| Hawaii Public Radio
HILO, HAWAI’I - New linguistics research by suggests the original settlers of the Hawaiian Islands came from a small chain of low-lying atolls just east of Bougainville.
Language professor William ‘Pila’ Wilson of the University of Hawai’i has uncovered evidence that Hawai'i’s first inhabitants may have migrated from Papua New Guinea's Mortlock Islands .
The old understanding of the Hawaiian islands is that they were settled from Sāmoa by way of the Marquesas islands.
Professor Wilson's research found that these people had in fact originated from the Mortlocks, small Polynesian outlier islands far to the east.
They sailed directly east to the Phoenix, Line and Marquesas Islands before migrating throughout east Polynesia.
These Polynesian outliers are located just off the east coast of Bougainville and include Takuu, Nukumanu, Nukeria, and Luangiua atolls.
Wilson proposes the outlier people sailed from here to a chain of coral islands and atolls 2,000 km south of Hawai'i.
His research, published this summer in the Journal Oceanic Linguistics, lays out a step-by-step development of East Polynesian languages – including Hawaiian – from ancestral languages spoken in the outliers.
Wilson first proposed his theory in 1985, but there were doubts that the Mortlock atolls could be the sources of such a major population.
Fellow linguistics professor and Austronesian language expert Bob Blust admits he only recently came to accept Wilson’s theory after examining the evidence.
“What he's done is show that there are certain changes that are shared exclusively by languages within Eastern Polynesia.
“And not just within Eastern Polynesia as a whole, but he's got a new subgrouping of the Eastern Polynesian languages within Eastern Polynesia,” says Blust.
“You’d have to find a body of evidence that’s just as strong as what he’s presented now, and its pretty strong.”
Wilson’s latest research identifies more than 200 linguistic changes that are shared exclusively by these Polynesian outlier islands and East Polynesia, but not Sāmoa.
Matthew Spriggs, emeritus professor of Archaeology at the Australian National University, says Wilson’s research supports archaeological evidence on material culture and migration patterns in the Pacific.
“The great thing about it is that some of the crucial islands which are important here these Polynesian outliers, no archeology has been done there,” says Spriggs.
“So every keen young archaeologist I’ve been meeting, I've been telling them to get over to some of these outliers.”
Wilson says time is of the essence. Rising sea levels could force the inhabitants of these low-lying atolls to flee their homeland, and in the process, risk losing the ancestral language of east Polynesia.
With thanks to the Solomon Times and Ples Singsing