many are now atheist, agnostic, Christian, Mormon or follow some blend of Maori tradition and Christianity- but the northern tip of New Zealand, where the Tasman Sea meets the open Pacific- a stretch of ocean notorious for its insanely swirling currents- they call Te Rerenga Wairua- the leaping-off place of the spirits. They believed that when a person died, his/her spirit would travel up to that northern most spit of land and thence jump into the next life.

Actually, this article (http://tinyurl.com/5cn2ve) has a couple of interesting comments:

"There is no more appropriate point of departure for the journey between the living and the dead than Te Rerenga Wairua, not only for its desolate appearance, but also for its situation, at the northwestern extremity of the island, angling into the Pacific, towards the islands of origin. Most Polynesian islands have a Rerenga Wairua but as we move Northwards through the Pacific the Rerenga of each island swings Westward, homing towards mysterious and enigmatic Hawaiiki."

For those of us born and raised in Polynesia, West leads to Asia- northwest for us Kiwis, more or less due west for those from the more climatically pleasant parts of our ocean. West is where the earliest ancestors of the Polynesians came from- West leads to Melanesia, thence to Asia.

Last time I went back to New Zealand I saw Te Rerenga Wairua from the air. The weather was incredibly, beautifully clear as only the Pacific can manage, and looking down, both at that last spit of land and at the sea swirling around it, I could see- this was a place for spirits to enter the next life, a place for sailors and other casual tourists to steer clear of.

Where I come from, it seems, ocean is everything.

Just was looking at your "ritual" post. Fantastic photo! Had been reading recently about migrations of Austronesian language groups (originally out of South China, via Taiwan, 3500BC) in Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel. Supposedly the Javanese/Sumatrans (Western-Malayo-Polynesians) were arriving in Madagascar at about the same time as the Oceanic Eastern-Malayo- Polynesians made it to Hawaii (around 500 AD).

This summer I saw depictions of the boats and houses* (supposedly in the Madagascan settlements) in the bas-reliefs on Borobudur, dating from around later 8th century (almost concurrent with founding of Kyoto). Supporting evidence : dispersion of Indonesian fruits (as far as West Africa), and forms of musical instruments - as well as the roots of Malagasy language, not to mention genetic traces in the Madagascans, back to Borneo
(See this)

At Borobudur we also saw the Samudra Raksa (single hull with outriggers on both sides) in a nearby museum - a traditionally-built replica trader that in 2003/4 was sailed on the Cinnamon Route as far as Ghana, to prove it could be done. Borobudur Ship Expedition

Borobudur Seafaring Myth

ship carving
replica under sail

Borobudur 1

Borobudur 2

Borobudur 3

Chris, weren't there people (Polynesian people?) in New Zealand before the Maoris arrived?

Glad you're enjoying Beijing. It's been awfully hot recently.

Many knowledge and information I got from your site, thanks and greetings of friendship from Indonesia.

Bathrobe, there was an old story doing the rounds even as late as when I was a kid that before the Maori, New Zealand was populated by a Melanesian race called the Moriori - older, more obnoxious versions of the myth describes them as inferior to the Maori - who the Maori killed and ate. These days the story is widely considered to be a load of old cobblers, a convenient myth to make us Pakeha not feel so bad about our own colonisation of Aotearoa. The real world Moriori are the original inhabitants of the Chatham Islands/Rekohu and generally considered to be of the same Polynesian origin as the Maori, although their language and culture developed in isolation from mainland NZ and so are markedly different. They were conquered, eaten, enslaved and nearly wiped out by an invasion by Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama, from Taranaki on the West Coast of the North Island, in the 1830s. They're now enjoying a cultural revival.

My first two comments were written four years ago, but yes, I am still enjoying Beijing. I'm also enjoying rereading these old posts - they certainly stand the test of time. Thanks, Peony.

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