Pirate Friday: Malays

Matteo Ricci’s map of the Far East

Welcome back to not-quite-Anthrpology Friday. Today we’re finishing The Pirate’s Own Book with a look at Malay pirates (as usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability):

“A glance at the map of the East India Islands will convince us that this region of the globe must, from its natural configuration and locality, be peculiarly liable to become the seat of piracy. … A large proportion of the population is at the same time confined to the coasts or the estuaries of rivers; they are fishermen and mariners; they are barbarous and poor, therefore rapacious, faithless and sanguinary. … It is not surprising, then, that the Malays should have been notorious for their depredations from our first acquaintance with them.

“Among the tribes of the Indian Islands, the most noted for their piracies are, of course, the most idle, and the least industrious, and particularly such as are unaccustomed to follow agriculture or trade as regular pursuits. The agricultural tribes of Java, and many of Sumatra, never commit piracy at all; and the most civilized inhabitants of Celebes are very little addicted to this vice.


“Among the most confirmed pirates are the true Malays, inhabiting the small islands about the eastern extremity of the straits of Malacca, and those lying between Sumatra and Borneo, down to Billitin and Cavimattir. Still more noted than these, are the inhabitants of certain islands situated between Borneo and the Phillipines, of whom the most desperate and enterprising are the Soolos and Illanoons, the former inhabiting a well known group of islands of the same name, and the latter being one of the most numerous nations of the great island of Magindando.”

EvX: I’ve yet to figure out who the Soolos and Illanoons are.

“The Soolo pirates chiefly confine their depredations to the Phillipine Islands, which they have continued to infest, with little interruption, for near three centuries, in open defiance of the Spanish authorities, and the numerous establishments maintained to check them. The piracies of the Illanoons, on the contrary, are widely extended, being carried on all the way from their native country to the Spice Islands, on one side, and to the Straits of Malacca on the other. … Besides those who are avowed pirates, it ought to be particularly noticed that a great number of the Malayan princes must be considered as accessories to their crimes, for they afford them protection, contribute to their outfit, and often share in their booty; so that a piratical proa is too commonly more welcome in their harbours than a fair trader. …

A Piratical Proa in Full Chase

“In Nov. 1827, a principal chief of pirates, named Sindana, made a descent upon Mamoodgoo with forty-five proas, burnt three-fourths of the campong, driving the rajah with his family among the mountains. Some scores of men were killed, and 300 made prisoners, besides women and children to half that amount. In December following, when I was there, the people were slowly returning from the hills, but had not yet attempted to rebuild the campong, which lay in ashes. During my stay here (ten weeks) the place was visited by two other piratical chiefs, one of which was from Kylie, the other from Mandhaar Point under Bem Bowan, who appeared to have charge of the whole; between them they had 134 proas of all sizes. …

“An European vessel was faintly descried about three o’clock one foggy morning; the rain fell in torrents; the time and weather were favorable circumstances for a surprise, and the commander determined to distinguish himself in the absence of the Rajah Raga, gave directions to close, fire the guns and board. He was the more confident of success, as the European vessel was observed to keep away out of the proper course on approaching her. On getting within about an hundred fathoms of the Elk they fired their broadside, gave a loud shout, and with their long oars pulled towards their prey.

“The sound of a drum beating to quarters no sooner struck the ear of the astonished Malays than they endeavored to get away: it was too late; the ports were opened, and a broadside, accompanied with three British cheers, gave sure indications of their fate. The captain hailed the Elk, and would fain persuade him it was a mistake. It was indeed a mistake, and one not to be rectified by the Malayan explanation.

“The proa was sunk by repeated broadsides, and the commanding officer refused to pick up any of the people, who, with the exception of five were drowned; these, after floating four days on some spars, were picked up by a Pergottan proa, and told the story to Raga, who swore anew destruction to every European he should henceforth take.

