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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology

Distribution of Islands

Distribution of Islands

The distribution of the islands within the Polynesian triangle is shown on the map (p. iii). Some writers, probably influenced by the theory that the Polynesians came by the Melanesian route through Samoa, have referred to Samoa and Tonga as central Polynesia, and others have called the area nuclear Polynesia. However, a glance at the map shows clearly enough that the Society Islands form the center of the Polynesian area and that Samoa and Tonga form the main groups in western Polynesia. The Society Islands are not only the page 9geographical center, but the traditions of the various islands clearly indicate that they were the center of distribution from which exploring expeditions, followed by colonizing expeditions, radiated north to Hawaii, northeast to the Marquesas, east to the Tuamotus, southeast to Rapa, south to the Australs, southwest to the Cook Islands, northwest to the atolls of Manihiki, Rakahanga, and Tongareva, and even west at an early period to Samoa. Mangareva in the east was peopled from both the Tuamotus and the Marquesas, and Easter Island was probably peopled from the Marquesas. Samoa formed a western center, which peopled Tonga and some nearby islands, and later, Tonga took part in colonizing expeditions to Niue and parts of Fiji. Some of the outliers in Melanesia appear to have been settled from both Tonga and Samoa.

As the culture that developed in different parts of Polynesia was affected to some extent by the type of islands, they are here listed according to type. Volcanic or high islands: Society, Hawaii, Marquesas, Mangareva (Gambier), Easter, Pitcairn, Samoa, Tonga, Uvea, Futuna, and Alofi. Coral or low islands: Tuamotu, Rakahanga, Manihiki, Tongareva, Pukapuka, Tokelau, and Ellice. Raised coral islands: Niue, Makatea.

The individual islands in the groups are given later in dealing with the literature of individual groups.