Volume 51 1942 > Volume 51, No. 2 > Oceanian influence on American Indian culture. Nordenskiold's view, by Kenneth P. Emory, p 126-135
OCEANIAN INFLUENCE ON AMERICAN INDIAN CULTURE.
OF THE unbiased attempts to list and assess material culture parallels between the aboriginal cultures of Oceania and America, in consideration of possible Oceanian influence on the American, the most important is that published in 1931 in an article on the “Origin of the Indian Civilization of South America" 1 by Erland Nordenskiold, the great Swedish specialist in South American ethnology.
After discussing a list of 49 parallels, his conclusions are summed up in the following words 2:
“In Central America, Colombia, and the Amazons, and partly also in Peru, there occur a fairly large number of culture elements, parallels to which are found in Oceania.
“Some of these elements occur sporadically in North America, conveying—if in South and North America they derive from a common origin—the impression of being culture loans that have passed from the southern to the northern continent.
“Cultural influence from Oceania—so far as we are able to speak of such a thing—must in the main date from some exceedingly remote past, before the banana, sugar-cane, fowls, and domesticated pigs were known in Oceania.”
The above conclusions should be taken in conduction with all Nordenskiold's other summaries regarding the origin of the cultures of South America, and his running discussion of the list of Oceanian parallels, to appreciate how naturally he came to them. What is important for Polynesian specialists is the pertinent information he gives from the American side.
We see that in these conclusions Nordenskiold lumps Polynesian and Melanesian parallels. In his table of parallels and in part of his discussion, he separates the two.
A consideration of Nordenskiold's views should begin with the knowledge that he accepts several conclusions about Polynesia which are not supported by present evidence.
After pointing out that the parallels between Melanesia and American cultures are of much greater importance than the parallels between Polynesia and America, he goes on to say 3:
“As we know, the Oceanian island world extending as far as Easter Island is supposed to have carried a Melanesian aboriginal population, and the question arises whether it may - 127 not have been from this source that cultural influence possibly reached the American coast. This would agree with the circumstance that everything indicates that Oceanian influence upon Indian culture—if ever there was anything of the kind worth mentioning — must pre-eminently have taken place exceedingly far back in time.”
Carefully note that Nordenskiold is thinking of an aboriginal Melanesian population in the islands of Polynesia as the possible bearer of an Oceanian culture comprising the Melanesian and Polynesian parallels which he has listed.
For Melanesian influence to be of much greater importance on America than Polynesia, implies a better contact between Melanesian culture and American than that between Polynesian and American. Fully realizing the enormous distance between Melanesia and America, Nordenskiold is obliged, as anyone would be, to bring the Melanesian culture into the isles of Polynesia to make such contact possible. He puts it far back in time because he believes the contact, unless due to the stranding of random vessels whose crews had consumed all of their provisions, took place before taro, sugar cane, bananas, the domesticated fowl and pig, which spread to the farthest corners of Polynesia, were introduced by the Polynesians. 4 Also, the very wide and often distantly isolated distribution of the material culture parallels in the Americas would require a great length of time for their spread. 5 But of course if the parallels were due to coincidence, to convergent developments, the more cultures taken in for the comparison, the greater the area over which the parallels would be distributed. It must be remembered that the discrete elements compared with Oceania mostly follow different and discontinuous courses of distribution in the Americas.
The idea that a Melanesian aboriginal population once occupied Polynesia or a part of Polynesia, has long been current, and has at various times and in various quarters gained strong credence. Longheaded skulls in Easter island, the erroneous conclusion from a poor engraving that the canoe of Easter Island had a double outrigger attachment, 6 parallels between Easter island glyphs and Solomon island frigate-bird designs, 7 the rounding of Easter island adzeblades, 8 have been signaled as evidence of Melanesian influence at the extreme eastern end of Polynesia. But we now know that the Mangarevans and the eastern Tuamotuans, to the west, were predominantly long-headed and that this dolichocephaly accompanied normal and characteristic Polynesian physical traits. A long-headed Mangarevan would never be mistaken for a Melanesian. Likewise the hypothesis that Maori immigrants met and mingled with a Melanesian population in New Zealand, has not been borne out by the skeletal and somatological material now available, as Shapiro recently has shown. 9
In carving the statues of tuff, the Easter islanders employed celts, which were evidently held in the hand, and not only rounded for that purpose but sometimes grooved for a finger-grip. Except for the rounding of the edges of some of the adzes, particularly those that are large and dull, Easter island specimens agree with the early Polynesian types that are quadrangular and upright-triangular in cross-section. - 128 The frigate-bird, if characteristically drawn, would have the hooked upper-beak and forked tail, by whomever drawn.
