Austronesian peoples

The Austronesian peoples or more accurately Austronesian-speaking peoples,[14] are a group of various peoples in Southeast Asia, Oceania and East Africa that speak Austronesian languages. The nations and territories predominantly populated by Austronesian-speaking peoples are known collectively as Austronesia.[15]

Another term used by Wilhelm G. Solheim II to refer to Austronesian-speakers with a maritime-oriented culture is Nusantao ("south island people"), as part of his Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication Network hypothesis.[16]

Austronesian-speakers today include the Taiwanese aborigines and most of indigenous inhabitants of Maritime Southeast Asia, Madagascar, Micronesia and Polynesia, as well as the Cham of Southeast Asia.

Austronesian peoples
Taiwanese aborigines
Amis people performing a traditional dance
Total population
c. 400 million
Regions with significant populations
Austronesian languages
Folk religion (Animism, Shamanism), Buddhism, Christianity (Protestantism, Roman Catholicism), Hinduism (Balinese Hinduism), Islam (Sunni Islam)

History of research

The linguistic connections between Madagascar, Polynesia, and Southeast Asia were recognized early in the Colonial Era by European authors, particularly the remarkable similarities between Malagasy, Malay, and Polynesian numerals.[17] The first formal publications on these relationships was in 1708 by the Dutch Orientalist Adriaan Reland, who recognized a "common language" from Madagascar to western Polynesia; although the Dutch explorer Cornelis de Houtman also realized the linguistic links between Madagascar and the Malay Archipelago prior to Reland in 1603.[18]

Masked Dancers at Aurora
Dancers wearing qatu masks in the initiation rites of Maewo, Vanuatu, from The Melanesians (1891) by Robert Codrington[19]

The Spanish philologist Lorenzo Hervás y Panduro later devoted a large part of his Idea dell' Universo (1778-1787) to the establishment of a language family linking the Malaysian Peninsula, the Maldives, Madagascar, the Sunda Islands, Moluccas, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands eastward to Easter Island. Multiple other authors corroborated this classification, and the language family came to be known as "Malayo-Polynesian," first coined by the German linguist Franz Bopp in 1841 (German: malayisch-polynesisch). The term "Malayo-Polynesian" was also first used in English by the British ethnologist James Cowles Prichard in 1842 to refer to a historical racial category roughly equivalent to the Austronesian peoples today, and not to the language family.[17][20]

Austronesian family
Distribution of the Austronesian languages (Blust, 1999)[21]

However, the Malayo-Polynesian language family initially excluded Melanesia and Micronesia, due to what they perceived were marked physical differences between the inhabitants of these regions from the Malayo-Polynesian speakers. However, there was growing evidence of their linguistic relationship to Malayo-Polynesian languages, notably from studies on the Melanesian languages by Georg von der Gabelentz, Robert Henry Codrington and Sidney Herbert Ray. Codrington coined and used the term "Ocean" language family rather than "Malayo-Polynesian" in 1891, in opposition to the exclusion of Melanesian and Micronesian languages. This was adopted by Ray who defined the "Oceanic" language family as encompassing the languages of Southeast Asia and Madagascar, Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia.[18][19][22][23]

In 1899, the Austrian linguist and ethnologist Wilhelm Schmidt coined the term "Austronesian" (German: austronesisch, from Latin auster, "south wind"; and Greek νῆσος, "island") to refer to the language family.[24] Schmidt had the same motivations as Cordington. He proposed the term as a replacement to "Malayo-Polynesian", because he also opposed the implied exclusion of the languages of Melanesia and Micronesia in the latter name.[17][20] It became the accepted name for the language family, with Oceanic and Malayo-Polynesian languages being retained as names for subgroups.[18]

The term "Austronesian", or more accurately "Austronesian-speaking peoples", came to refer the people who speak the languages of the Austronesian language family. Some authors, however, object to the use of the term to refer to people, as they question whether there really is any biological or cultural shared ancestry between all Austronesian-speaking groups.[14][25] This is especially true for authors who reject the prevailing "Out of Taiwan" hypothesis and instead offer scenarios where the Austronesian languages spread among preexisting static populations through borrowing or convergence, with little or no population movements.[26][27]

Boracay boat sunset
Paraw sailboats from Boracay. Outrigger canoes and crab claw sails are hallmarks of the Austronesian maritime culture[28][29][30]

Despite these objections, the general consensus is that the archeological, cultural, genetic, and especially linguistic evidence all separately indicate varying degrees of shared ancestry among Austronesian-speaking peoples that justifies their treatment as a "phylogenetic unit." This has led to the use of the term "Austronesian" in academic literature to refer not only to the Austronesian languages, but also the Austronesian-speaking peoples, their societies, and the geographic area of Austronesia.[25][26][27][31][32][33]

Serious research into the Austronesian languages and its speakers has been ongoing since the 19th century. Modern scholarship on Austronesian dispersion models is generally credited to two influential papers in the late 20th century: The Colonisation of the Pacific: A Genetic Trail (Hill & Serjeantson, eds., 1989), and The Austronesian Dispersal and the Oigin of Languages (Bellwood, 1991).[32][34][35] The topic is particularly interesting to scientists for the remarkably unique characteristics of the Austronesian speakers: their extent, diversity, and rapid dispersal.[32][36][37]

Regardless certain disagreements still exist among researchers with regards to chronology, origin, dispersal, adaptations to the island environments, interactions with preexisting populations in areas they settled, and cultural developments over time. The mainstream accepted hypothesis is the "Out of Taiwan" model first proposed by Peter Bellwood. But there are multiple rival models that create a sort of "pseudo-competition" among their supporters due to narrow focus on data from limited geographic areas or disciplines.[32][36][37][38] The most notable of which is the "Out of Island Southeast Asia" model. As a generalization, authors that are based in Indonesia and Malaysia tend to favor the "Out of ISEA" model, while authors based in Taiwan and the Pacific Islands tend to favor the "Out of Taiwan" model.[32]

However, other authors have also proposed more complex combined models that create more or less coherent comprehensive hypotheses with only a few contentious areas. An example of this is the "Synthetic Total Evidence Model" (STEM) by Chambers & Edinur (2015).[32]