“This desperado has for upwards of seventeen years been the terror of the Straits of Macassar, during which period he has committed the most extensive and dreadful excesses sparing no one. … it is well known that he has cut off and murdered the crews of more than forty European vessels, which have either been wrecked on the coasts, or entrusted themselves in native ports. … The western coast of Celebes, for about 250 miles, is absolutely lined with proas belonging principally to three considerable rajahs, who act in conjunction with Raga and other pirates. Their proas may be seen in clusters of from 50, 80, and 100 (at Sediano I counted 147 laying on the sand at high water mark in parallel rows,) and kept in a horizontal position by poles, completely ready for the sea. Immediately behind them are the campongs, in which are the crews; here likewise are kept the sails, gunpowder, etc. necessary for their equipment. On the very summits of the mountains, which in many parts rise abruptly from the sea, may be distinguished innumerable huts; here reside people who are constantly on the lookout.

“A vessel within ten miles of the shore will not probably perceive a single proa, yet in less than two hours, if the tide be high, she may be surrounded by some hundreds. Should the water be low they will push off during the night. Signals are made from mountain to mountain along the coast with the utmost rapidity; during the day time by flags attached to long bamboos; at night, by fires. Each chief sends forth his proas, the crews of which, in hazardous cases, are infuriated with opium, when they will most assuredly take the vessel if she be not better provided than most merchantmen.

“Mr. Dalton, who went to the Pergottan river in 1830 says:

“… [The pirates] were anchored off the point of a small promontory, on which the rajah has an establishment and bazaar. The largest of these proas belonged to Raga, who received by the fleet of proas, in which I came, his regular supplies of arms and ammunition from Singapore. Here nestle the principal pirates, and Raga holds his head quarters; his grand depot was a few miles farther up.

“Rajah Agi Bota himself generally resides some distance up a small river which runs eastward of the point; near his habitation stands the principal bazaar, which would be a great curiosity for an European to visit if he could only manage to return, which very few have.

“The Raga gave me a pressing invitation to spend a couple of days at his country house, but all the Bugis’ nacodahs strongly dissuaded me from such an attempt. I soon discovered the cause of their apprehension; they were jealous of Agi Bota, well knowing he would plunder me, and considered every article taken by him was so much lost to the Sultan of Coti, who naturally would expect the people to reserve me for his own particular plucking.

“When the fact was known of an European having arrived in the Pergottan river, this amiable prince and friend of Europeans, impatient to seize his prey, came immediately to the point from his country house, and sending for the nacodah of the proa, ordered him to land me and all my goods instantly. An invitation now came for me to go on shore and amuse myself with shooting, and look at some rare birds of beautiful plumage which the rajah would give me if I would accept of them; but knowing what were his intentions, and being well aware that I should be supported by all the Bugis’ proas from Coti, I feigned sickness, and requested that the birds might be sent on board.

“Upon this Agi Bota, who could no longer restrain himself, sent off two boats of armed men, who robbed me of many articles, and would certainly have forced me on shore, or murdered me in the proa had not a signal been made to the Bugis’ nacodahs, who immediately came with their people, and with spears and krisses, drove the rajah’s people overboard. The nacodahs, nine in number, now went on shore, when a scene of contention took place showing clearly the character of this chief.

“The Bugis from Coti explained, that with regard to me it was necessary to be particularly circumspect, as I was not only well known at Singapore, but the authorities in that settlement knew that I was on board the Sultan’s proa, and they themselves were responsible for my safety. To this circumstance alone I owe my life on several occasions, as in the event of any thing happening to me, every nacodah was apprehensive of his proa being seized on his return to Singapore; I was therefore more peculiarly cared for by this class of men, and they are powerful.

“The rajah answered the nacodahs by saying, I might be disposed of as many others had been, and no further notice taken of the circumstance; he himself would write to Singapore that I had been taken by an alligator, or bitten by a snake whilst out shooting; and as for what property I might have in the proa he would divide it with the Sultan of Coti.

“The Bugis, however, refused to listen to any terms, knowing the Sultan of Coti would call him to an account for the property, and the authorities of Singapore for my life. Our proa, with others, therefore dropped about four miles down the river, where we took in fresh water. Here we remained six days, every argument being in vain to entice me on shore. At length the Bugis’ nacodahs came to the determination to sail without passes, which brought the rajah to terms. The proas returned to the point, and I was given to understand I might go on shore in safety.

