Searching For Common Roots This is a personal view on a connection between Polynesia

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Ulu Lau

Searching For Common Roots

This is a personal view on a connection between Polynesia,

Pre-Columbian America, and the Book of Mormon.

© Pen Fiatoa Columbus, Ohio May 2006

APPENDIX A: Word Comparison 122
APPENDIX B: References 142


Albert Einstein: "The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead."
1. Why I’m writing this paper.
Polynesian migration was something I didn’t pay too much attention to growing up in American Samoa. I read a few articles about the subject, but cared less about how Polynesia was colonized. This debate was taking place in lecture halls and laboratories that were far removed from my normal layman’s world. I became very interested in this topic again when I came across some books in the Columbus City library, which were about Samoa. Most of the information I use as reference was from those books and many available in the public domain. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have an interest in this subject because of the claims by some LDS church leaders that Polynesians are descendants of a people whose story is recorded in the Book of Mormon.
"In these islands of Samoa, Thou hast remembered Thine ancient promise 'unto them who are upon the isles of the sea' (2 Nephi 10:21)." (Apia Samoa Temple - Rededicatory Prayer by President Gordon B Hinckley, 4 September 2005.)
"We thank Thee, that thousands and tens of thousands of the descendants of Lehi, in this favored land, have come to a knowledge of the gospel, many of whom have endured faithfully to the end of their lives." (Laie Hawaii Temple - By President Heber J Grant, 27-30 November 1919)
"...the Polynesian Saints are characterized by a tremendous faith. Why do they have this great faith? It is because these people are of the blood of Israel. They are heirs to the promises of the Book of Mormon. God is now awakening them to their great destiny." (Mark E. Petersen: Conference Report, Apr. 1962, p. 112)
The Book of Mormon is purported to be a translation by Joseph Smith of ancient records written by a people who migrated from Jerusalem to the Americas. It’s a religious article that’s accepted by LDS members as scripture including me, but it’s not seriously considered by others outside as a true history of the indigenous Americans. Despite being snubbed by many people including experts, I’m including it as an important part of this paper. True or not, the Book of Mormon is special to me and it’s an honor to write about it.

In 2003 I scoured the public library and the Internet for books and materials about Polynesia and Pre-Columbian America. In so doing I came across the text of the “Solo Ole Va” that was available online. I also found William Sullivan’s book “The Secret of the Incas.” (1) These two things inspired me to begin writing notes.

