The Christchurch Mosque Shooting

Image result for christchurch mosque shootingOn Friday 15th March a gunman opened fire on worshipers in the al-Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand during midday prayers.  49 were killed, including children, and 20 seriously injured. Shooter Brenton Tarrant livestreamed the massacre on Facebook using a go-pro and posted the link to 8chan before the attack. His 74 page manifesto detailed his desire to kill Muslims in western countries and restore white supremacy.

Azam Ali, a victim, told Radio New Zealand:

“We were into 10 minutes of our prayers and then we heard gun shots outside, but kept on praying. Next minute, it was inside. He was a light-coloured skin guy and he started firing and we all went for cover….. A couple of guys from inside probably ran outside and they all came out in blood. When we got up we saw people lying around us [who] were shot. They had blood coming out, some from the neck.”

There were 300 people in the al-Noor Mosque. Trapped in the mosque and at the mercy of the shooter, many worshipers smashed through glass doors and windows to escape. During the massacre the shooter swapped weapons and changed his magazine seven times. Teacher Naeem Rachid heroically charged at the gunman but was killed alongside his son Talha.

After al-Noor Tarrant drove to the Linwood Islamic Centre five kilometres away. He killed seven people before a worshiper disarmed him. Tarrant escaped the scene but police apprehended him and put the city on lockdown. Over 40 people were admitted to hospital.

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Christchurch is the third biggest city in New Zealand and home to 404,000 people. 0.8% of the city’s population are Muslim, out of 1.2% nationwide. The shooter chose Christchurch because the city would be defenseless and unprepared; he wanted to prove ‘nowhere in the world was safe’.

Brenton Tarrant is a 28 year old Australian former cryptocurrency investor and personal trainer. According to his manifesto he was a ‘just a regular White man from a regular family’ and a former ‘communist and anarchist’. He became radicalised while travelling Europe in 2017 and was active on alt-right and white supremacist internet forums.

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Tarrant’s manifesto expressed concern with high Muslim fertility rates, Islamic terrorism and the white genocide conspiracy theory. Identifying as an ‘Eco fascist’, he employed a bizarre mix of environmentalist, anti-capitalist, white nationalist, anti-Islam and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

His inspirations included Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, British fascist Oswald Mosely, Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic, American conservative Candance Owens (probably ironically – he claimed her views were more extreme than his own) and the People’s Republic of China. Tarrant claimed to admire Donald Trump ‘as a symbol for white identity and common purpose’ but not ‘for his policies and as a leader’. He did not express allegiance to any specific organisation but said he supported many.

Tarrant’s goals were to make Muslims feel unsafe in the West and spark a civil war in the United States over the Second Amendment. He repeatedly referred to Muslims as ‘invaders’ and planned the massacre two years in advance.

Until yesterday New Zealand was a safe country relatively untouched by the terrorism and divisive politics which afflict the western world. Since 1945 the country’s worst mass shooting had been the 1990 Aramoana Shooting that killed 14 people. New Zealand has never before experienced a hate crime or act of terrorism of this level. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the Christchurch shooting ‘New Zealand’s darkest day’.  49 died, the same number who fell in the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, the modern USA’s second worst.

Mosque attendees in Hagley Park after shooting.

New Zealand gun laws are stricter than the United States. Firearms are legal for the purpose of hunting and users must pass interviews and background checks to gain their license. As a small island nation with few people, gun laws are comparatively easy to enforce. Once purchased, however, few firearms are registered. Tarrant used a shotgun and a semiautomatic AR-15, held a license and was a member of a local shooting club. The shooter was not known to police or intelligence agencies beforehand. Ardern has since promised to ban semiautomatic weapons.

Aside from Raeem and Talha Rachid, victims’ names are yet to be confirmed.

Sources: BBC, the Guardian, New Zealand Herald, Radio New Zealand, Reuters, Stuff, Sydney Morning Herald, Tarrant’s Manifesto 

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Update 17/03/19: 50 confirmed dead, victims’ names released

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Wim Hof the Iceman

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Wim ‘the Iceman’ Hof (born 1959) is a real life superman and fitness guru from the Netherlands who can withstand disease and extreme conditions using a mind over matter approach.

