In 1994, Koji Lum collected head hair in Micronesia. He used
the head hair to obtain DNA samples. Lum's purpose was to compare
the genetic relationships of various Micronesian groups to other Pacific
Islanders and Asians and their languages (Lum & Heathcote, 1998, 1).
DNA offers a better way to study the relationships among Pacific Islanders.
Anthropologists based past studies on linguistics. A study of grammar
and word lists allowed researchers to established degrees of correlation
between various Pacific Islanders. For example, the Chamoru language
is most closely related to Bareic in Sulawesi based on a comparison of
standardized word lists (Murdock, 1968, 88). One linguist found that
Chamoru has a high percentage of common vocabulary with Maanyan of Borneo
and West Futuna in Vanuatu (Russell, PC). Others say that Chamorro
is closer to Ilokano and Tagalog in the Philippines. They base their
analysis on the grammatical structure (Topping, Ogo, & Dungca, 1975,
3) and not on common vocabulary (Russell, PC). Topping argues that
grammatical structure is a better indicator than common vocabulary. Linguists
have formulated theories of Pacific Island colonization based on the similarity
of languages. P. S. Bellwood, who wrote the definitive work on the
peopling of the Pacific, relied heavily on this linguistic evidence.
There is a problem in using language to predict relations among people.
Language is a culturally transmitted and not a biological trait.
Just because a native of Hong Kong speaks English does not mean that he
or she is necessarily of British decent. In fact it is more likely
that he or she is Chinese.
On the other hand, DNA is the genetic material that determines biological
inheritance. "Lum 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" (Lum & Heathcote, 1998, 1). This analysis ignores
inheritance from a father.
Lum wanted to find out if the DNA similarities would agree with the
linguistic similarities. "For instance, would there be close mtDNA
similarity among all the groups who speak Oceanic Austronesian (OCAN) languages?
In Micronesia, OCAN languages include those spoken in the Southwest Islands
of Palau, Yap Outer Islands, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Nauru, the Marshalls,
and Kiribati. As well, all Polynesian languages are classified as
OCAN, as are many languages spoken within Melanesia. In contrast,
people from Yap Proper, Palau (other than the Southwest Islands) and the
Marianas speak languages that are classified as non-Oceanic Austronesian
(AN)" Lum & Heathcote, 1998, 2). Would Chamorus, Palauans and
Yapese mtDNA be closer to AN speakers from Southeast Asia or closer to
OCAN-sepaking Micronesians (Lum & Heathcote, 1998, 2)?
Lum analyzed the hair of 455 people. He estimated the genetic
distances among the various population groups by comparing the mtDNA sequences
of each group. He compared the mtDNA of people from Guam, Rota, Saipan,
Palau, the Southwest Islands of Palau, Yap Proper, and Kapingamarangi
with those from "479 volunteers from other parts of Micronesia, Polynesia,
Melanesia, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, mainland Southeast Asia,
and East Asia" (Lum & Heathcote, 1998, 2).
There was a general mtDNA agreement with linguistic classifications
among all the OCAN speakers. But the Western Micronesian AN speakers'
(Yapese and Palauans) mtDNA is most similar to OCAN-speaking Micronesians.
The Chamorus were very different. These AN speakers clustered "with
a diverse grouping of AN speakers and even with speakers of non-Austronesian
languages" (Lum & Heathcote, 1998, 5)
"The Chamorro sample has closest mtDNA similarity to two aboriginal
Malay groups from western coastal Thailand (Moken and Urak Lawoi).
These results are intriguing, as all three groups are non-Oceanic Austronesian
(AN) speakers. Surprisingly, the next closest degree of similarity
to the Marianas sample is with Japan, then aboriginal Australians, then
a sample from Java" (Lum & Heathcote, 1998, 5).
What does all this mean? "First, the generally close agreement
between mtDNA and linguistic relationships indicates that common historical
processes were involved in the dispersal of both maternal lineages of people,
and languages that they speak, throughout the Pacific. Fourteen of
fifteen Polynesian and Micronesian samples (mostly OCAN-speakers) cluster
together and have relatively close mtDNA ties with samples from the Philippines,
Borneo and South China (Canton)" (Lum & Heathcote, 1998, 5).
This shows that Micronesians and Polynesians have a southeast Asian
homeland. "In contrast, 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.
The results for Palau and Yap are not so tidy. The "mtDNA and
linguistic relationships do not agree? Lack of such agreement can
mean a number of things, but mixing of populations - after initial linguistic
settlement - springs to mind first. Western Micronesia and Melanesia
are regions where a greater amount of such mixing is indicated" (Lum &
Heathcote, 1998, 5-6). This "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 Micronesia" (Lum & Heathcote,
Chamoru 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. Chamorus have not
mixed much with other Micronesians. This does not mean that Chamorus
are Malays. "What such close mtDNA affinity suggests is that Chamorros
and aboriginal Malays have common maternal ancestors, 'way back when'.
The 'way back when' time being before the Chamorros were a distinctively
crystallized group, before the colonization of the Marianas by people whose
descendants would only later develop the way of living that defined them
as 'Chamorros'" (Lum & Heathcote, 1998, 7).
Bellwood, P. S. "The Colonization of the Pacific: Some Current
In The Colonization of the Pacific: A Genetic Trail. Edited by
Adrian V. S. Hill and Susan W. Serjeantson.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.
Lum, J. Koji and Gary M. Heathcote. "Genetic Relationships of Micronesian
Populations: A Project Update."
Anthropology Resource & Research Center Non-Technical Report Series,
Mangilao, Guam: University of Guam, 1998.
Murdock, George P. "Genetic Classification of the Austronesian Languages:
A Key to Oceanic Culture History."
In Peoples and Cultures of the Pacific, ed. Andrew P. Vayda.
Garden City New York: The Natural History Press, 1968.
Olmo, Richard K. Personal Communication, 1998.
Russell, Scott. Personal Communication, 1997.
Topping, Donald, Pedro M. Ogo, and Bernadita C. Dungca. Chamorro-
Pacific and Asian Linguistic Institute Language
Texts: Micronesia. Honolulu: University Press of