While Melanesian influence may have been carried into Polynesia by the Polynesians, or even have seeped into the area after their occupation by the Polynesians, it seems clear after the extensive field-work of the Bishop Museum and several New Zealand institutions, that the Polynesians found the region entirely unoccupied. At least, no evidence has come to light which would clearly prove the previous existence in the present area of a culture or people alien to the Polynesian.
If, then, the Melanesians did not reach the unoccupied island area adjacent to them, which we now call Polynesia, how is it possible to believe that they reached the far more remote American continent? Or after the Polynesians were in occupancy, how could Melanesians have influenced America via Polynesian and to a greater degree than Polynesia without leaving a very strong mark throughout Polynesia?
The greater number of Melanesian parallels, as compared with the Polynesian, could be explained on the basis of a greater chance for coincidences, in consequence of the greater diversity of cultures in Melanesia than in Polynesia.
Nordenskiold lists some more or less striking parallels between Asiatic civilizations and the higher civilizations of Mexico, Central America, and Peru, and discusses them under the heading, “Do the higher Indian civilizations of America owe their origin to Asiatic influence?” 10 He first shows that the Indians of the higher civilizations discovered and invented a great deal, and that an extra-American common source for the cultures of Mexico and Peru seems improbable because of such fundamental differences between the two as appear, for example, in their architecture. 11 He makes it clear that if Asiatic civilization had exerted influence on the American, it would have had to come across the Pacific via Oceania, and would have had to be continuous over a long period of time. Therefore he concludes that such influence is highly improbable. As no trace has been found in Polynesia of occupancy by the higher civilizations of Asia, influence from that quarter via Polynesia can be ruled out in the same way as we can rule out Melanesian influence. If neither reached Polynesia, how could they have reached America?
We are left with the Polynesian parallels as possible indications of influence coming across the sea from the west, for the Polynesians were conceivably within striking distance, through drift or planned voyages.
What is conspicious in comparing Polynesia with aboriginal America, is the absence in America of the pig and fowl, and such domesticated plants used by the Polynesians as the coconut, taro, and banana, all of which, when introduced in post-Columbian times, spread with great rapidity and intensity. 12 Also, the number of cultural parallels which have been listed are not only, comparatively speaking, very small, but they are scatteringly distributed both in America and in Polynesia. When these are examined in detail, some of them appear to be elements not typical for the one area or the other, others are of such a general nature as to bear little conviction. The few that remain after these are eliminated form a slender basis on which to argue Polynesian-American connections.- 129
Nevertheless, if proof exists of contact between America and Polynesia, the possibility of common origin of similar elements, and even of dissimilar elements, has to be taken into consideration. The occurence of the sweet potato, which could not be a duplicate invention of nature, in South and Central America and in Polynesia, with its name in Polynesian apparently the same as in the Cuzco region of Peru, and recorded also from Colombia, Equador, and Bolivia, 13 seems to constitute such proof. Nordenskiold rejected this possibility because he believed that Laufer and Friederici 14 had definitely proved that the sweet potato spread from America westward in post-Columbian times. But Dixon has since shown beyond dispute that the sweet potato was in Polynesia before the Spaniards could have introduced it. 15 Furthermore, Dixon reveals the fact that in pre-European times the sweet potato had not reached Samoa or Fiji, and possibly not the Cook Islands, and that it had gone westward only as far as some eastern Melanesian islands.