His achievements include:

  • swimming 57.5 metres under ice
  • running 22,000 KM up Mount Everest in shorts (2007)
  • running a full marathon in the Namib Desert without water (2009)
  • scaling Mount Kilamonjaro in shorts and bare feet in two days (2009)
  • running a half marathon in the Arctic circle in shorts and bare feet with a time of two hours, 16 minutes and 34 seconds (2009)
  • standing in a bucket of ice for one hour and 53 minutes (2013)

The Wim Hof method: Hof claims anyone can gain mastery over their body and mind using a mixture of controlled breathing, meditation and gradual exposure to cold.  Cold therapy pushes the human body to the edge and forces it to work at full capacity which, because of our comfortable modern lifestyles, it seldom does. His breathing technique stimulates the nervous system and manually produces adrenaline.

One cycle:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
  2. Take 30 consecutive breaths. Breathe in deep but do not forcibly exhale, just let the air out gently.
  3. Take a single deep breath, hold it for 20 seconds then exhale. You should feel relaxed and/or lightheaded afterward.
  4. Repeat up to six times

It sounds like bollocks yet Hof’s record speaks for itself. Scientists were initially sceptical, claiming he was uniquely gifted. Yet he does not owe his success to genetics:  Hof’s identical twin brother, who lives a conventional sedentary life, cannot do what he does.

In 2011 investigative journalist Scott Carney enlisted in Hof’s programme with the aim of debunking it. Within two days not only was Carney convinced Hof’s methods worked but was able to climb Kilamonjaro in only shorts! Carney documented the experience in his bestselling book What Doesn’t Kill Us (2017).

The method draws on tummo and pranayama meditation. By emptying the mind the body redirects energy from the brain to the body. Hof’s techniques of controlled hyperventilation increases the oxygen in our blood and kindles the anti-inflammatory and nervous systems. He claims his techniques can not only regulate one’s physiology but can mitigate stress, anxiety and depression. Since his teachings gained traction Hof has worked with doctors, psychiatrists, athletes and Navy SEALs.

In 2015 scientists injected Hof and 12 of his students with an E-coli endotoxin as a controlled experiment. By consciously controlling his immune system they were able to resist the endotoxin and leave the experiment unharmed and without inflammation in their blood cells.

Hof lost his wife to suicide in 1995. She had schizophrenia and Hof claimed the  medications she was prescribed only worsened her state.  To console his grief Hof turned to ‘nature’ and the esoteric disciplines of yoga, Sufiism, kung fu and Tibetan Buddhism.  Eventually he claimed the cold was the best teacher. In 2000 he broke his first world record.

Sources: 2019 Russel Brand Interview, Vice, Wimhofmethod

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  • Fuegians – Like Hof, the Yaghan tribe could dive unclothed in freezing waters

Population Y

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Population Y is a proposed ‘ghost population’ who may have inhabited South America before Palaeo-Indians crossed the Bering Landbridge 15,000 years ago. Unlike Native Americans, whose ancestors came from Siberia, Population Y was more closely related to Melanesians and Australian Aborigines. Slim evidence lies in ancient bones and modern DNA.

The prevailing narrative is Native Americans share a common origin. 15,000 years ago humans from Siberia crossed a land bridge spanning the Bering Strait. As the Ice Sheets melted their descendants dispersed across the continent and became the indigenous peoples of America. Everyone from the Incas to the Algonquin. In 2012 Harvard scientists sequenced genomes from 52 indigenous groups and concluded they shared common DNA with this founder group – represented in the mDNA haplogroups A, C, D and N.

However they may not have been the first.

Related imageIn 1973 scientists discovered a 13,000 year old skeleton in a cave at Lagoa Santa, Brazil. The ‘Luzia Woman’ was the oldest human remains found in the Western Hemisphere. Curiously the Luzia woman’s skull resembled an Australian Aborigine more than a Native American. The Laranjal and Moraes skelatons of Lagoa Santa shared this trait. The Lagoa Santa people’s closest Amerindian relatives are the Yaghan of Tierra Del Fuego and the extinct Pericue of Baja California. 