Geographic distribution

Prior to the 16th century Colonial Era, the Austronesian language family was the most widespread language family in the world, spanning half the planet from Easter Island in the eastern Pacific Ocean to Madagascar in the western Indian Ocean.[26]

Rangiroa, Tuamotus
Coconuts in Rangiroa island in the Tuamotus, French Polynesia, a typical island landscape in Austronesia. Coconuts are native to tropical Asia, and were spread as canoe plants to the Pacific Islands and Madagascar by Austronesians.[39][40][41]

It is spoken today by about 386 million people (4.9% of the global population), making it the fifth-largest language family by number of speakers. Major Austronesian languages with the highest number of speakers are Malay (Indonesian and Malaysian), Javanese, and Filipino (Tagalog). The family contains 1,257 languages, which is the second most of any language family.[42]

The geographic region that encompasses native Austronesian-speaking populations is sometimes referred to as Austronesia. Other geographic names for various subregions include Greater Sunda Islands, Lesser Sunda Islands, Island Melanesia, Island Southeast Asia (ISEA), Malay Archipelago, Maritime Southeast Asia (MSEA), Melanesia, Micronesia, Near Oceania, Oceania, Pacific Islands, Remote Oceania, Polynesia, and Wallacea. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the nationalistic term Nusantara is also popularly used for their islands.[31][32]

Austronesia with hypothetical greatest expansion extent (Blench, 2009) 01
Extent of contemporary Austronesia and possible further migrations and contact (Blench, 2009)[43]

Historically, Austronesians uniquely live in an "island world". Austronesian regions are almost exclusively islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans, usually volcanic in origin. The vast majority lie within ten degrees of the equator, with predominantly tropical or subtropical climates with considerable seasonal rainfall. They had limited penetration into the interiors of large islands or mainlands.[18][44]

They include Taiwanese aborigines, the majority of ethnic groups in Brunei, East Timor, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Micronesia, the Philippines, and Polynesia. As well as the Malays of Singapore; the Polynesians of New Zealand, Hawaii, and Chile; the Torres Strait Islanders of Australia; the non-Papuan peoples of Melanesia and coastal New Guinea; the Shibushi-speakers of Comoros, and the Malagasy and Shibushi-speakers of Réunion. They are also found in the regions of Southern Thailand, the Cham areas in Vietnam and Cambodia, and parts of Myanmar.[18][45]

Additionally, modern-era migration brought Austronesian-speaking people to the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, mainland Europe, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Hainan, Hong Kong, Macau, and West Asian countries.[46] Ethnic Maldivians also possess a genetic connection to the Austronesian-speaking groups of maritime Southeast Asia via gene flow from the Malay Archipelago.[47][48]

Some authors also propose further settlements and contacts in the past in areas that are not inhabited by Austronesian speakers today. These range from likely hypotheses to very controversial claims with minimal evidence. In 2009, Roger Blench compiled an expanded map of Austronesia that encompass these claims based on various evidence like historical accounts, loanwords, introduced plants and animals, genetics, archeological sites, and material culture. They include areas like the Pacific coast of the Americas, Japan, the Yaeyama Islands, the Australian coast, Sri Lanka and coastal South Asia, the Persian Gulf, some of the Indian Ocean islands, East Africa, South Africa, and West Africa.[43]


Early stages of the Austronesian diaspora showing best-fit genomic proportions of Austronesian-speaking peoples in ISEA and their inferred population movements
Best-fit genomic mixture proportions of Austronesians in Island Southeast Asia and their inferred population movements[32][49]

The broad consensus on Austronesian origins is the "two-layer model" where an original Paleolithic indigenous population in Island Southeast Asia were assimilated to varying degrees by incoming migrations of Neolithic Austronesian-speaking peoples from Taiwan and southern China from around 4,000 BP.[37][50] Austronesians also mixed with other preexisting populations as well as later migrant populations among the islands they settled, resulting in further genetic input. The most notable are the Austroasiatic-speaking peoples in western Island Southeast Asia (peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, and Java); the Bantu peoples in Madagascar and the Comoros; as well as Indian, Arab, and Han Chinese traders and migrants in the more recent centuries.[32][49]


Island Southeast Asia was settled by modern humans in the Paleolithic following coastal migration routes, presumably starting before 70,000 BP, long before the development of Austronesian cultures.[32][51][52] These populations are typified by having dark skin, curly hair, and short statures, leading Europeans to believe they were related to African Pygmies in the scientific racism of the 19th century. However, despite these physical differences, genetic studies have shown that they are more closely related to other Eurasian populations than to Africans.[53][52]

Peopling of eurasia
Representation of the coastal migration model, with the indication of the later development of mitochondrial haplogroups

These early population groups originally lacked watercraft technology, and thus could only cross narrow interisland seas with primitive floats or rafts (likely bamboo or log rafts) or through accidental means. Especially the deeper waters of the Wallace Line, Weber Line, and Lydekker Line with islands disconnected from mainland Asia even in the lower sea levels of the last glacial period.[32][51][note 1]

Humans reached the islands in Wallacea as well as the Sahul landmass (Australia and New Guinea) by around 53,000 BP (some give even older dates up to 65,000 BP). By 45,400 years ago, humans had reached the Bismarck Archipelago in Near Oceania.[32][51] They were once also present in mainland China and Taiwan, but their populations are now extinct or assimilated.[54][55][56] The oldest confirmed human fossils in the Philippines is from the Tabon Caves of Palawan, dated to around 47,000 BP.[57] Previously, it was believed that the earliest putative record of modern humans in Southeast Asia is from the Callao Cave of northern Luzon in the Philippines dated to around 67,000 BP.[51][58] However, in 2019, the remains were identified as belonging to a new species of hominid, Homo luzonensis.[59]

These people are generally historically referred to as "Australo-Melanesians" or "Australoids", though the terminology is problematic as they are genetically diverse and most groups within Austronesia have significant Austronesian admixture and culture. The unmixed descendants of these groups today include the interior Papuans and Indigenous Australians.[32][49][52]

Negrito outrigger
Aeta fishermen in an outrigger canoe in Luzon, Philippines (c. 1899)