I know, you're probably thinking this is just a clever attempt by some wacky Mormon to push his believes. It's true that I want to share my Mormon views, but I can assure you that my ultimate goal is seeking truths about my Samoan and Polynesian cultures which I hope to illustrate.
This is neither an archaeological treatise nor an LDS theological lesson. It’s a personal commentary on the germane information I compiled. To be honest with you, I’m a bit uncomfortable sharing this in public because I lack the technical expertise and writing ability to take on such an important task or the finesse to counter criticism that might follow. Deciding to make my thoughts public is a bit overwhelming. I mean, who am I? There are many LDS Church members who can write well about the LDS Church and professionals inside and outside the LDS Church who can speak well about science. Nevertheless, the impression of this information motivates me to pursue this project and share my personal opinion whatever the consequences.
I name this paper "Ulu Lau" because words like ululau are the kinds I've sought for comparison and analysis. The Samoan "ulu" means head, and "lau" is leaf. Combining the two words describes "the head leaf" as "ululau" or the newly budded leaf. Reversing the two words forms another Samoan word "lau'ulu" which is "hair" or "the leaf of the ulu plant." The ulu plant is one of the most valuable plants to the Samoans. It's precisely the dissection of words like these to find relationships and root meanings that I seek and try to make sense of.
My ultimately goal is to find out if the Samoan “Solo ole Va” myth provides any insight into the Polynesian migration topic. I want to find out if there are traditions from the Pacific and the Americas that shed light on the true essence of the Solo. It was time to search for answers.
The Solo and other references I came across have convinced me that there are connections between ancient Polynesia and pre-Columbian America. I think these connections are more convincing than what the experts acknowledge. While words in the Samoan and pre-Columbian languages are different, a careful comparison of those words suggestively reveal some common roots. The similarity of words was very interesting to me and it’s one of the highlights of this manuscript. Those words are listed in Appendix “A”.
Whatever your position is about Polynesian migration and Mormon theology, I hope that you’ll be patient and allow me to articulate my thoughts on these subjects. Open your mind to the possibility of a human history and stories about a past that is clouded in mysteries and often hidden by prejudices and ego. It’s only a few pages long.
2. The Debate - How did we get here? Where did we come from?
The common view that was taught during my high school years in American Samoa was that Polynesians came from the west. We also read about the Kon-Tiki expedition and its famous organizer, which I think was talked about to provide some balance to the discussion. Polynesian migration theories are based on Lapita and DNA studies. They garner more supporters in the scientific community and have become the gospel of Polynesian narrative. Against this force, I want to add my opinion and to present an alternative picture of the Polynesian migration. This is not an attempt to introduce a new theory, but to restate an old one from a slightly different bend. So, as the Celebrated American Chef Emeril Lagasse often says, "Let's kick it up a notch!"
As I said before, I was thrilled when I came across an online copy of the "Solo ole Va". This myth motivated me to search for more references. In the Columbus Ohio Main Public Library I came across William Sullivan’s book “The Secret of the Incas”. Sullivans book provided me with a unique way of looking at Polynesian migration and it became a key source in my search for root ideas between Samoan and pre-Columbian cultures. Sullivan's book was written about Andean cultures. The "Solo ole Va" is a Samoan myth from the central Pacific. Initially I didn’t have an opinion on a connection between these two sources. But as I read them over more, some patterns emerged that impressed on my mind connections between these two sources. My next goal was to search and illustrate these potential connections.
As much as possible, I’ll try to distinguish 'fact' from 'belief'. Even if you dismiss the Book of Mormon claims, there are still enough materials outlined that I hope will make a strong case for a migration into the central Pacific from America. I’m not a scholar, and I don’t have a strong grasp of the English and the Samoan languages. My book is based mostly on information that’s readily available in the public domain. If you want to research this subject further, I hope I’ve provided some materials to start your own search.
3. Solo Ole Va
The "Solo ole Va" is a Samoan story. It’s an old chant. It’s a myth about the origin of the Samoan people, as well as people known to the Samoans. I believe the Solo provides clues to the peopling of Polynesia. The "Solo ole Va" may provide an expanded meaning beyond its limited use in local Samoan customs. I think that we may fully appreciate the significance of the Solo to our understanding of Polynesian history if we go beyond the local imagery it depicts. It could represent something loftier and enlightening if we don’t look at it solely as savage chattering.
"Fraser, who in the late nineteenth century edited various of the traditions collected by Powell, has likened Ta'u, the principle island of Manu'a, to Delos, the island birthplace of Apollo in the ancient Aegean." (Freeman, p.133)
The quote above is from Derek Freeman's book "Margaret Mead and Samoa". It references the Manu'a islands, which is now part of American Samoa. His comment is based on the Solo. The Solo according to Freeman recounts the creation of Samoa. I can dissect from the Solo things that are uniquely Samoan, but my mind still wonders why some of it point to cultures and places far removed from its familiar surroundings.
Incidentally, "Solo ole Va" translates to "Poetry of the Separation"; "Solo" means chant or poetry, and "Va" means separation. Furthermore, the Solo has given me an insight to connections between the peoples of Polynesia, pre-Columbian America, and the Middle East.
Legends and myths were important to ancient Polynesians, and I intend to use them in this paper. They were recited during light moments of storytelling called “fagogo” and in more serious culture and religion occasions. Stories like the legends of Maui and Rata that are common throughout Polynesia, which were told to give courage to the primitive mariners who traveled the vast ocean. I think that knowing the Polynesians better requires an understanding of their myths and legends.