Image result for xavanteSome Amerindians carry DNA from Population Y. In 2015 scientists sequenced the genome of three Amazonian tribes – the Xavante (pictured), Karitiana and Surui, who were uncontacted until the 20th century. 1-2% of their DNA was shared with Australasians. Smaller amounts were also found in Mixe people of Mexico and Aleutian Islanders but no other native groups. The findings were published in Nature. Population Y comes from an Amazonian word for ‘ancestor’ – Ypykuera.

Less reliable evidence of a Proto-Australasian presence in the Americas:

  1. Similarities between the rock paintings of Lagoa Santa and Australia
  2. Similarities between Fuegian and Aboriginal Australian body painting
  3. Acute eyesight of Fuegians and Aborigines
  4. Black facial features of the Olmec colossal heads

Image result for australasian migration south americaProto-Australasians or ‘Black Asians’ were the first homo sapiens to leave Africa and the original inhabitants of Australia and Southeast Asia. Their descendants include the Aborigines of Australia, the Negritos of Southeast Asia, Melanesians, and Andaman Islanders. Population Y would suggest they reached South America too.

There are five possibilities:

  1. Early humans crossed the Atlantic from Africa
  2. Proto-Australasians sailed the Pacific from Australia to South America
  3. Proto-Australasians island hopped the Pacific via the Antarctic (Rivet)
  4. Proto-Australasians crossed the Bering land bridge before the first Amerindians (Neves)
  5. Proto-Australasians island hopped from Asia via the Kuril and Aleutian islands

Population Y

Theories 4 and 5 are the most credible. Although Australasians made it to Australia, there is little evidence their boats could traverse the Pacific. If Aboriginal Australians did not settle the Polynesian islands, how could they have sailed as far as South America?

Proto-Australasian settlement of the Americas is an exciting, if controversial, prospect but alas probably not true. As evidence, only the 2015 Nature study holds sway. In 2018 scientists sequenced Luzia woman’s DNA and found no traces of Proto-Australasian ancestry. Her distinct skull structure was the product of genetic drift. Similarly no trace of Population Y has been found in the Yaghan or Pericue – at least not yet.  Until further evidence arises, the most likely  scenario is the first bands to settle America had an Australasian component in their DNA.

Sources: Anthrosource, Harvard.edu, National Geographic, Nature, NCBI, New Daily, The Scientist, Science, Science Daily, Smithsonian Magazine

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Fuegians

Image result for fuegian man‘Fuegians’ are what Charles Darwin called the indigenous people of Tierra Del Fuego, the islands at the bottom tip of South America.  An isolated population at the ends of the earth, the Fuegians are descended from the first people to inhabit the Americas. They were the southernmost population on earth.

In the 1800s there were four cultures inhabiting Tierra Del Fuego:

  • The Kawesqar (or Alacalufe), population 5,000
  • The Selknam (Ona), population 3,000
  • The Yaghan (Yamana), population 2,500
  • The Manek’enk (Haush), population 300

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Tierra Del Fuego is Spanish for ‘Land of Fire’. Ferdinand Magellan named it after the signal fires he saw dotting its islands when he sailed through in 1520. A desolate, windswept land where rain is incessant and temperatures reach -20 , Tierra De Fuego is the closest landmass to Antarctica. Harsh winters prevented agriculture and restricted the inhabitants to hunter-gatherer lifestyles.

Though lacking in vegetation, Tierra Del Fuego teems with wildlife, including cormorants, penguins, sea lions, whales, seals, otters, and the guanaco, a cousin of the llama.

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The Selk’nam and Manek’enk lived on Isla Grande, the largest island – the Selknam in the inland plains and the Manek’enk on the western peninsular. The Manek’enk arrived first, followed by the Selkn’am who pushed them to the island’s coldest corner. They spoke related languages and followed the herds of guanaco, eating their meat, making clothes from their skin and bowstrings from their sinews.

Both peoples were notably tall – with the men averaging 6 feet – more than other Amerindians or contemporary Europeans. They celebrated an initiation ceremony called a ‘hain’, similar to the potlachs of the Pacific Northwest.

Related imageThe Yaghan and Kawesqar were ‘sea nomads’ who traveled by canoe to and fro the smaller islands in search of seafood and stranded whales. Unlike the Selkn’am and the Manek’enk, the Yaghan were accomplished swimmers. Yaghan women dived underwater to forage for oysters and mussels while the men hunted birds and marine mammals with harpoons.