In modern literature, descendants of these groups located in Island Southeast Asia west of Halmahera are usually collectively referred to as "Negritos", while descendants of these groups east of Halmahera (excluding Indigenous Australians) are referred to as "Papuans".[53] They can also be divided into two broad groups based on Denisovan admixture. Philippine Negritos, Papuans, Melanesians, and Indigenous Australians display Denisovan admixture; while Malaysian and western Indonesian Negritos (Orang Asli) and Andamanese islanders do not.[52][60][61][note 2]

Mahdi (2017) also uses the term "Qata" to distinguish the indigenous populations of Southeast Asia, versus "Tau" for the later settlers from Taiwan and mainland China; both are based on proto-forms for the word "person" in Malayo-Polynesian languages that referred to darker-skinned and lighter-skinned groups respectively.[53] Jinam et al. (2017) also proposed the term "First Sundaland People" in place of "Negrito", as a more accurate name for the original population of Southeast Asia.[52]

These populations are genetically distinct from later Austronesians, but through fairly extensive population admixture, modern Austronesians all have varying levels of ancestry from these groups. The same is true for some populations historically considered "non-Austronesians" due to physical differences; like Negritos, Orang Asli, and Austronesian-speaking Melanesians, all of whom have Austronesian admixture.[26][32][49] In Polynesians in Remote Oceania, for example, the admixture is around 20 to 30% Papuan, and 70 to 80% Austronesian. The Melanesians in Near Oceania are roughly around 20% Austronesian and 80% Papuan, while in the natives of the Lesser Sunda Islands, the admixture is around 50% Austronesian and 50% Papuan. Similarly, in the Philippines, the groups traditionally considered to be "Negrito" vary between 0 to 50% Austronesian.[26][32][49][52]

Neolithic China

Likely routes of early rice transfer, and possible language family homelands (archaeological sites in China and SE Asia shown)
Possible language family homelands and the spread of rice into Southeast Asia (ca. 5,500–2,500 BP). The approximate coastlines during the early Holocene are shown in lighter blue.[62]

The broad consensus on the Urheimat (homeland) of Austronesian languages as well as the Neolithic Early Austronesian peoples is accepted to be Taiwan, as well as the Penghu Islands and coastal mainland southern China.[63][64][65]

The identity of the Neolithic pre-Austronesian cultures in China is contentious. Tracing Austronesian prehistory in mainland China and Taiwan has been difficult due to obliteration of most traces of Austronesian culture by the recent southward expansion of the Han Chinese into southern China since at least the terminal Neolithic (4500 to 4000 BP), the southward expansion of the Han dynasty (2nd century BCE), and the recent Qing dynasty annexation of Taiwan (1683 CE).[62][66][67][68] Today, no Austronesian languages survive in southern China.[32][64][69] The politicization of archaeology is also problematic, particularly erroneous reconstructions among some Chinese archaeologists of non-Sinitic sites as Han.[69]

Nevertheless based on linguistic, archaeological, and genetic evidence, Austronesians are most strongly associated with the early farming cultures of the Yangtze River basin that domesticated rice from around 13,500 to 8,200 BP. They display typical Austronesian technological hallmarks, including tooth removal, teeth blackening, jade carving, tattooing, stilt houses, advanced boat-building, aquaculture, wetland agriculture, and the domestication of dogs, pigs, and chickens. These include the Kuahuqiao, Hemudu, Majiabang, Songze, Liangzhu, and Dapenkeng cultures which occupied the coastal regions between the Yangtze River delta to the Min River delta.[70]

Early migrations and linguistic origin

Researches into the origins of Austronesian have still remained controversial with two competing hypotheses. The first hypothesis is supported by Robert Blust, which connects lower Yangtze neolithic Austro-Tai entity with the rice-cultivating Austro-Asiatic cultures, assuming the center of East Asian rice domestication, and putative Austric homeland, to be located in the Yunnan/Burma border area.[71] Under that view, there was an east-west genetic alignment, resulting from a rice-based population expansion, in the southern part of East Asia: Austro-Asiatic-Tai-Kadai-Austronesian, with unrelated Sino-Tibetan occupying a more northerly tier.[71] The second hypothesis is Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian hypothesis proposed by Laurent Sagart, which argues for a north-south genetic relationship between Chinese and Austronesian, based on sound correspondences in the basic vocabulary and morphological parallels.[71] In 2017, Sagart pointed out that the speakers of both proto-Austronesian and Old Chinese had words for two domesticated millets Setaria italica and Panicum miliaceum, which further backs up his theory that pre-Austronesian speakers inhabited the modern-day northeastern China, and that whose language was genetically related to Old Chinese:[72]

However, he has also raised the possibility that the sound similarities between the Chinese and Austronesian millet terms and basic vocabulary items shown in his past papers may be the result of contact.[73] Sagart's hypothesis has recently been supported by genetic evidence from Ko et al. (2014) and Wei et al. (2017).[74][75] The Longshan interaction sphere is an alternative explanation for the sound correspondences between Old Chinese and proto-Austronesian.

Mainland pre-Austronesian cultures
Early waves of migration to Taiwan proposed by Roger Blench.

Roger Blench (2014) suggests that the single migration model for the spread of the Neolithic into Taiwan is problematic, pointing out the genetic and linguistic inconsistencies between different Taiwanese Austronesian groups.[76] The surviving Austronesian populations on Taiwan should rather be considered as the result of various Neolithic migration waves from the mainland and back migration from the Philippines.[76] These incoming migrants almost certainly spoke languages related to Austronesian or pre-Austronesian, although their phonology and grammar would have been quite diverse.[76]

Relations with other groups

The proposed route of Austroasiatic and Austronesian migration into Indonesia and the geographic distribution of sites that have produced red-slipped and cord-marked pottery
Proposed routes of Austroasiatic and Austronesian migrations into Indonesia (Simanjuntak, 2017)[77]

Based on linguistic evidence, there have been proposals linking Austronesians to Austroasiatic and Sinitic peoples (as Austric and Sino-Austronesian languages, respectively). But evidence of these relationships are tenuous and the methods used are highly contentious. Neither proposals are widely accepted.[78] In particular, similarities between Austronesian and Sinitic languages are believed to be the result of an Austronesian substratum and Neolithic cultural interaction, rather than common descent.[79][80]