“I did so, and was introduced to the rajah whom I found under a shed, with about 150 of his people; they were busy gambling, and had the appearance of what they really are, a ferocious set of banditti. Agi Bota is a good looking man, about forty years of age, of no education whatever; he divides his time between gaming, opium and cockfighting; that is in the interval of his more serious and profitable employment, piracy and rapine. He asked me to produce what money I had about me; on seeing only ten rupees, he remarked that it was not worth while to win so small a sum, but that if I would fight cocks with him he would lend me as much money as I wanted, and added it was beneath his dignity to fight under fifty reals a battle. On my saying it was contrary to an Englishman’s religion to bet wagers, he dismissed me; immediately after the two rajahs produced their cocks and commenced fighting for one rupee a side.

“I was now obliged to give the old Baudarre five rupees to take some care of me, as whilst walking about, the people not only thrust their hands into my pockets, but pulled the buttons from my clothes.

“Whilst sauntering behind the rajah’s campong I caught sight of an European woman, who on perceiving herself observed, instantly ran into one of the houses, no doubt dreading the consequences of being recognized. There are now in the house of Agi Bota two European women; up the country there are others, besides several men. The Bugis, inimical to the rajah, made no secret of the fact; I had heard of it on board the proa, and some person in the bazaar confirmed the statement.

“On my arrival, strict orders had been given to the inhabitants to put all European articles out of sight. … In one house were the following articles: four Bibles, one in English, one in Dutch, and two in the Portuguese languages; many articles of wearing apparel, such as jackets and trowsers, with the buttons altered to suit the natives; pieces of shirts tagged to other parts of dress; several broken instruments, such as quadrants, spy glasses (two,) binnacles, with pieces of ship’s sails, bolts and hoops; a considerable variety of gunner’s and carpenter’s tools, stores, etc. In another shop were two pelisses of faded lilac color; these were of modern cut and fashionably made. On enquiring how they became possessed of these articles, I was told they were some wrecks of European vessels on which no people were found, whilst others made no scruple of averring that they were formerly the property of people who had died in the country.

“All the goods in the bazaar belonged to the rajah, and were sold on his account; large quantities were said to be in his house up the river; but on all hands it was admitted Raga and his followers had by far the largest part of what was taken. …

“In consequence of the strict orders given on the subject I could see no more; indeed there were both difficulty and danger attending these inquiries. I particularly wanted to obtain [a] miniature picture, and offered the Mandoor fifty rupees if he could procure it; he laughed at me, and pointing significantly to his kris, drew one hand across my throat, and then across his own, giving me to understand such would be the result to us both on such an application to the rajah.

“It is the universal custom of the pirates, on this coast, to sell the people for slaves immediately on their arrival, the rajah taking for himself a few of the most useful, and receiving a percentage upon the purchase money of the remainder, with a moiety of the vessel and every article on board. European vessels are taken up the river, where they are immediately broken up. The situation of European prisoners is indeed dreadful in a climate like this, where even the labor of natives is intolerable; they are compelled to bear all the drudgery, and allowed a bare sufficiency of rice and salt to eat.””

EvX: After some pirating of the usual sort, the US government decided to do something about the mater:

“The government immediately adopted measures to punish so outrageous an act of piracy by despatching the frigate Potomac, Commodore Downs, Commander.”

EvX: Finally we have some events I can independently confirm. According to Wikipedia:

The First Sumatran expedition, which featured the Battle of Quallah Battoo (Aceh: Kuala Batèë, Malay: Kuala Batu) in 1832, was a punitive expedition by the United States Navy against the village of Kuala Batee (id), presently a subdistrict in Southwest Aceh Regency. The reprisal was in response to the massacre of the crew of the merchantmanFriendship a year earlier. The frigatePotomac and its crew defeated the local uleëbalang (ruler)’s forces and bombed the settlement. The expedition was successful in stopping Sumatran attacks on U.S. shipping for six years until another vessel was plundered under different circumstances, resulting in a second Sumatran expedition in 1838.

