Thursday, September 9, 2010

Oceania Origins And Micronesian Music

Welcome Everybody!

I would now like to discuss a little further
about the origins of the Polynesian and
Micronesian people, as well as the traditional
music of Micronesia.

The islands of Micronesia include the Federated
States of Micronesia (Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk
and Yap), Guam, Palau, Saipan, the Republic
of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of
Kiribati. Indeed, Micronesia means 'small
islands' and is derived from the Greek words
'mikros' which means small, and 'nesos' which
means island. This is a perfect way to
describe these over two thousand tropical
islands scattered across the heart of the
Pacific Ocean between Hawai'i and the Philippines.
They are spread over a great distance, yet
each has its own culture, history, customs,
rituals, myths and legends, ethnology, lifestyle
and topographical personality.

The islands of Micronesia and Polynesia
collectively comprise the last major region
of the globe to be settled by humans. Both of
these groups of islands were colonized within
the last 5,000 years by Austronesian-speaking
agriculturists. In the past, linguistic studies
have been a major factor in suggesting the origins
of both the Micronesian and Polynesian people
who, in the main, are of medium stature with
straight hair and brown skin.

One of the earliest records of the evidence
of Polynesian languages deriving from Asia
was that of the missionary, John Williams,
who, in 1840, published a range of Polynesian
words along with their Asian origins. In his
book, 'Missionary Enterprises In The South
Sea Islands' published in London by John
Snow in 1840, William ponders in Chapter XXIX
on the origins of the South Sea Islands. He
draws the distinction between the characteristics
of the Melanesians and those of the Polynesians
which he considered had Malay characteristics and
Indian social structure. These he took as clear
indications of the Asiatic origin of the Polynesian
people. He said, however, that the language spoken
by the Malays and the Polynesians was clear
evidence of the origins of the Polynesians.

Certainly, it was common for anthropologists
to base past studies on linguistics. A study
of grammar and word lists allowed researchers
to establish degrees of correlation between
various Pacific Islanders. For example, the
Chamorro language is most closely related to
Bareic in Sulawesi based on a comparison of
standardized word lists. Linguists have
formulated theories of Pacific Island colonization
based on the similarity of languages including
P.S. Bellwood, who wrote the definitive work
on the peopling of the Pacific, relying heavily
on linguistic evidence.

Recent research has suggested, however, that
DNA offers a better way to study the relationships
between Pacific Island people. There is a problem
in using language to predict relations among people
in that language is a culturally transmitted and
not a biological trait, whereas DNA is the genetic
material that determines biological inheritance.

In a DNA study undertaken in 1994, Koji Lum
from The Institute of Statistical Mathematics,
Tokyo, Japan, collected head hair in Micronesia.
He used the head hair to obtain DNA samples.
The study was undertaken in order to compare
the genetic relationships of various Micronesian
groups to other Pacific Islanders and Asians and
their languages. The study examined DNA that
is found within mitochondria (mtDNA), small
cellular bodies that function as the energy
factories and storehouses of our cells.
Mitochondria are inherited from the body of the
mother's fertilized egg, and are transmitted
maternally to the next generation. Consequently,
this analysis ignores inheritance from a father.

In general, this study found that the majority
of mtDNA sequences from Micronesian and
Polynesian populations are derived from Asia,
whereas others are inferred to have originated
in New Guinea. The data supported the concept
of an Island Southeast Asian origin and a
colonization route along the north coast of New
Guinea. The Marianas and the main island of
Yap appear to have been independently settled
directly from Island Southeast Asia, and both
have received migrants from Central-Eastern
Micronesia since then. Palau clearly demonstrates
a complex prehistory including a significant
influx of lineages from New Guinea. Thus genetic
similarities among Micronesian and Polynesian
populations result, in some cases, from a common
origin and, in others, from extensive gene flow.

As well as showing that Micronesians and
Polynesians have a southeast Asian homeland,
studies based on DNA contributed by both
females and males to their offspring generally
indicate a greater degree of Melanesian heritage
for Polynesians and Micronesians.