It has been supposed that only the Polynesians were capable of traversing the ocean between South America and Polynesia. Certainly they were better equipped to do so than American natives. But the Polynesians to have brought back the sweet potato would have had to travel twice the distance between Polynesia and America. It has seemed to me barely possible that some Indian or Indians drifted from Peru or Colombia into Polynesia with a provision of sweet potatoes. Currents and winds are favourable for this. 16 Against this, as Dixon pointed out to me once in correspondence, is the fact that the balsa craft of the west coast of South America quickly became water-logged.
For the sweet potato in that part of America where it occurred which is nearest to Polynesia to have been called by the same designation as in Polynesia seems too remarkable to be a coincidence. Otherwise we might entertain a third possibility, that the sweet potato somehow reached Polynesia other than by human agency, if that were possible. As the case stands, the occurrence of the sweet potato in the two areas with the same name makes at least a single contact, if perhaps of the briefest nature, seem quite certain.
The distribution of the cutivable and, in Polynesia, cultivated calabash plant, Lagenaria vulgaris, considered by botanists to be indigenous in the old world, and which was found throughout Oceania, in all but the southern extremity of South America, and northward as far as Mexico, is considered by Nordenskiold as evidence of an introduction from Oceania. 17 It was certainly in South America at an early date, for Nordenskiold cites objects made from the rind of this calabash in the earliest strata of Paracas, dating farther back than the knowledge of silver and copper on the Peruvian coast. In the ancient graves of the very primitive fishing population of Arica, studied by the botanist Skottsberg, the calabash was found. These ancient people, says Nordenskiold, had no pottery and were unacquainted with the art of weaving. 18
Now, if the Lagenaria was introduced into South America, we should expect the Polynesians to have introduced it, for it is too much to expect Peruvians or others from South America to have reached Polynesia and returned, without possessing ocean-going vessels capable of performing long voyages. The calabash vine, then, if botanists are - 130 able to prove that it could only have reached America by human agency, may prove even more decisive than the sweet potato as evidence that the Polynesians reached South America. It is strange, however, that they should have introduced this plant without successfully introducing other far more important plants. It is also puzzling, but not inconceivable, that only one domesticated American plant should have been introduced in Polynesia. One can agree with Nordenskiold that any communication carried on between Oceania and America, if it had been consequential, would have resulted in the introduction from Polynesia of the fowl, the banana, sugar cane, and the like. 19 But if only one vessel or a few ever reached America from Polynesia, the occupants may have brought about some innovations in the culture of people with whom they came in touch, and these innovations may have spread.
We will consider with open mind, therefore, the 31 Polynesian, out of the 49 Oceanian parallels tabulated by Nordenskiold. 20 As one of them he lists the coconut. It is reported by Friederici, and only from a small area on the Pacific side of the Isthmus of Panama. 21 I am informed by Dr. Harold St. John of the Bishop Museum that botanists are now agreed that the coconut of Polynesia is a post-Columbian introduction in America. Nordenskiold says that the Indians have not become acquainted with a single one of the appliances that are used in Oceania for the utilization of the coconut palm. The blow gun, which Nordenskiold has marked down as occurring in Polynesia, does not occur there. Likewise, water-boiling in bamboo sections is not a practice in Polynesia, although food is sometimes steam-cooked in them, in the Society islands. Pile-buildings are typical in Polynesia only as store-houses of the Maoris of New Zealand, and palisades occur in New Zealand and its Chatham island outpost, but are absent in tropical Polynesia. Crotched-handle paddles do not occur in Polynesia, and even a bar at the end of the handle is rare. I do not know where knuckle-dusters appear in Polynesia, unless reference is made to smooth stones gripped in the hand by Hawaiian fighters. The one Nordenskiold figures, 22 from Mataco, Argentine, is an oval ring. He mentions them from Peru, Central America, and Mexico. Polynesian masks are cited as from Mangareva. We know of no record of their occurrence in Mangareva. Undoubtedly Nordenskiold means Mangaia, where the use of masks in modern fêtes is in all probability an innovation. The mourner's costume in Tahiti had a pearl-shell mask for the face, and there is at least one good record of dance-masks being worn in the Marquesas. In Captain Cook's account of the Hawaiian islands, paddlers in a canoe bearing the royal images, were masked with inverted calabashes, with a wide opening for the eyes. But in all the early literature of Hawaii there is no mention of masks, and they could not have been of importance. If fact, the Polynesians stand out in contrast with the Melanesians and the Micronesians, in the practical absence of masks.