Genesis of Daic languages and their relation with Austronesians
Proposed genesis of Daic languages and their relation with Austronesians (Blench, 2018)[81]

However, it is believed that in western Island Southeast Asia there had been earlier Neolithic overland migrations (pre-4,000 BP) by Austroasiatic-speaking peoples into what is now the Greater Sunda Islands when the sea levels were lower in the early Holocene. These peoples were assimilated linguistically and culturally by incoming Austronesian peoples in what is now modern-day Indonesia and Malaysia.[77]

Several authors have also proposed that Kra-Dai speakers may actually be an ancient daughter subgroup of Austronesians that migrated back to the Pearl River delta from Taiwan and/or Luzon shortly after the Austronesian expansion. Later migrating further westwards to Hainan, Mainland Southeast Asia and Northeast India. They proposes that the distinctiveness of Kra-Dai (it is tonal and monosyllabic) was the result of linguistic restructuring due to contact with Hmong-Mien and Sinitic cultures. Aside from linguistic evidence, Roger Blench has also noted cultural similarities between the two groups, like facial tattooing, tooth removal or ablation, teeth blackening, snake (or dragon) cults, and the multiple-tongued jaw harps shared by the Indigenous Taiwanese and Kra-Dai-speakers. However archaeological evidence for this is still sparse.[78][70][81][82] This is believed to be similar to what happened to the Cham people, who were originally Austronesian settlers (likely from Borneo) to southern Vietnam at around 2,100 to 1,900 BP, and had languages similar to Malay. Their languages underwent several restructuring events to syntax and phonology due to contact with the nearby tonal languages of Mainland Southeast Asia and Hainan.[82][83]

Austronesian expansion

Migration models

Tsou youth of Taiwan (pre-1945)
Colorized photograph of a Tsou warrior wearing traditional clothing, pre-World War II

"Out of Taiwan" model

An element in the ancestry of Austronesian-speaking peoples, the one which carried their ancestral language, originated on the island of Taiwan. This occurred after the migration of pre-Austronesian-speaking peoples from continental Asia between approximately 10,000–6,000 BCE.[84][21] Other research has suggested that, according to radiocarbon dates, Austronesians may have migrated from mainland China to Taiwan as late as 4000 BC (Dapenkeng culture).[85] Before migrating to Taiwan, Austronesian speakers originated from the Neolithic cultures of Southeastern China, such as the Hemudu culture or the Liangzhu culture of the Yangtze River Delta.[86][87][88]

Chronological dispersal of Austronesian people across the Pacific (per Bellwood in Chambers, 2008)
Map showing the migration and expansion of the Austronesians
Hōkūleʻa, a modern replica of a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe, is an example of a catamaran, another of the early sailing innovations of Austronesians
Maori wooden carvings in the Rotorua Museum-2
Māori poupou from the Ruato tomb of Rotorua

According to the mainstream "out-of-Taiwan model", a large-scale Austronesian expansion began around 3000–1500 BCE. Population growth primarily fuelled this migration. These first settlers may have landed in northern Luzon in the archipelago of the Philippines, intermingling with the earlier Australo-Melanesian population who had inhabited the islands since about 23,000 years earlier. Over the next thousand years, Austronesian peoples migrated southeast to the rest of the Philippines, and into the islands of the Celebes Sea, Borneo, and Indonesia. The Austronesian peoples of Maritime Southeast Asia sailed eastward, and spread to the islands of Melanesia and Micronesia between 1200 BCE and 500 CE, respectively. The Austronesian inhabitants that spread westward through Maritime Southeast Asia had reached some parts of mainland Southeast Asia, and later on Madagascar.[84][89]

Sailing to Micronesia and the previously uninhabited islands of remote Oceania by 1000 BCE, the Austronesian peoples founded Polynesia.[90] These people settled most of the Pacific Islands. They had settled Rapa Nui (Easter Island) by AD 300, Hawaii by AD 400, and into New Zealand by about 1280 CE. There is evidence, based in the spreading of the sweet potato, that they reached South America where they traded with the Native Americans.[91][92]

In the Indian Ocean they sailed west from Maritime Southeast Asia; the Austronesian peoples reached Madagascar by ca. 50–500 CE.[41][39]

Tianlong Jiao (2007)[93] notes that Neolithic peoples from the coast of southeastern China migrated to Taiwan from 6,500-5,000 B.P. The Neolithic period in southeastern China lasted from 6,500 B.P. until 3,500 B.P., and can be divided into the early (ca, 6500-5000 B.P.), middle (ca. 5000-4300 B.P.), and late (ca. 4300-3500 B.P.) Neolithic periods. The Neolithic in southeastern China started off with pottery, polished stone tools, and bone tools, with technology continuing to progress over the years. Neolithic peoples in Taiwan and mainland China continued to maintain regular contact with each other until 3,500 B.P., which was when bronze artefacts started to appear. Jiao (2013)[94] notes the Neolithic appeared on the coast of Fujian around 6,000 B.P. During the Neolithic, the coast of Fujian had a low population density, with the population depending on mostly on fishing and hunting, alongside with limited agriculture.

Based on recent archaeological evidence as well as linguistic evidence, Roger Blench (2014)[95] considers the Austronesians in Taiwan to have been a melting pot of immigrants from various parts of the coast of eastern China that had been migrating to Taiwan by 4,000 B.P. These immigrants included people from the foxtail millet-cultivating Longshan culture of Shandong (with Longshan-type cultures found in southern Taiwan), the fishing-based Dapenkeng culture of coastal Fujian, and the Yuanshan culture of northernmost Taiwan which Blench suggests may have originated from the coast of Guangdong. Based on geography and cultural vocabulary, Blench believes that the Yuanshan people may have spoken Northeast Formosan languages. Thus, Blench believes that there is in fact no "apical" ancestor of Austronesian in the sense that there was no true single Proto-Austronesian language that gave rise to present-day Austronesian languages. Instead, multiple migrations of various pre-Austronesian peoples and languages from the Chinese mainland that were related but distinct came together to form what we now know as Austronesian in Taiwan. Hence, Blench considers the single-migration model to be inconsistent with both the archaeological and linguistic (lexical) evidence.