Image result for yaghan peopleThe Yaghan, despite living in freezing temperatures, wore minimal clothing, swam naked, and often slept in the open. For warmth they used fires and lathered their bodies in animal fat. It is possible the Yaghan evolved warmer body temperatures in response to the cold.

Despite their similarities in lifestyles the Yaghan and the Kawesqar both spoke language isolates and had little contact with eachother, the Manek’enk or the Selk’nam.

The Fuegians had no social structure or concept of property. Only shamans – healers and intermediaries with the spirit realm – held a place of privilege.

Related imageFuegian ancestry is distinct from other Amerindians. Scant clues link them to ‘Population Y’, a mysterious group related to Melanesians and Australian Aborigines, who may have lived in South America before Siberian hunters crossed the Bering land bridge 13,000 years ago.  Selk’nam cave and body painting bore striking resemblance to that of Australian aborigines, as did the Fuegians’ eyesight, which Darwin observed far surpassed that of his crew.

Early European explorers left the natives alone. Passers-by like Magellan and James Cook were more interested in finding sea routes to Asia than colonising the cold islands. When the Beagle visited in 1829, Charles Darwin recorded his interaction with the Yaghan as ‘without a doubt the most curious and interesting spectacle I have ever beheld.’

Related imageFrom 1840, the new nations of Chile and Argentina expanded into the region and encouraged European migration to stake their claims.  When they discovered gold in 1880 the trickle became a flood. The Chilean and Argentine governments offered free land to sheep farmers and prospectors on Isla Grande.

The Selk’nam met a cruel fate. As white colonists pushed them aside and thinned the guanaco herds, the Selk’nam hunted sheep instead – the strange ‘white guanaco’ who now roamed their hunting grounds. In retaliation the colonial companies issued bounties – one pound sterling for every dead Selk’nam, half for a child. They accepted either a pair of ears, hands or a head as proof. For 15 years European headhunters massacred the Selk’nam and the Manek’enk with impunity.

Image result for julian popper selk'nam genocideJulius Popper was the genocide’s chief perpetrator. Romanian by birth, this latter day conquistador designed the layout of Havanna, Cuba, and built a fortune in Fuegian gold. Popper’s private army hunted the Selk’nam like animals, poisoned their food and shot them on sight.

The colonists killed 97% of the Selk’nam population. Survivors were resettled on nearby islands or shipped off to human zoos in Europe. In the 1920s a measles outbreak killed the remaining population. Though some 2,000 claim Selkn’am heritage today, along with the Manek’enk, their language and way of life is extinct.

The Yaghan and the Kawesqar hardly fared better. Sealing and whaling reduced their food source and foreign diseases took their toll. Today 2,622 Kawesqar (15 pureblooded) and one Yaghan remain.

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Sources:  Academia.edu, Ancient Pages, Beagle Project, Borgen Project, Chimua Adventures, Don Macnaughton’s Bibliographies, Unesco

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The Ainu

Image result for ainu peopleAinu are the indigenous people of Japan.  25,000 live on the island of Hokaiddo and a further 1,000 in the Russian territories of Sakhalin and Kuril to the north.  The Ainu are descendants of the Jomon people, who settled Japan over 20,000 years ago, long before the Yamato (ethnic Japanese) first arrived in 300 BC.  Like indigenous people worldwide, centuries of institutional discrimination have critically endangered the Ainu way of life.

Ainu have pale skin, a robust frame, deep set eyes, and thick wavy hair. Traditionally the men grew long beards while the women tattooed their mouths. Until the 1990s scientists speculated they were a long lost tribe of Caucasians, but genetic testing has revealed they are closer to other East Asians, despite their physical differences.

Image result for hokkaido ainu mapMost Ainu men, like their Jomon ancestors, have haplogroup D in their Y chromosomal DNA, shared with Tibetans, Andaman islanders and Okinawans. By contrast, roughly 10% of Japanese ancestry comes from the Jomon.

Ainu mitochondrial DNA, suggests common ancestry with Okinawans and indigenous people of the Russian Far East. Their ancestors were Ice Age hunters from southern Siberia who deviated from their East Asian cousins millennia ago and crossed a land bridge to Japan. They likely developed their distinct appearance from centuries of isolation in a cold, wintry climate.