Irrigation is considered by Nordenskiold as an important point of comparison. The kind of irrigation practised by the Hawaiian, and to a limited extent by the Marquesan, the Tahitian, and the natives of Rapa, was of a flooded-field type. The great populations of coastal Peru were made possible by a different type of irrigation, which was certainly quite ancient, very probably pre-dating the possible arrival of Polynesians.- 131
Bamboo and bone daggers, fishhooks, conch-trumpets, baton de rythm, and fish-poisoning are listed. These are rather general items. The conch which is figured is a Cassis shell, from Ijaca, Colombia. The Triton shell is the more widely employed in Polynesia. One would need to compare the shape of the American fishhooks with the Polynesians before forming an opinion as to the likelihood of Polynesian influence. A composite bone hook figured by Joyce 23 from Huasco, South Peru, resembles in form a Tahitian bonito hook, except for a lack of a hole in the base of the point. The one-piece circular hooks of bone and shell from the islands off Santa Barbara, California, 24 while not identical with those of any particular island in Polynesia, are extremely close in form. As this peculiar type of hook, operating on a different principle from other hooks, is known from no place else in the world outside of Oceania and the Californian islands, it does seem to be an introduction from Polynesia to these coastal islands.
A comparison of broad bracelets of metal with the bracelets of Polynesia loses much point when we realize that in Polynesia the Hawaiian alone wore bracelets and anklets. The composite comb, appearing in western Polynesia and widely in South America, including Colombia and Peru, is a comparable item, as also the plaited fan listed for Colombia and the Amazon. If the one illustrated from Pauserna, Brazil, 25 is typical, the American fan is comparable with the western Polynesian. Although Nordenskiold includes the rain-cloak for Melanesia and not for Polynesia, the sewn pandanus-leaf raincoat of the Tuamotus has something in common with the rain-cloak made of palm leaves figured from the Maya of Guatemala. The bark cloth and bark-cloth mallet from Colombia or Panama, Central America and Mexico, and the Amazon River are important parallels, even though the mallets differ greatly from the Polynesian. The mallet figured from Yuracare, Bolivia, has a broad blade, like the Mangarevan mallet, evidently smooth on both broad surfaces, but the grooving on the two sides is transverse and not longitudinal, as is all grooving in Polynesia.
The famous quipu, or knotted cords, of Peru are frequently compared with the Marquesan genealogical records, but the quipu is a very special affair and is used for recording by a decimal system. What they have in common is simply tying knots to record numbers. The Bontok of the Philippines, like the Polynesians, tied knots in a string to keep track of days passed.
The sword-club from Amahuaca, Peru, figured by Nordenskiold, 26 does have a superficial resemblance to some western Polynesian truncated clubs. He does not list the sling used in Peru and elsewhere, though he mentions it in the text. The sling is important in Polynesia. Nordenskiold omits the gourd-rattle of Hawaii from comparison with the gourd-rattle of coastal Peru and Colombia, because a German musicologist, Curt Sachs, regarded the Hawaiian rattle as post-European, which it is not. Captain Cook, the discoverer of Hawaii, collected and described them. Although the carrying-pole is listed among the Asiatic parallels, this can be included among the Polynesian, and as a basic Polynesian device. It appears in Colombia, among the Cunas, as well as among the Seri and other Mexican tribes. The double canoe is put down for Peru and for Central America or Mexico. We can be sure that beyond the fact that two crafts are - 132 linked together, there is no resemblance to the Polynesian double canoe. Nordenskiold lists the square sail as present in Polynesia and in Peru and Central America, but the square sail in Polynesia was simply a makeshift, a sleeping-mat used in an emergency, and not a regular sail. He also reports a triangular sail from Peru, citing a letter from Friederici. We should know the basis of this report, and have a description of the sail, to judge if it is comparable to the Polynesian triangular sails. Stilts are widespread in Polynesia and Nordenskiold reports them from Central America and Mexico, the Amazon region, north of Mexico, and the Grand Chaco. A stilt figured from Cavina, Bolivia, 27 is a one-piece stilt, whereas the Polynesian are two-piece stilts. 28 29