On Commodore Downs:

Downes served as acting midshipman from 9 September 1800 and was appointed midshipman 1 June 1802. He rendered distinguished service during the First Barbary War in 1804 in the frigate Congress, and distinguished himself again while a midshipman on the frigate New York in a boat attack upon Tripolitan feluccas.

In March 1807, he was made a lieutenant, and served as executive officer for Captain David Porter in Essex during her cruise in the Pacific in the War of 1812. In the Action off James Island, Downes was in command of the sloop Georgiana during the capture of three British privateers. He also participated in the Action off Charles Island before sailing to Nuku Hiva to assist in building America’s first military base in the Pacific. …

Wikipedia also makes some unsourced accusations:

Downes took command of USS Macedonian in 1818 and set forth on a three-year show of power for America to South America and beyond. On this trip, he decided to use the ship for his own enrichment and became a banking ship, giving protection, passage and banking service to privateers, pirates and others. He took large amounts for his own private use. He took at least 2.6 million in specie during his trip.

As for the Potomac:

On her first overseas cruise, Potomac departed New York 19 August 1831 for the Pacific Squadron via the Cape of Good Hope on the first Sumatran Expedition. On 6 February 1832, Potomac destroyed the town of Kuala Batee in retaliation for the capture there in February of the previous year of the American merchantman Friendship, which had been recaptured and returned to Salem to report the murder of many of her crew.[3] Of Potomacs 282 sailors and Marines who landed, two were killed while 150 natives died, including Mahomet, the chieftain.[4] After circumnavigating the world, Potomac returned to Boston 23 May 1834.

The frigate next made two cruises to the Brazil Station, protecting American interests in Latin America from 20 October 1834 to 5 March 1837, and from 12 May 1840 to 31 July 1842. From 8 December 1844 to 4 December 1845, she patrolled in the West Indies, and again from 14 March 1846 to 20 July 1847 in the Caribbean and the Gulf. During this latter period, she landed troops at Port Isabel, Texas, on 8 May 1846 in support of General Zachary Taylor’s army at the Battle of Palo Alto. She also participated in the siege of Vera Cruz, 9 to 28 March 1847.

But back to the Pirates:

USS Potomac in Valparaiso Harbor, 1834.

“The Potomac sailed from New York the 24th of August, 1831, after touching at Rio Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope. She anchored off Quallah Battoo in February 1832, disguised as a Danish ship, and came to in merchantman style, a few men being sent aloft, dressed in red and blue flannel shirts, and one sail being clewed up and furled at a time.

“A reconnoitering party were sent on shore disguised as pepper dealers, but they returned without being able to ascertain the situations of the forts. The ship now presented a busy scene; it was determined to commence an attack upon the town the next morning, and every necessary preparation was accordingly made, muskets were cleaned, cartridge-boxes buckled on, cutlasses examined and put in order, etc.

“At twelve o’clock at night, all hands were called, those assigned to take part in the expedition were mustered, when Lieut. Shubrick, the commander of the detachment, gave them special orders; when they entered the boats and proceeded to the shore, where they effected a landing near the dawn of day, amid a heavy surf, about a mile and a half to the north of the town, undiscovered by the enemy, and without any serious accident having befallen them, though several of the party were thoroughly drenched by the beating of the surf, and some of their ammunition was injured.

“The troops then formed and took up their line of march against the enemy, over a beach of deep and heavy sand. They had not proceeded far before they were discovered by a native at a distance, who ran at full speed to give the alarm. A rapid march soon brought them up with the first fort, when a division of men, under the command of Lieut. Hoff, was detached from the main body, and ordered to surround it.

“The first fort was found difficult of access, in consequence of a deep hedge of thorn-bushes and brambles with which it was environed. The assault was commenced by the pioneers, with their crows and axes, breaking down the gates and forcing a passage. This was attended with some difficulty, and gave the enemy time for preparation. They raised their warwhoop, and resisted most manfully, fighting with spears, sabres, and muskets. They had also a few brass pieces in the fort, but they managed them with so little skill as to produce no effect, for the balls uniformly whizzed over the heads of our men.