Related imageToday most Ainu look Japanese, their mixed ancestry the product 20th century assimilation campaigns. An unknown number of Yamato – possibly up to 200,000, have Ainu ancestry though many do not know it themselves. In the past people concealed their heritage for fear of discrimination.

Related imageTraditionally the Ainu were hunter-gatherers. They hunted deer, foxes, seals, otters and other animals, fished salmon and grew vegetables and millet. One custom involved raising bears from cubs then, after a year, sacrificing and eating them in a public ritual. Bears were central to the Ainu’s animist faith. The Ainu believed spirits inhabited every aspect of the natural world, including animals, streams, mountains and trees, which were to be venerated and respected. The Ainu crafted clothing from furs, fishskin, cotton, bark and woven grass.

The Japanese began colonising Hokkaido in the 1300s. The wild frontier was appealing to restless Samurai and the fur trade was lucrative. The Ainu fought back in 1457, 1669 and 1789 but were defeated each time. Smallpox, tuberculosis and cholera decimated their population.

Image result for ainu In 1868 the Meiji Regime formerly annexed Hokkaido, opening it to Japanese settlers, and started assimilating the Ainu. The 1899 ‘Hokkaido Aboriginal Protection Act’ forced Ainu to abandon hunting and fishing for agriculture and adopt Japanese customs and names. Speaking their native language and traditional practices like tattooing and animal sacrifice were banned. The law was not lifted until 1997.

The Ainu language has no relation to any other. Ainu means ‘human’ in their native tongue. Japanese assimilation campaigns were successful: out of the 20,000 Ainu today, only 15 still speak the language.

There has since been an effort to revitalize Ainu culture. Even so, the Japanese government did not recognise the Ainu as an ethnic minority until 1991 or an indigenous group until 2008. In February 2019 the Japanese goverment finally granted Ainu indigenous rights. The Russian government has yet to do so.

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Sources: Akanainu, Akarenga, The Economist, Heritage of Japan, Japan Times, Minority Rights, Nature, Quartz, Tofoku,  Washington Post

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Southeast Asian Migrations

Related imageThe people of the Indochinese Peninsular (Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam) descend from four principle migrations. Each has contributed to the languages, cultures and genetic makeup of the region today.

It is uncertain who the original inhabitants of Southeast Asia were or the languages they spoke. Homo Erectus and the mysterious Denisovans lived there in prehistoric times, with the first Homo Sapiens arriving 50,000 years ago. They were likely ‘negrito’ hunter-gatherers, far shorter, darker skinned and curly haired than most Southeast Asians today.  According to genetic sequencing Indochina’s ancient inhabitants were related to Andaman Islanders, the Semang of Malaysia and the Ainu of Japan.

Related imageAustroasiatic speaking farmers migrated from the north around 2,000 BC and introduced wet rice cultivation and bronze tools.  They were part of a population boom from the birth of agriculture in China. More numerous and better organised, they replaced the indigenous population and spread throughout the region as far East India and Malaysia. Indian traders strongly influenced the Mon and Khmer, who adopted Theravada Buddhism and Indic scripts. Austroasiatic farmers in the Red River Delta, who were more influenced by China, would become the Vietnamese.

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The Tai-Kadai family includes Thai, Lao and Shan Burmese. Rice farmers from southern China , they migrated to the highlands of Indochina in the 8th century under pressure from the Chinese Tang Dynasty. The Tai-Kadai built cities, assimilated local Austroasiatic people and adopted their Buddhist customs and scripts. Some Tai-Kadai speaking tribes, like the Zhuang and Tai-Lue remain in southern China.

Sino-Tibetan speaking migrants entered Burma at the same time. Foremost were the Bamar (Burmese), renowned horsemen who settled the fertile Irrawaddy valley and forced other groups like the Karen, who arrived in the 6th century, and the Mon into the mountains.  The Bamar founded the powerful kingdom of Bagan (pictured) and still dominate the region today.

Image result for baganAustronesian speakers related to Malays and Filipinos founded the kingdom of Champa in southern Vietnam. First Hindu, then Muslim, it lasted over a thousand years until its conquest by the Vietnamese in the 18th century. The Cham are now a minority in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Image result for hmong mien languagesHmong Mien are another language family from China, possibly the original inhabitants of the Yellow River Valley. Today, their 6 million speakers are scattered across the mountains of China, Vietnam and Laos. The Hmong, who migrated to Southeast Asia in the 1800s, are the largest group.