Nordenskiold considers that the wooden seat, wooden pillow, and wooden bowl with four feet, used by the Choco Indians of Panama, ought perhaps to be considered a complex, as the wooden pillow, when large, is used as a seat, and the bowl seems to him a stool hollowed out in the middle. But the seat which he figures from the Choco is very different from the Choco bowl, and from the seats and pillows of central Polynesia. The bowl has legs reminiscent of the legs on Tahitian bowls, but its basic shape is that of the legless bowl of Samoa. Maces with star-shaped heads of stone are listed as from Melanesia and Peru. Lobed stone-head clubs occur in Hawaii but they are not pierced by the handle, as in Melanesia and Peru. Trepanning occurred mainly in western South America and was quite important there. In very ancient Peruvian graves at Paracas, forty per cent. of the skulls were trepanned. In Polynesia we have a statement from Miss Henry that the Tahitians “mended broken skulls with the shell of a half-mature coconut”, 30 and in the Tuamotus, at Fangatau, in 1929, Dr. H. L. Shapiro and I collected a skull which may have been trepanned. However, I know of no other specimen, and Nordenskiold says that trepanning is of exceedingly great age in Peru, long prior to the Inca civilization. So its introduction from Polynesia is quite unlikely. Nordenskiold omits comparing the Peruvian poncho with the Tahitian, which differs mainly in the material and the unsewed sides. He also does not, as has often been done, compare Peruvian feather cloaks with the Hawaiian and New Zealand. We do not consider that the Hawaiian and New Zealand cloaks have a common origin, so different are they in shape and technique. For the same reason, the Peruvian cloak is likely to be an entirely independent creation. Another parallel, more striking than the last two, is the up-turned flute of Peru and New Zealand, both figured by Andersen in Maori Music. 31
From this examination it would seem that we must omit seven out of Nordenskiold's 31 parallels, because they are nonexisting, and seventeen more because they are doubtful. This leaves as more or less solid parallels, only seven: fishhooks, composite combs, fans of western Polynesian type, bark-cloth and mallets, the stilt, and the shell trumpet. To these we might add the sling, the poncho, raincoat, gourd-rattle of Hawaii, the up-turned flute of New Zealand, and the carrying-pole, making a list of thirteen traits scattered in America, only six of which run through Polynesia. This leaves us with a ridiculously small and unsatisfactory list to establish the existence of cultural contact between Polynesia and America, yet it is as good as any, on the material culture side, which has so far been submitted.- 133
Although this paper deals with Nordenskiold's view of Polynesian-American relations, it is intended to set this whole problem in truer light. I should therefore consider the recent efforts of J. Imbelloni to establish that Polynesian influence reached the Americas. His argument is based mainly on the similarity of the Polynesian word for sweet potato and the identical word for the same in some Indian dialects of Peru, 32 the Polynesian word for adze and the same designation being used in Chile for the axe, 33 and the Polynesian and Chilean use of the axe or adze ceremonially, 34 and finally upon the occurrence of patu types of weapons of New Zealand in various parts of the Americas. 35
Of course, if the sweet potato was introduced into Polynesia from South America, as seems the only possibility, we must expect the name to have been borrowed by the Polynesians from the Indians and not the reverse. As for the word toki meaning axe in Chile and adze in Polynesia (Imbelloni does not seem to distinguish between axe and adze), unless there are other words in the languages of the two areas there need be no reason to assume one has borrowed from the other. The Chileans would have had axes before the Polynesians came, and each would have had their own name for the tool they used, so there would be no occasion to borrow the term. The indigenous Polynesian word kapŭ (Hawaiian and Tahitian 'apŭ), and the English word cup both refer to an object having the same function.
