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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a group of related peoples—the indigenous population of Polynesia and a number of small islands of eastern Melanesia. Polynesians include the Tongans (Tonga Islands), Samoans (Samoan Islands), Uveans (Wallis Islands), Futunans (Hoorn Islands), Tuvaluans (Tuvalu Islands), Tokelauans (Tokelau Islands), Niueans (Niue Island), Pukapukans, Raro-tongans, Mangaians, Tongarevans, Manihiki Rakahangans, and others (Cook Islands), Tahitians (Society Islands), Tubuaians (Tubuai Islands), Tuamotuans, Napukans, and Reao-Pukaru-hans (Tuamotu Islands), Mangarevans (Gambier Islands), Hivans (Marquesas Islands), Rapanuians (Easter Island), Ha-waiians (Hawaiian Islands), and Maoris (New Zealand). The total number is about 750,000 (1970 estimate).

The languages of the Polynesians belong to the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages. Christianity, the dominant religion, is combined by the Polynesians with ancient beliefs. The anthropological type of the Polynesians evolved as a result of the mixing of ancient southern Mongoloids and Negro Australoids. T. Heyerdahl defends the theory of the American origin of Polynesians, but most researchers believe that the Polynesians’ ancestors were groups of mariners who came from Southeast Asia across Melanesia and Micronesia to the western frontiers of Polynesia. Here, in conditions of comparative isolation, the evolution of the anthropological type of the Polynesians and the basic features of the general Polynesian culture was completed.

The settlement by the Polynesians of the numerous islands of Polynesia probably began in the middle of the first millennium B.C. and continued for more than two millennia. Despite the limited natural resources of the islands, specifically the absence of metals, the Polynesians managed to create a relatively high culture. Their main occupations were fishing and tropical land cultivation, in some places with the use of fertilizers and artificial irrigation. They raised pigs, dogs, and chickens and engaged in various crafts, which had already become dissociated from land cultivation.

By the beginning of the European colonization in the late 18th century, the Polynesians were at various stages of the disintegration of the primitive clan system, and on the Hawaiian Islands, Tahiti, and Tonga early class states were evolving.

The rule of the colonizers led to a considerable decrease in the number of Polynesians, to the Polynesians’ loss of the best lands, and to the destruction of many aspects of the distinctive Polynesian culture. On many islands capitalist relations became dominant, although vestiges of the primitive clan structure remained.

Today, Polynesians engage in semisubsistence farming and work on capitalist plantations; a small intelligentsia has emerged. The Polynesians are waging a struggle for national liberation. In 1962, Western Samoa achieved national independence.


Narody Avstralii i Okeanii. Moscow, 1956.
Te Rangi Hiroa. Moreplavateli solnechnogo voskhoda. Moscow, 1959.
Tumarkin, D. D. “Tur Kheierdal i problema zaseleniia Polinezii.” In Avstraliia i Okeaniia (Istoriia i sovremennost’). Moscow, 1970.
Suggs, R. C. The Island Civilizations of Polynesia. New York, 1960.
Polynesian Culture History. Honolulu, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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