Modern Southeast Asians have a diverse heritage.  Most have varying degrees of ancestry from the different migrant groups, with significant Han Chinese contribution in Thailand and Vietnam.   The 300 Maniq people of southern Thailand, who speak an Austroasiatic language, are the only remaining negrito group.

Sources: EthnologueGenome Biol Evol, Jared Diamond –  Guns, Germs and Steel, Science Daily, Southeast Asian Archaeology

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Polynesian Migrations

Image result for ancient polynesiansThe Polynesian Migrations (1200 BC – AD 1250) brought mankind to the farflung islands of the Pacific Ocean, the last part of the world to be inhabited bar Antarctica.

Polynesia (Greek for ‘many islands’) is the easternmost region of the South Pacific, lying to the west of Melanesia (‘black islands’) and Micronesia (‘tiny islands). While humans lived in Melanesia since the Stone Age, Micronesia and Polynesia were not settled until the second and first millenniums respectively, by speakers of the Austronesian language family.

There are over a thousand islands in Polynesia, ranging from shallow atolls to large volcanic islands.  Because of the varying size, climate and distance between these islands a variety of societies emerged, sharing a common heritage.

The Polynesians descend from the Lapita culture, a branch of the Austronesian family who lived on the islands around Papua New Guinea. Renowned for their pottery, the Lapita were distant cousins of other Austronesian peoples like the Malays and Indonesians. The Polynesian gene pool is 80% Austronesian and 20% Melanesian.

From 1200 BC Lapita seafarers sailed eastward in hardy outrigger canoes, using the sun and night sky for navigation. Over two thousand years they settled the islands of the South Pacific, introducing chickens, pigs, dogs, yams, taro (a root crop) and breadfruit where they went.

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Polynesian SettlementsImage result for samoa

  • 1200 BC – Fiji, Tonga
  • 1000 BC – Samoa
  • 400 – Hawaiian Islands
  • 500 – Tahiti, Marquesas
  • 800 – Easter Island
  • 1000 – Cook Islands
  • 1250 – New Zealand

Image result for moaiIn isolated Easter Island (Rapa Nui) settlers sculpted over 8000 moai out of volcanic rock. The tallest of statue was 9 metres high. By European arrival however, the Easter Islanders had felled the island’s forests and had no wood in which to build canoes and escape.

In Hawaii, the largest of the Polynesian archipelagos, a complex society developed. The Hawaiians developed irrigation systems and fish farms that supported sizeable populations. Kingdoms formed on the largest islands and a rigid caste system developed, consisting of hereditary chiefs, priests, labourers and slaves.

From 950 onwards the paramount chiefs of Tonga built a multi island empire of 40,000 people spanning as far as Fiji and the Marquesas. The Tongans facilitated trade and tribute across islands up to 500 kilometers apart. Canoes of 150 warriors kept the peace.

The last landmass Polynesians settled was New Zealand, which was far larger and colder than the tropical Pacific Islands. Their descendants became the Maori, a society of craftsmen and warriors living in fortified villages. By European contact in 1642 there were over 100,000 people in New Zealand.

Image result for maui polynesian artPolynesians may have reached the South American mainland by AD 1000. The sweet potato, a staple Polynesian crop found as far west as New Guinea, originated in the Andes Mountains while coconuts, foreign to the New World, were found in Panama by 1500. There is speculation as to how much contact Polynesians had with the local inhabitants. Although it was far closer, the ancient Polynesians never set foot on Australia.

The Polynesians believed in a spiritual force called mana, wielded by prestigious chiefs and noblemen. The culture hero Maui was central to their mythos. According to legend he tamed the sun, drew the islands of Hawaii and fished the North Island of New Zealand out from the sea.

As seafarers the Polynesians were unsurpassed until Spanish and Portuguese galleons sailed the world centuries later. Today Polynesians are the majority in most of the islands except Hawaii and New Zealand, which are colder and now support large European populations. Were it not for colonial meddling in the 18th century, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji would likely be the same country today.

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