There are some exceptions, however, with the
results for Palau and Yap showing that the
mtDNA and linguistic relationships do not agree.
This can be interpreted in a number of ways and
suggests that Palau has been 'seeded' by people
with ancestral roots in island Southeast Asia and
Melanesia, as well as the more easterly parts of

In addition, Chamorro mtDNA is very distinctive
when compared to other Micronesians and
Polynesians. This suggests that the Marianas have
a different settlement history than the rest of
Micronesia. Chamorros have not mixed much
with other Micronesians. The study suggests that
Chamorros and Aboriginal Malays have common
maternal ancestral origins in the distant past.
This was a time being before the Chamorros
were a distinctive group and before the colonization
of the Marianas by people whose descendants
would only later develop the way of living that
defined them as Chamorros.

Music and dance in Micronesia, though certainly
not the same as their Polynesian counterparts, are
closely related to them.With the exception of Truk
(Chuuk) in the central Carolines, which displays
traits of Melanesian and possibly Indonesian
influence, the music structure of all parts of
Micronesia is predominantly word-determined, as
is that of Polynesia. The songs of Micronesia tell
of legendary histories, genealogies and navigational
tales of the islands. Indeed, the music is based
around the mythology and ancient Micronesian
rituals which were handed down in a musical
context from one generation to the next.Certainly,
over generations, the traditional music of Micronesia
was composed utilizing mythology, magic, rituals
and closely guarded procedures. The music is very
voice oriented with chanting, stamping and body

The musical instruments of Micronesia are few,
mainly as a consequence of limited material being
available throughout the small islands and atolls
of Micronesia..The shell trumpet and nose flute
are the most common, though standard flutes and
Jews harps are also found. A common idiophone
in Micronesia is a stick that is carried by men in
certain dances. The performers strike each others
sticks in the course of the choreography.
Membranophones are not very common, though
the hourglass single-headed drum like those played
in Papua New Guinea is found as far north as the
Marshall Islands. In keeping with the ecology of
atoll life, the skins of these drums are made from a
shark's belly or parts of the sting ray. Many atolls
of the Micronesian Pacific are without any
indigenous musical instruments whatsoever.

Dance movements are mainly of hands and arms
in accompaniment to poetry. In some islands, such
as Yap (in the western Carolines) and Kiribati,
there is a similar concern for rank in the placement
of dancers, as well as the emphasis on rehearsed
execution of songs and movements. But, although
movements and types of dance have a superficial
similarity to those of Polynesia, there are

In the Yap empire, for example, dancers from Ulithi,
Woleai, and other islands performed and taught their
choreography and texts to the Yapese as tribute,
even though the dance texts were in languages
unintelligible to the Yapese dancers; the function
of movements was not to illustrate a story but to
decorate it. Instead of acknowledging a chief's
deed or genealogy, the Yapese dancers
demonstrated the overlordship of Yap to the
other islands. Even in Ifalik, where texts were
in their own language, the movements did not
interpret poetry but were apparently abstractly
decorative. The same is true for Kiribati. Thus,
Polynesian dance could be characterized as
illustration of poetry, and Micronesian dance
as decoration of poetry, while music in both
areas serves as an elevated form of audible
performance for poetry.



Tim Sameke and his group, Wececa, are the
most popular dance troupe that produces shows
regularly in New Caledonia. Confident with this
popularity, they have recorded their first album
at the end of 1999. With the cover version of
one of Gurejele's hit, "Waipeipegu", Wececa
meets a huge success in the country and wish to
be the first band from New Caledonia to export
beyond the Pacific region


The Somai Serenaders from Savu-Savu, Fiji,
play a traditional string band style unique to
the islands. Every village, it seems, has its
own string band and that the Somai group is one
of the very best players. Their music is played
in a very ritualized fashion while sitting on
the floor or the ground around a large bowl filled
with kava juice. Kava is a local root that has
medicinal properties and leaves a mild narcotic

We were immediately impressed by their music
and their stories of how their music is inspired
by nature, like the rhythm of the wind blowing
through the palm trees. Apenisa Waqa, the lead
guitarist told us 'Just imagine a couple of coconuts
floating on the water and from that we compose
a song'.The group's instrumentation is three guitars
and a ukulele with four male voices -- sung in a
soprano range. But Apenisa's improvisational
guitar leads were tasteful and full of ease. It was
almost as if the entire Fijian lifestyle of taking
things slowly was being expressed through his

They call their style of music 'Sigi Drigi' --
singing and drinking. When asked about what he
would like the world to know about their music,
Apenisa replied: 'We didn't know we were good -
we just do this to make the kava taste better'.
This group has never been recorded before and,
in fact, this genre of Fijian.

Thank you everybody and I wish you all the
very best in your important endeavours and
undertakings. Have a great and prosperous

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