"Southeast Asian origin" model

Outline of maternal lineages involved in the main human migrations in the region of Southeast Asia and Taiwan
Proposed migration waves from Sundaland in the Late Pleistocene based on mtDNA data; and later "back-migrations" into Island Southeast Asia during the early to mid-Holocene expansion of rice-farming Austronesians from mainland southern China. The extent of the coastlines of Sundaland during the last ice age is presented in light shading; while modern coastlines after the rise of sea levels in the Late Pleistocene to mid-Holocene is in dark shading. (Brandão et al., 2016)

A competing hypothesis to the "Out of Taiwan" model is the "Out of Sundaland" hypothesis, favored by a minority of authors. Notable proponents include William Meacham, Stephen Oppenheimer, and Wilhelm Solheim. For various reasons, they proposed that the homelands of Austronesians were within Island Southeast Asia (ISEA), particularly in the Sundaland landmass drowned during the end of the last glacial period by rising sea levels.[15][96][97]

Manunggul Jar
The Manunggul Jar, a secondary burial jar from around 890-710 BCE excavated from a Neolithic burial site in the Manunggul cave of the Tabon Caves, Palawan

Stephen Oppenheimer's studies on Southeast Asian and Pacific genetics, in particular, focused on the discovery of a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroup that have been evolving in the Indonesian archipelago for more than 40,000 years ago. He concluded that this meant that ancestral populations in the region of Sundaland were the primary ancestors of all Asians who migrated northwards as the sea levels rose, in opposition to the prevailing "Out of Taiwan" hypothesis.[97][98]

In 2008, a study by Soares et al., which included Oppenheimer, examined mtDNA lineages in ISEA and Taiwan and discovered that, at most, only around 20% of modern mtDNA were introduced during the Neolithic. They examined mtDNA Haplogroup E in particular, which they concluded likely evolved from Haplogroup M (specifically Haplogroup M9), that arrived in ISEA more than 50,000 years ago. Although sea level rise was mostly gradual starting from ~19,000 years ago in the last glacial period, other studies have shown that there were likely three episodes of catastrophic rise events at approximately ~14,500, ~11,500, and ~7,500 years ago caused by ice sheet collapse. They concluded that these sudden sea level floodings triggered mass population displacements from ISEA and were the initial conditions that triggered the development of the maritime technologies that later defined Austronesian culture.[99]

Funerary Monoliths, Karassic Village, Tana Toraja 1425
Toraja megaliths memorializing the deceased in Sulawesi

In particular they pinpointed the region between the Sulu Sea and the Sulawesi Sea, as the likely point of origin of a pre-adapted maritime culture that expanded north towards Taiwan and east to New Guinea and the Pacific, using the genetic evidence of the dispersal of Haplogroup E as well as putative archeological evidence with the "flake-blade" stone tool assemblages found in the Philippines and Taiwan. However, they also caution that their study only accounts for ~15% of mtDNA lineages in Southeast Asia and that it was not enough pinpoint other directions of dispersal from neighboring groups.[99]

Findings from HUGO (Human Genome Organization) in 2009 further corroborated the studies when it concluded that Asia was populated primarily through a single migration event out of Africa whereby an early population first entered South East Asia before they moved northwards to East Asia.[100][101][102]

However, in 2014, the results of a study by Lipson et al. contradicted these results. Unlike the earlier studies which focused only on mtDNA, the new study used whole genome data, allowing them to study hundreds of thousands of ancestors, not just one lineage. The team was also using more sophisticated statistical analysis methods that allowed the examination of genetic mixing between Southeast Asian populations. The new study found that all ISEA populations had genes originating from the aboriginal Taiwanese. Contrary to the claim of a south-to-north migration in the "Out of Sundaland" hypothesis, the new whole genome analysis strongly confirms the north-to-south dispersal of the Austronesian peoples in the prevailing "Out of Taiwan" hypothesis. The researchers further pointed out that while humans have been living in Sundaland for at least 40,000 years, the Austronesian people were recent arrivals, and the results of the previous studies failed to take into account admixture between them.[98][103]

While people have been in Sundaland for at least 40,000 years, Austronesian-speaking people arrived more recently from the north and continue spreading eastward. I think the scientists who claim an ‘Out of Sundaland’ origin for Austronesians are confusing the ancient presence of humans in Sundaland with the spread of Austronesians

— Mark Stoneking, ‘Out of Sundaland’ Assumption Disproved, Rochmyaningsih, Dyna (28 October 2014). "'Out of Sundaland' Assumption Disproved". Jakarta Globe
Banaue Rice Terraces and its statue friend
Ifugao hogang guardian spirits overlooking the Banaue Rice Terraces in the highlands of Luzon

In 2016, proponents of "Out of Sundaland" in Brandão et al. refined their earlier hypothesis after examining further mtDNA lineages by acknowledging that migrations from Taiwan did occur during the mid to late Holocene. But they proposed that rather than a monolithic "Austronesian expansion" as posited by the "Out of Taiwan" model, it was instead a process of cultural diffusion and assimilation that brought linguistic and cultural changes (particularly rice cultivation) but had relatively minor genetic impact (an average of 20%) on preexisting populations in ISEA. Their study also still concluded that populations from ISEA did expand northwards earlier during the catastrophic rise events of the Late Pleistocene, dispersing into mainland southern China and then into Taiwan. This was concurrent with other migrations of indigenous maritime-oriented ISEA populations entering Taiwan from the south through the Philippines.[104]

Furthermore, they interpret the low genetic contributions of Taiwanese aboriginals to ISEA mtDNA lineags as evidence that Taiwanese aborigines did not contribute significantly to the later southward expansion. Rather the expansion was largely the spread of rice-farming Austronesians from the south China passing through Taiwan at around 7000 to 6000 years ago before entering ISEA again at around ~4.5 thousand years ago. They propose that the admixture of Austronesian genes in Taiwanese populations happened after the Austronesian expansion from southern China, rather than before it.[104]

