Sunday, March 27, 2005

Pacific Island Pigs

The pig followed human colonisation of the pacific, so why did it get to the Polynesian islands, but miss out on reaching New Zealand until European contact? Or did it?

I got alerted to this through a web search turning up a paper from 2001 by Melinda S. Allen, Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith and Ann Horsburgh, researchers at Auckland University, who became interested as an outgrowth of the genetic work of Matisoo-Smith and colleagues on the ancestry and historic dispersal of the kiore. My interest in cute little furry creature is dealt with elsewhere.

Their paper begins "Pig was one of three animal domesticates in prehistoric Polynesia, transported from Near Oceania into Polynesia as far afield as the Hawaiian Islands by the region's earliest colonists."

Summarising Allen et al

Humans introduced pigs into New Guinea at an unknown date with archeological traces from 6000 BP, or perhaps much earlier, and "By 3000 BP, pig had been dispersed to West Polynesia (including Fiji) by Lapita-pottery bearing populations, along with dog, chicken, and the Pacific Rat." They spend some time discussing the absence of the pig from Easter Island and New Zealand, then got into discussing mitochondrial DNA analysis which unfortunately went over my head in places, but if I read them correctly they have been unable to do mitochondrial DNA analyses on ancient bone samples, but on modern pigs they have tests that distinguish Polynesian from European pigs and the New Zealand kune-kune pig corresponds to neither breed.

No pigs on Easter Island (Rapanui)

"In general, there is a decline in flora and fauna as one moves from the large, rich Melanesian islands, to the smaller and more remote Polynesian ones. Rapanui is the extreme of this rule. In ancient times, livestock consisted of the Polynesian chicken and rat (Kio`e), there being no evidence of either pigs or dogs." G. McCall

Pigs in New Zealand

So if the Polynesian ancestors of the Maori had pigs were there pigs in New Zealand before European contact? Apparently not

"There is a most interesting Maori reference to pigs in the journals of Sir Joseph Banks, who accompanied Cook on his first voyage to New Zealand. Near the North Cape of the North Island in December 1769, Cook's Tahitian interpreter, Tupaea, was told by the local Maoris that N.W. by N. or N.N.W. was a large country to which some people had sailed to in a very large canoe, the passage taking up to a month.

"From this expedition some members returned and told their countrymen that they had seen a country where people ate hogs. And for these animals they used the same name, Booah, as is used in the Islands.

"Though Tupaea ridiculed the story, claiming that it could only be believed if they had brought back pigs to prove it there is a good reason to regard this as a memory of a return voyager to Tonga, Samoa, or even the lower Islands." -- Percy Tipene

OK, if the pig wasn't here before the Europeans, and isn't a European or Polynesian breed, where on earth did Cook get them from? If seems possible he didn't. Percy Tipene's paper suggests that the ancestor of the kune-kune may well have been introduced by later European visitors.

And finally

What happened to the Polynesian chicken? Enquiring minds want to know.

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