U.S. Infantry assaulting the Acehnese forts at Kuala Batu in 1832

“The resistance of the Malays was in vain, the fort was stormed, and soon carried; not, however, till almost every individual in it was slain. Po Mahomet, a chief of much distinction, and who was one of the principal persons concerned in the outrage on the Friendship [an American ship whose capture prompted the expedition] was here slain; the mother of Chadoolah, another rajah, was also slain here; another woman fell at this port, but her rank was not ascertained; she fought with the spirit of a desperado. …

“Lieutenants Edson and Ferret proceeded to the rear of the town, and made a bold attack upon that fort, which, after a spirited resistance on the part of the Malays, surrendered. Both officers and marines here narrowly escaped with their lives. One of the natives in the fort had trained his piece in such a manner as to rake their whole body, when he was shot down by a marine while in the very act of applying a match to it. The cannon was afterwards found to have been filled with bullets.

“This fort, like the former, was environed with thick jungle, and great difficulty had been experienced in entering it. The engagement had now become general, and the alarm universal. Men, women and children were seen flying in every direction, carrying the few articles they were able to seize in the moments of peril, and some of the men were cut down in the flight. Several of the enemy’s proas, filled with people, were severely raked by a brisk fire from the six pounder, as they were sailing up the river to the south of the town, and numbers of the natives were killed.

“The third and most formidable fort was now attacked, and it proved the most formidable, and the co-operation of the several divisions was required for its reduction; but so spirited was the fire poured into it that it was soon obliged to yield, and the next moment the American colors were seen triumphantly waving over its battlements.

“The greater part of the town was reduced to ashes. The bazaar, the principal place of merchandize, and most of the private dwellings were consumed by fire. The triumph had now been completed over the Malays; ample satisfaction had been taken for their outrages committed upon our own countrymen, and the bugle sounded the return of the ship’s forces; and the embarkation was soon after effected. The action had continued about two hours and a half, and was gallantly sustained both by officers and men, from its commencement to its close.

“The loss on the part of the Malays was near a hundred killed, while of the Americans only two lost their lives. Among the spoils were a Chinese gong, a Koran, taken at Mahomet’s fort, and several pieces of rich gold cloth. Many of the men came off richly laden with spoils which they had taken from the enemy, such as rajah’s scarfs, gold and silver chunam boxes, chains, ear rings and finger rings, anklets and bracelets, and a variety of shawls, krisses richly hilted and with gold scabbards, and a variety of other ornaments. Money to a considerable amount was brought off.

“That nothing should be left undone to have an indelible impression on the minds of these people, of the power of the United States to inflict punishment for aggressions committed on her commerce, in seas however distant, the ship was got underway the following morning, and brought to, with a spring on her cable, within less than a mile of the shore, when the larboard side was brought to bear nearly upon the site of the town.

“The object of the Commodore, in this movement, was not to open an indiscriminate or destructive fire upon the town and inhabitants of Quallah Battoo, but to show them the irresistible power of thirty-two pound shot, and to reduce the fort of Tuca de Lama, which could not be reached on account of the jungle and stream of water, on the morning before, and from which a fire had been opened and continued during the embarkation of the troops on their return to the ship.

“The fort was very soon deserted, while the shot was cutting it to pieces, and tearing up whole cocoa-trees by the roots. In the afternoon a boat came off from the shore, bearing a flag of truce to the Commodore, beseeching him, in all the practised forms of submission of the east, that he would grant them peace, and cease to fire his big guns.

“Hostilities now ceased, and the Commodore informed them that the objects of his government in sending him to their shores had now been consummated in the punishment of the guilty, who had committed their piracies on the Friendship.

“Thus ended the intercourse with Quallah Battoo. The Potomac proceeded from this place to China, and from thence to the Pacific Ocean; after looking to the interests of the American commerce in those parts she arrived at Boston in 1834, after a three years’ absence.”