Evidence from agriculture

Genomic analysis of cultivated coconut (Cocos nucifera) has shed light on the movements of Austronesian peoples. By examining 10 microsatelite loci, researchers found that there are 2 genetically distinct subpopulations of coconut – one originating in the Indian Ocean, the other in the Pacific Ocean. However, there is evidence of admixture, the transfer of genetic material, between the two populations. Given that coconuts are ideally suited for ocean dispersal, it seems possible that individuals from one population could have floated to the other. However, the locations of the admixture events are limited to Madagascar and coastal east Africa and exclude the Seychelles and Mauritius. Sailing west from Maritime Southeast Asia in the Indian Ocean, the Austronesian peoples reached Madagascar by ca. 50–500 CE, and reached other parts thereafter. This forms a pattern that coincides with the known trade routes of Austronesian sailors. Additionally, there is a genetically distinct sub-population of coconuts on the eastern coast of South America which has undergone a genetic bottleneck resulting from a founder effect; however, its ancestral population is the pacific coconut, which suggests that Austronesian peoples may have sailed as far east as the Americas.[105][41][39]

Body art

Left: A young Bontoc man from the Philippines (c. 1908) with tattoos on the chest and arms (chaklag). These indicated that the man was a warrior who had taken heads during battle.[106]
Right: A young Māori woman with traditional tattoos (moko) on the lips and chin (c. 1860–1879). These were symbols of status and rank, as well as being considered marks of beauty.

Femme Maori 1998-23050-173

Body art among Austronesian peoples is common, especially elaborate tattooing which has ancient origins.[107] It is particularly prominent in Polynesian cultures, from where the word "tattoo" derives. But tattooing is also prominent among Austronesian groups in Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.[108]

Among the Māori of New Zealand, tattoos (moko) were originally carved into the skin using bone chisels (uhi) rather than through puncturing as in usual practice.[109] In addition to being pigmented, the skin was also left raised into ridges of swirling patterns.[110]

In the Philippines, the Spanish called the Filipinos they first encountered in the Visayas as the Pintados, ("the painted ones" or "the tattooed ones")[111] due to their practice of tattooing their entire bodies.[112] Tattooing traditions were mostly lost as the natives of the islands converted to Christianity and Islam, though they were still practised in isolated groups in the highlands of Luzon and Mindanao. Philippine tattoos were usually geometric patterns or stylized depictions of animals, plants, and human figures.[113][114][115] Some of the few remaining traditional tattoos in the Philippines are from elders of the Igorot peoples. Most of these were records of war exploits against the Japanese during World War II.[116]

Decorated jars and other forms of pottery are also common, with patterns often resembling those used in tattoos. Austronesian peoples living close to mainland Asia were also influenced by Chinese, Indian, and Arabic art forms.

Stilt houses

Austronesian Vernacular Stilt house is the native cultural houses of Austronesian people. Every Austronesian country has their own name and style for their own Austronesian houses. In the Philippines these are called Bahay kubo with many styles and variants, in Indonesia these are called Rumah adat also with many variants, and in Malaysia these are called Rumah Melayu which are also found in Indonesia and part of the Rumah Adat family.


The religious traditions of the Austronesian people focus mostly on ancestral spirits, nature spirits and gods. It is basically a complex animistic religion. Mythologies vary by culture and geographical location but share common basic aspects such as ancestor worship, animism, shamanism and the beliefe in a Spirit world and powerful deities.[117] There is also a great amount of shared mythology and a common believe in Mana.[118]

Currently, many of these beliefs have gradually been replaced. Examples of native religions include: Anito, Sunda Wiwitan, Kejawen, Kaharingan or the Māori religion. Many Austronesian religious believes were incorporated into new arrived religions such as Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.[119]

Genetic studies

Genetic studies have been done on the people and related groups.[120] The Haplogroup O1 (Y-DNA)a-M119 genetic marker is frequently detected in Native Taiwanese, northern Philippines and Polynesians, as well as some people in Indonesia, Malaysia and non-Austronesian populations in southern China.[121] A 2007 analysis of the DNA recovered from human remains in archeological sites of prehistoric peoples along the Yangtze River in China also shows high frequencies of Haplogroup O1 in the Neolithic Liangzhu culture, linking them to Austronesian and Tai-Kadai peoples. The Liangzhu culture existed in coastal areas around the mouth of the Yangtze. Haplogroup O1 was absent in other archeological sites inland. The authors of the study suggest that this may be evidence of two different human migration routes during the peopling of Eastern Asia; one coastal and the other inland, with little genetic flow between them.[122]

See also


  1. ^ Some authors that support an ISEA origin of Austronesians, however, have proposed that they may have later been the original developers of the maritime culture that later characterized Austronesians, during several rapid sea level rise events that took place near the end of the last glacial period that flooded the landmasses in Southeast Asia. Developing the catamaran originally from lashing two canoes, which eventually became the prototype for the numerous types of water vessels of the Austronesians, as well as the Chinese chuán, after northward migrations of Negrito populations in the Neolithic (Mahdi, 2017).
  2. ^ The absence of Denisovan admixture in western Southeast Asian populations seem to indicate that interbreeding between modern humans and Denisovans happened within Southeast Asia itself, possibly east of the Wallace Line, and not in mainland Eurasia (Reich et al., 2011; Cooper & Stringer, 2013)


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External links

Banwaon people

The Banwaon people are an ethnic groups in Mindanao, also known as the Adgawanon, Banuaonon, Banwanon, Higaonon-Banwaon and Manobo. There are concentrations of Banwaons found in the island of Mindanao in the Filipino province of Agusan del Sur. The largest concentrations are in and around San Luis, Maasam and the Libang river valley.


A barangay or baranggay ( (abbreviated as Brgy. or Bgy.), formerly referred to as barrio, is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village, district or ward. In metropolitan areas, the term often refers to an inner city neighbourhood, a suburb or a suburban neighborhood. The word barangay originated from balangay, a kind of boat used by a group of Austronesian peoples when they migrated to the Philippines.Municipalities and cities in the Philippines are subdivided into barangays, with the exception of the municipalities of Adams in Ilocos Norte and Kalayaan, Palawan which each contain only one barangay. The barangay itself is sometimes informally subdivided into smaller areas called purok (English: "zone"), barangay zones consisting of a cluster of houses, and sitios, which are territorial enclaves—usually rural—far from the barangay center. As of June 2015, there were 42,029 barangays throughout the Philippines.

Boholano people

The Boholano people, also called Bol-anon, refers to the people who live in the island province of Bohol. They are part of the Visayan metaethnicity.