Most spectacular of Imbelloni's comparisons are those which he makes between the specialized New Zealand stone handclub of the patupatu class, of the type known by the name onewa, and identical specimens claimed to have been found in the following places in the Americas: 36 1 Arkansas River, 1 California, 1 (of brass) Columbia River, 2 Michigan, 1 Mexico, 2 Peru, 1 Argentine, 1 Chile. If these represented a “cultural transportation” as Imbelloni claims, 37 they should be typical in the regions found and not unique and isolated finds in those regions, and if they were due to cultural spread there should be variations among them, distributed as they are over such an enormous range, a range, I dare say, greater than that reported for any typicially Indian implement as highly developed. Also, to have spread over the two continents in pre-Columbian times would have required considerable time. In Polynesia itself, this club is found only in New Zealand. The natural assumption has been that the onewa is a Maori specialization and a fairly recent one. How then explain its appearance in America? The one found on the Columbia River is cast in brass, hence post-Columbian. It is undoubtedly one of those “patoo-patoo” [patupatu] carried by Captain Cook on his third voyage, for trade with the Maoris, and “made exactly in their fashion.” 38 The early voyagers in going to and fro between Polynesia and the American continents stopped and traded at Chile, Peru, Mexico, and the North-west Coast. When they visited New Zealand they secured through trade the handsome onewa, and afterwards, when they touched America they must have had them in their possession. The fact that a few of them have been found in Indian graves, including the brass specimen, proves that some were traded with the Indians. The broad and rapid lines of communication opened up by the Europeans, alone can account for the distribution in North and South America of the ten onewa located by Imbelloni. H. D. Skinner, in the December 1930 issue of this journal, has given Imbelloni's paper on the diffusion of the patu - 134 family of weapons in America detailed criticism. The implements which are only reported or which are undoubtedly of Maori manufacture he withdraws, leaving one onewa-like implement from Oregon and another from Washington, a Mexican axe-blade which Imbelloni considers an onewa blade, and two Frazer River implements comparable with the Maori paraoa weapon, and two weapons from Chile which bear a resemblance to the New Zealand-Chatham sickle-clubs.
We have seen that Nordenskiold, ready to accept all of his 49 Polynesian-Melanesian parallels with the aboriginal American cultures, was not impressed by that amount of influence on America. The necessity of withdrawing the Melanesian traits which do not appear in Polynesia, cuts his parallels to 31, and further examination puts the figure very much lower. Considering the parallels with Old World civilizations which the New World civilizations produced, it is well within the realm of the possible and probable for most if not all of the similarities between the culture of the New World and Polynesia to be due to coincidence. However, as long as the gourd seems to stand as evidence that the Polynesians reached South America in early times, and the sweet-potato as evidence that they returned, it will appear possible that some of the parallels between Polynesia and the coastal regions of the Americas are due to cultural borrowing. We can only concur with Nordenskiold that, if ever it existed, the influence of the one upon the other was negligible.- 135
1 See literature cited, under Nordenskiold.
2 Nordenskiold, p.74.
3 Nordenskiold, p.23.
4 Nordenskiold, p.26.
5 Ibid., p.23.
6 Haddon, p.161, 162.
7 Balfour, p.363, 365.
8 Linton, p.325.
9 Shapiro, p.14.
10 Nordenskiold, pp.34-54.
11 Nordenskiold, p.41.
12 Ibid., p.25.
13 Imbeltoni, p.203.
14 Friederici, (2).
15 Dixon, see literature cited.
16 Emory, p.48.
17 Nordenskiold, p.29: Skottsberg, p.39.
18 Nordenskiold, p.28-29.
19 Ibid., p.26.
20 Nordenskiold, pp.17-19.
21 Friederici (1).
22 Nordenskiold, p.21, fig.2.
23 Joyce, pl. 26. no. 3.
24 Rogers, pl. 47, opp. p.326.
25 Nordenskiold. p.21, fig. 2, 27.
26 Nordenskiold, p.21, fig. 2, 7.
27 Nordenskiold, p.21, fig. 2, 24.
28 Note 420, Journ, Polynesian Soc., vol. 36, p. 84
29 Nordenskiold, p.31.
30 Henry, p.145.
31 Andersen, figs. 50-53.
32 Imbelloni, (4).
33 Imbelloni, (1).
34 Imbelloni, (3).
35 Imbelloni, (2).
36 Imbelloni, (2). p.323-341.
37 Imbelloni (2), p.336.
38 Note 420, Journ. Polynesian Soc., vol.36, p.84.