Prof. Friedrich Ratzel

The Races of Oceania

General Survey of the Group

Racial resemblances of the people of Oceania to Malays and Indians

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Racial resemblances of the people of Oceania to Malays and Indians


Araucanian man and woman

Araucanian man and woman (From a photograph)
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Araucanian man and woman

What in a racial point of view severs the people of Oceania most profoundly from their neighbours to the eastward, is the unmistakable extension of the Indo-African group of races into the midst of their island-region. Individual small groups of these negroids are undoubtedly scattered over all the archipelagos, and have here and there imparted to the original Malay colouring a deeper Polynesian tint; but neither are traces of them lacking in America.

The species of mankind that occur in the South Sea Islands were long ago brought by Forster into two main divisions. One was lighter coloured, better shaped, of strong muscular build, handsome stature, and gentle, good-natured character; the other blacker, with hair becoming crisp and wavy, leaner, smaller, almost more lively than the other, but at the same time more suspicious. These are the "Polynesians" and "Melanesians" of more recent ethnographers. They cannot always be distinguished. Where it was supposed that only members of the latter group existed, scattered examples, nay, sometimes whole tribes of the lighter-skinned straight-haired race have turned up; while even among the Samoans, Virchow is decided in assuming a certain negroid strain.

Finsch describes the natives of Port Moresby as follows: "We find here every variety, from perfectly smooth hair to the twisted wig of the Papua; curly heads, some of a red blonde, are frequent; Japanese or Jewish physiognomies, even men with eagle noses, reminding one of Redskins, are not rare. So too with the colour of the skin." The least we can do is to leave the possibility of mixed descent an open question, as Wilkes did with the Paumotu Islanders. The question of origin becomes more complicated; but it is surely better, in place of assuming a pure Polynesian origin from the north-east, to draw also a line of affinity towards the north-west, than with Crozet and others to drag up again the worn-out hypothesis of a dark-skinned "primeval population." If two races dwell in the Pacific, two races may have migrated thither, especially if they were used to sea and ships.

The race-relationship with the inhabitants of the Malay Archipelago is apt to be asserted with all the more emphasis because the language-relationship so clearly points to it. But we must keep these two relationships quite distinct. Those races of the Malay Archipelago which show Asiatic affinities in lighter skin or Chinese eyes, are perhaps more strongly represented in some islands of Micronesia.

Maori girl from a photograph

Maori girl. (From photograph in the possession of
Dr. Max Buchner.)

The real Polynesians are more closely linked to the races with negroid elements in them dwelling eastward from Java and the Philippines. Physically the Polynesians are less like the inhabitants of the Malay Archipelago than are the Hovas of Madagascar. Since the time of the elder Lesson it has been usual to trace the descent of the Polynesians from Dyaks, Battaks, Maoris, Alfurs, owing to their obviously small resemblance to the Malays proper. Topinard even refers the mass of the Polynesians to North America; holding that conquerors, in no great number, may have come from Buru in Celebes; but we do not yet possess the fuller anthropological evidence, based on a multiplication of measurements, required to prove this view. Suffice it to say that it replaces the artificial theory, insufficiently grounded on either philology or ethnology, of a single immigration and simple branching-off, by a permeation and cleavage of races. In the next section, on the migration of the Polynesians, we shall adduce a series of facts in support of it.

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