Curcuma zedoaria

Curcuma zedoaria (zedoary, white turmeric, or kentjur) is a perennial herb and member of the genus Curcuma, family Zingiberaceae. The plant is native to South Asia and Island Southeast Asia but are now naturalized in other places including the US state of Florida. Zedoary was one of the ancient food plants of the Austronesian peoples. They were spread during prehistoric times to the Pacific Islands and Madagascar during the Austronesian expansion (c. 5,000 BP). Its use as a spice in the West today is extremely rare, having been replaced by ginger, and to a lesser extent, yellow turmeric.

Dong Son culture

The Dong Son culture (named for Đông Sơn, a village in Vietnam) was a Bronze Age culture in ancient Vietnam centred at the Red River Valley of northern Vietnam from 1000 BC until the first century AD. It was the last great culture of Văn Lang and continued well into the period of the Âu Lạc state. Its influence spread to other parts of Southeast Asia, including Maritime Southeast Asia, from about 1000 BC to 1 BC.The Dong Son people, who are also known as Lạc or Lạc Việt, were skilled at cultivating rice, keeping water buffalos and pigs, fishing and sailing in long dugout canoes. They also were skilled bronze casters, which is evidenced by the Dong Son drum found widely throughout northern Vietnam and South China.

To the south of the Dong Son culture was the Sa Huỳnh culture of the proto-Chams.


Indio may refer to:

Indio, California, a city in Riverside County, California, United States

Indio (beer), a Mexican beer brand

Indio (coin), a Portuguese coin minted from 1499-1504

Indio, person of indigenous peoples of the Americas

Indio, the Spanish Colonial racial term for the native Austronesian peoples of the Philippines between the 16th and 19th centuries

Indio, Bovey Tracey, a historic estate in Devon, England

Indios de Ciudad Juárez, football team

Malagasy people

The Malagasy (French: Malgache) are an Austronesian and Southeast African ethnic group native to the island and country of Madagascar. They are divided into two subgroups: the "Highlander" Merina, Sihanaka and Betsileo of the central plateau around Antananarivo, Alaotra (Ambatondrazaka) and Fianarantsoa, and the "coastal dwellers" elsewhere in the country. This division has its roots in historical patterns of settlement. The original Austronesian settlers from Borneo arrived between the third and tenth centuries and established a network of principalities in the Central Highlands region conducive to growing the rice they had carried with them on their outrigger canoes. Sometime later, a large number of settlers arrived from East Africa and established kingdoms along the relatively unpopulated coastlines. The Bantu Africans mixed with the Austronesian settlers and this resulted in the today Malagasy people.

The difference in ethnic origins remains somewhat evident between the highland and coastal regions. In addition to the ethnic distinction between highland and coastal Malagasy, one may speak of a political distinction as well. Merina monarchs in the late 18th and early 19th century, the Malagasy people united the Merina principalities and brought the neighboring Betsileo people under their administration first. They later extended Merina control over the majority of the coastal areas as well. The military resistance and eventual defeat of most of the coastal communities assured their subordinate position vis-à-vis the Merina-Betsileo alliance. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the French colonial administration capitalized on and further exacerbated these political inequities by appropriating existing Merina governmental infrastructure to run their colony. This legacy of political inequity dogged the people of Madagascar after gaining independence in 1960; candidates' ethnic and regional identities have often served to help or hinder their success in democratic elections.

Within these two broad ethnic and political groupings, the Malagasy were historically subdivided into specifically named ethnic groups, who were primarily distinguished from one another on the basis of cultural practices. These were namely agricultural, hunting, or fishing practices; construction style of dwellings; music; hair and clothing styles; and local customs or taboos, the latter known in the Malagasy language as fady. The number of such ethnic groups in Madagascar has been debated. The practices that distinguished many of these groups are less prevalent in the 21st century than they were in the past. But, many Malagasy are proud to proclaim their association with one or several of these groups as part of their own cultural identity.

"Highlander" ethnic groups





Coastal ethnic groups

Antaifasy or Antefasy

Antaimoro or Temoro or Antemoro

Antaisaka or Antesaka


Antandroy or Tandroy


Antanosy or Tanosy











Malay race

The concept of a Malay race was originally proposed by the German physician Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840), and classified as a brown race. Malay is a loose term used in the late 19th century and early 20th century to describe the Austronesian peoples or to categorize Austronesian speakers into a race.

Since Blumenbach, many anthropologists have rejected his theory of five races, citing the enormous complexity of classifying races. The concept of a "Malay race" differs with that of the ethnic Malays centered on Malaya and parts of the Malay Archipelago's islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

Melanau people

Melanau or A-Likou (meaning River people) are an ethnic group indigenous to Sarawak, Malaysia. They are among the earliest settlers of Sarawak. They speak in the Melanau language, which is part of North Bornean branch of Malayo-Polynesian languages. In 2010, there are estimated to be 123,410 who consider themselves Melanau, making it the fifth largest ethnic group in Sarawak (after Iban, Chinese, Malays and Bidayuh). Even though a minority in Sarawak, Melanau forms a large part of Sarawak's political sphere, 5 out of 6 of Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Sarawak is of Melanau ethnicity including the current Yang di-Pertua Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and 2 out of 5 of Chief Ministers of Sarawak are ethnic Melanau.


Melanesians are the predominant inhabitants of Melanesia. Most speak either one of the many Austronesian languages, especially in the Oceanic branch of Malayo-Polynesian, or one of the Papuan languages. Other languages spoken are the numerous creoles or pidgins in the region, such as Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu, Solomon Islands Pijin, Bislama, and Papuan Malay. Melanesians occupy islands in a wide area from Eastern Indonesia to as far east as the islands of Vanuatu and Fiji.A 2011 survey found that 92.1% of Melanesians are Christians.


Micronesia ((UK: , US: ); from Greek: μικρός mikrós "small" and Greek: νῆσος nêsos "island") is a subregion of Oceania, composed of thousands of small islands in the western Pacific Ocean. It has a shared cultural history with two other island regions: Polynesia to the east and Melanesia to the south.

The region has a tropical marine climate and is part of the Oceania ecozone. There are four main archipelagos along with numerous outlying islands.