I saw a speech on television given by the Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi in which he talked about the contribution of Rock and Roll in liberating Communist Hungary. He was then the Hungarian Ambassador to the US when he gave that talk. Mr. Simonyi explained that while his government sanctioned revolutionary lyrics, it failed to realize the importance of the music to their cause. Their music sets the tone and was a hidden motivator. The music was as powerful as the words. Likewise the myths and legends of the Polynesians should provide other doors to their society. They needed to be fully study as much as scrutinizing pieces of pottery.
Both pre-Columbian Americans and Polynesians shared the myth about the return of a white god. That was fulfilled, however mistakenly, with the arrival of Europeans. I wonder who really benefited more from that encounter. Was it the Spaniards who expanded their empire, or the Native Americans who were once again reminded, by way of the conquistadors, of their special relationship to God? The truth about the Spaniards was soon revealed, but the timing of their arrival and subsequent events should provide Native Americans affirmation of their true relationship to something great. After all, it was their myth.
For people like the Samoans who lack a written language, I feel it’s important to also use their myths to examine their relationships to other cultures.
I have compiled a list (Appendix A) of words that look similar, in meaning and spelling, between the languages of the Americas, Southeast Asia, Egypt and Samoa. I’m convinced that these words have a common origin and their similarities aren’t just statistical aberration. I’m not sure how these similarities came about, but it’s becoming clear to me that the arrival of the Europeans in the South Pacific wasn’t the first time foreign visitors influenced the Pacific and its inhabitants. The European arrival was just another layer in the myriad of pass arrivals that made up the people of Polynesia.
4. Why include the Book of Mormon?
As I wrote down my notes, something else started to come into focus that indicates to me a possible connection between what I was reading and the contents of the Book of Mormon. Although this conclusion is of a personal matter, it’s hard for me to ignore the inference this evidence provides.
I didn’t set out to prove the claims of the Book of Mormon, but to learn more about my Samoan culture. However, my progress into this project had nonetheless provided for me a very interesting observation of relationships between the recorded traditions of seemingly different cultures and those found in the Book of Mormon landscape. Without minimizing the importance of faith in religion, I present these facts as a possible support to the Book of Mormon. I wish these notes will kindle further interests in this subject. Please read and decide for yourself. I hope you enjoy it.
5. What about race?
Before we move on, I want to clarify something about the references to race in this manuscript. The characterization of Thor Heyerdahl included accusations of him being a racist. This impression maybe wrongly attributed to Thor, I think, because of his association of physical appearance with culture advancements in both Polynesia and the Americas. I’m troubled by that part of Heyerdahl's views. However, I think that some of the accusations against him are unfair and divert attention from his main point - there are many evidences (including race) that connect the people of pre-Columbian America to Polynesians.
Everyone knows that race plays a major role in human relationships. I can’t avoid race in this paper and be true to the topic. Racism is an ugly part of human history, and I think it’s unwise to ignore it. That’s history. I just hope in our time that we do better in race relationship – to deal with it openly and honestly in our communities.
"Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man--this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position...Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal." (Abraham Lincoln, Speech, Chicago, Illinois, July 10, 1858)
The danger in my view is when people try to use race to advance an agenda that belittled a certain race based solely on looks. I notice in Polynesian studies the attempt by some experts to equate the starting of pottery making in the Pacific to outside influence. I believe that the decorative-pottery scattered throughout the Pacific islands originated from the dark skinned Melanesians and not some advancement brought in by lighter skinned migrants.
In the case of Egypt and of the Middle East in general, I notice that black authors emphasize the "black" element (2) from the south as the source of Egypt's advance civilization, and white authors seem to emphasize the "white" influence (3) from the north. I think that the truth about Egypt's history is far more complicated than the explanations provided by those different authors. It's very likely that Egypt's diversity made it one of the great ancient civilizations.
I think that social condition isn’t a result of skin color, but rather a condition of the environment that influences people in many complicated ways. I suspect that that includes adaptation of existing resources to maximize survival. The developmental apex for a society can be different from other groups based on their needs and adaptation to their environments. That’s what I think.
"The 'master race' claims are sheer poppycock, used by characterless men to further their own interests. There has never been a monopoly of mastery in human achievement by any one nation. To claim so is simply to allow the lawless nationalism to run wild. The 'master race' doctrine of the late war was an ugly delusion, conceived by the powers of evil, whose prince is Satan, the devil." LDS Elder John A. Widstoe, in 1946 (4)
While I’m uncomfortable using race and skin color to demonstrate my case, I feel that I must do so to be true to the discussion. We are emotionally affected by our experiences, and even with our best intentions we are bound to offend someone. The truth is that our ancestors were prejudice – maybe more than we are today. In primitive situations that our ancestors dealt with, sometimes in insufferable conditions, survival depended on brute force and raw emotion. It’s evident from traditions in Polynesia today that warriors defined social norms and dominated much of the cross-culture attitudes in early Polynesia. In that primitive setting, group identification played a major role in inter-culture relationships and survival.
Notes for Chapter 1 (Introduction):
1. (a) The Journal of the Polynesian Society; Volume 6 1897; Volume 1, No. 1; Folk-songs and myths from Samoa; by John Fraser; p 19-36,_No._1/Folk-songs_and_myths_from_Samoa,_by_John_Fraser,_p_19-36/p1

(b) The Secret Of The Incas; Myth, Astronomy, And The War Against Time; William Sullivan; Crown Publishers, Inc., 1996
2. The African Origin of Civilization - Myth or Reality, Cheikh Anta Diop, Lawrence Hill Books, 1974
3. The Book of Hirum, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, HarperCollins Publishers, Hammersmith, London, 2003
4. Widtsoe, John A. Evidences and Reconciliations, pp.3-4.
CHAPTER 2: FACTS – Just the facts, Jack

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