EvX: According to Wikipedia, Downes was harshly criticized upon returning to the US for killing so many people. Piracy did die down for 6 years, when the Eclipse was attacked, provoking the Second (and more effective) Sumatran Expedition:

In August 1838, the American trading vessel Eclipse was visiting the village of Trobongan, on Sumatra, when 24 Malays approached. The ship’s second mate allowed the Malays to board after they relieved themselves of their weapons. A few moments later the Americans returned the Malays their weapons as a sign of friendship. The Malays, now rearmed with knives and other bladed weapons, attacked the crew. First they killed the second mate and then one by one the remaining men. … News of the massacre reached CommodoreGeorge C. Read in December 1838 while he was sailing off Ceylon in command of the East India Squadron. Immediately Commodore Read in the frigateColumbia set sail southeast for Sumatra, together with the frigate John Adams. … 

The two American vessels first headed for Quallah Battoo. Once they had arrived, the two U.S. Navy vessels formed a line of battle just in range of five earth and wooden forts that protected the village and opened fire. Over an hour later all of the forts were destroyed or in shambles. The chief of the village surrendered and agreed never again to attack American ships. … Columbia and John Adams arrived off Muckie the following day. The Americans landed a force of 360 officers, marines and sailors, all under the command of Commander T.W. Wyman of the navy. … Although most of the inhabitants fled their village upon the outbreak of fighting, some of the Malay men attempted to resist the attack but were overwhelmed. Within a short time, Muckie was in flames. The landing party then returned to their ships and sailed away. The punitive expedition ended after the Muckie engagement, and Commodore Read continued his cruise around the world. The second Sumatran expedition achieved what the first expedition had not. Never again did Malays plunder an American merchant ship.

This Wikipedia article is unusually low on footnotes.

That’s all for today. Tune in next week, when Anthropology Friday will take a look at Melanesia.


Recent Exciting Developments in Human Evolutionary History: Naledi and Flores

A reconstruction of Homo naledi’s head by paleoartist John Gurche, who spent some 700 hours recreating the head from bone scans. Image credit: John Gurche / Mark Thiessen / National Geographic. source:

Continuing with our series on recent exciting discoveries in human genetics/paleo anthropology:

  • Ancient hominins in the US?
  • Homo naledi
  • Homo flores
  • Humans evolved in Europe?
  • In two days, first H Sap was pushed back to 260,000 years,
  • then to 300,000 years!
  • Bell beaker paper

One of the most interesting things about our human family tree (the Homo genus and our near primate relatives, chimps, gorillas, orangs, gibbons, etc.) is that for most of our existence, “we” weren’t the only humans in town. We probably coexisted, mated with, killed, were killed by, and at times perhaps completely ignored 7 other human species–Homo erectus, floresiensis, Neanderthals, Denisovans, heidelbergensis, rhodesiensis, and now Naledi.

That said, these “species” are a bit controversial. Some scientists like to declare practically every jawbone and skull fragment they find a new species (“splitters”,) and some claim that lots of different bones actually just represent natural variation within a species (“lumpers.”)

Take the canine family: dogs and wolves can interbreed, but I doubt great danes and chihuahuas can. For practical purposes, though, the behavior of great danes and chihuahuas is similar enough to each other–and different enough from wolves’–that we class them as one species and wolves as another. Additionally, when we take a look at the complete variety of dogs in existence, it is obvious that there is actually a genetic gradient in size between the largest and smallest breeds, with few sharp breaks (maybe the basenji.) If we had a complete fossil record, and could reliably reconstruct ancient hominin behaviors and cultural patterns, then we could say with far more confidence whether we are looking at something like dogs vs. wolves or great danes vs. chihuahuas. For now, though, paleoanthropology and genetics remain exciting fields with constant new discoveries!

Homo naledi and homo Floresiensis may ultimately be small branches on the human tree, but each provides us with a little more insight into the whole.

Naledi’s story is particularly entertaining. Back in 2013, some spelunkers crawled through a tiny opening in a South African cave and found a chamber full of bones–hominin bones.

Anthropologists often have to content themselves with a handful of bones, sometimes just a fragment of a cranium or part of a jaw. (The recent claim that humans evolved in Europe is based entirely on a jaw fragment plus a few teeth.) But in the Rising Star Cave system, they found an incredible 1,500+ bones or bone fragments, the remains of at least 15 people, and they haven’t even finished excavating.