Micronesia is divided politically among several sovereign countries. One of these is the Federated States of Micronesia, which is often called "Micronesia" for short and is not to be confused with the overall region. The Micronesia region encompasses five sovereign, independent nations—the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Nauru—as well as three U.S. territories in the northern part: Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and Wake Island.

Micronesia began to be settled several millennia ago, although there are competing theories about the origin and arrival of the first settlers. The earliest known contact with Europeans occurred in 1521, when Spain reached the Marianas. The coinage of the term "Micronesia" is usually attributed to Jules Dumont d'Urville's usage in 1832; however, Domeny de Rienzi had used the term a year previously.


The Moken (also Mawken or Morgan; Burmese: ဆလုံ လူမျိုး; Thai: ชาวเล, translit. chao le, lit. 'sea people') are an Austronesian people of the Mergui Archipelago, a group of approximately 800 islands claimed by both Burma and Thailand. Most of the 2,000 to 3,000 Moken live a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle heavily based on the sea, though this is increasingly under threat.

The Moken identify in a common culture, and speak the Moken language, a distinct Austronesian language. Attempts by both Burma and Thailand to assimilate the Moken into the wider regional culture have met with very limited success. However, the Moken face an uncertain future as their population decreases and their nomadic lifestyle and unsettled legal status leaves them marginalized by modern property and immigration laws, maritime conservation and development programs, and tightening border policies.


Moluccans are the Austronesian-speaking and Papuan-speaking ethnic groups indigenous to the Maluku Islands, also called the Moluccas, which have been part of Indonesia since 1950. As such, "Moluccans" is used as a blanket term for various ethnic and linguistic groups inhabiting the islands.

The original inhabitants of the Maluku Islands were Melanesian, or Papuan, in origin. However, the migration of the Austronesian people changed the situation drastically. Austronesian peoples displaced and partially assimilated the native Melanesian population around 2000 BCE. Melanesian features are strongest in the island of Halmahera and its surrounding islands, where the majority of the population still speaks West Papuan (non-Austronesian) languages of the North Halmahera branch.

Later added to were some Dutch, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabian and English genes due to colonization and marriage with foreign traders in the Middle Ages or with European soldiers during World War. Small number of German descendants added to Moluccan population especially in Ambon along with arrival of Protestant Missionaries since 15th century.A small population of Moluccans (~45000) live in the Netherlands. This group mainly consists of the descendants of KNIL soldiers who had originally planned to come the Netherlands only temporarily, but were eventually forced to stay. (See Moluccan diaspora.) The remainder consists of Moluccans serving in the Dutch navy and their descendants, as well as some who came to the Netherlands from western New Guinea after it was handed over to Indonesia. However, the vast majority of Moluccans still live in the Moluccas and the other surrounding region such as Papua, West Timor, North Sulawesi, Bali and Java.


The Negrito () are several different ethnic groups who inhabit isolated parts of a region known today as Austronesia. Their current populations include the Andamanese peoples of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Semang ethnic groups of Peninsular Malaysia, the Maniq people of Southern Thailand, and the Aeta people, Ati people, and 30 other official recognized ethnic groups in the Philippines.


Polynesians are an ethnolinguistic group of closely related peoples who are native to Polynesia (Polynesian Triangle), an expansive region of Oceania in the Pacific Ocean. They are part of the larger Austronesian ethnolinguistic group who trace their urheimat to Southeast Asia. They speak the Polynesian languages, a branch of the Oceanic subfamily of the Austronesian language family.

There are an estimated 2 million ethnic Polynesians worldwide, the vast majority of whom inhabit independent Polynesian nation states (Samoa, Niue, Cook Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu) and form minorities in Australia, Chile (Easter Island), New Zealand, France (French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna), United Kingdom (Pitcairn Islands) and the United States (Hawaii and American Samoa).

Saccharum officinarum

Saccharum officinarum, sugarcane, is a large, strong-growing species of grass in the genus Saccharum. It originated in New Guinea. Muslims brought it to contemporary Spain (Andalusia, between Málaga and Motril), the only place in Europe where it grows. It arrived in the New World with the Spanish and is now cultivated in tropical and subtropical countries worldwide for the production of sugar and other products.

Syzygium malaccense

Syzygium malaccense is a species of flowering tree native to Malesia and Australia. It is one of the species cultivated since prehistoric times by the Austronesian peoples. They were carried and introduced deliberately to Remote Oceania as canoe plants. In modern times, it has been introduced throughout the tropics, including many Caribbean countries and territories.


Teknonymy (from Greek: τέκνον, "child" and Greek: ὄνομα, "name"), more often known as a paedonymic, is the practice of referring to parents by the names of their children. This practice can be found in many different cultures around the world. The term was coined by anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor in an 1889 paper.Teknonymy can be found in:

Various Austronesian peoples:

The Cocos Malays of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, where parents are known by the name of their first-born child. For instance, a man named Hashim and his wife, Anisa, have a daughter named Sheila. Hashim is now known as "Pak Sheila" (literally, "Sheila's Father") and Anisa is now known as "Mak Sheila" (literally, "Sheila's Mother").

Balinese people

The Betsileo people of Madagascar, in particular the Zafimaniry subgroup

the language of the Madurese people of Indonesia

the Mentawai people of Indonesia

Tao people of Taiwan

the Korean language; for example, if a Korean woman has a son named Su-min, she might be called Su-min Eomma (meaning "mother of Su-min")

the Arab world; for example, if a Saudi man named Hasan has a child named Zayn, Hasan will now be known as Abu Zayn (literally, "Father of Zayn"). Similarly, Umm Malik is "Mother of Malik". This is known as a kunya in Arabic and is used as a sign of respect for others.


the Zuni language

Swahili, as spoken in Tanzania and Kenya

to some extent, Habesha people in the Horn of Africa

The Yoruba language of Western Africa; for example, if a woman has a son named Femi, will now be known as iya Femi (meaning mother of Femi) and her husband baba Femi (meaning father of Femi).

Uma (Gajo house)

An uma is the traditional house (rumah adat) of the Gajo district which borders Aceh on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Like the majority of the traditional vernacular architecture of Austronesian peoples, an uma is a built on piles. It is inhabited by a number of related families and has a men's front gallery, central sleeping quarters and a rear women's gallery.

Broad culture

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