According to Wikipedia:

The physical characteristics of H. naledi are described as having traits similar to the genus Australopithecus, mixed with traits more characteristic of the genus Homo, and traits not known in other hominin species. The skeletal anatomy displays plesiomorphic (“ancestral”) features found in the australopithecines and more apomorphic (“derived,” or traits arising separately from the ancestral state) features known from later hominins.[2]

Adult males are estimated to have stood around 150 cm (5 ft) tall and weighed around 45 kg (100 lb), while females would likely have been a little shorter and weighed a little less. An analysis of H. naledi‘s skeleton suggests it stood upright and was bipedal.[2][22][23] Its hip mechanics, the flared shape of the pelvis are similar to australopithecines, but its legs, feet and ankles are more similar to the genus Homo.[2][24]

I note that the modern humans in South Africa are also kind of short–According to Time, the Bushmen average about 5 feet tall, (that’s probably supposed to be Bushmen men, not the group average,) and the men of nearby Pygmy peoples of central Africa average 4’11” or less.

The hands of H. naledi appear to have been better suited for object manipulation than those of australopithecines.[2][25] Some of the bones resemble modern human bones, but other bones are more primitive than Australopithecus, an early ancestor of humans. The thumb, wrist, and palm bones are modern-like while the fingers are curved, more australopithecine, and useful for climbing.[3] The shoulders are configured largely like those of australopithecines. The vertebrae are most similar to Pleistocene members of the genus Homo, whereas the ribcage is wide distally as is A. afarensis.[2] The arm has an Australopithecus-similar shoulder and fingers and a Homo-similar wrist and palm.[24] The structure of the upper body seems to have been more primitive than that of other members of the genus Homo, even apelike.[3] In evolutionary biology, such a mixture of features is known as an anatomical mosaic.

Four skulls were discovered in the Dinaledi chamber, thought to be two females and two males, with a cranial volume of 560 cm3 (34 cu in) for the males and 465 cm3 (28.4 cu in) for females, about 40% to 45% the volume of modern human skulls; average Homo erectus skulls are 900 cm3 (55 cu in). A fifth, male skull found in the Lesedi chamber has a larger estimated cranial volume of 610 cm3 (37 cu in) [6]. The H. naledi skulls are closer in cranial volume to australopithecine skulls.[3] Nonetheless, the cranial structure is described as more similar to those found in the genus Homo than to australopithecines, particularly in its slender features, and the presence of temporal and occipitalbossing, and the fact that the skulls do not narrow in behind the eye-sockets.[2] The brains of the species were markedly smaller than modern Homo sapiens, measuring between 450 and 610 cm3 (27–37 cu in). The teeth and mandiblemusculature are much smaller than those of most australopithecines, which suggests a diet that did not require heavy mastication.[2] The teeth are small, similar to modern humans, but the third molar is larger than the other molars, similar to australopithecines.[24] The teeth have both primitive and derived dental development.[26]

The overall anatomical structure of the species has prompted the investigating scientists to classify the species within the genus Homo, rather than within the genus Australopithecus. The H. naledi skeletons indicate that the origins of the genus Homo were complex and may be polyphyletic (hybrid), and that the species may have evolved separately in different parts of Africa.[27][28]

Because caves don’t have regular sediment layers like riverbeds or floodplains, scientists initially had trouble dating the bones. Because of their relative “primitiveness,” that is, their similarity to our older, more ape-like ancestors, they initially thought Homo naledi must have lived a long time ago–around 2 million years ago. But when they finally got the bones dated, they found they were much younger–only around 335,000 and 236,000 years old,[1][4] which means H naledi and Homo sapiens–whose age was also recently adjusted–actually lived at the same time, though not necessarily in the same place.

(On the techniques used for dating the bones:

Francis Thackeray, of the University of the Witwatersrand, suggested that H. naledi lived 2 ± 0.5 million years ago, based on the skulls’ similarities to H. rudolfensis, H. erectus, and H. habilis, species that existed around 1.5, 2.5, and 1.8 million years ago, respectively.[35][36] Early estimates derived from statistical analysis of cranial traits yielded a range of 2 million years to 912,000 years before present.[2][37][38]

Dirks et al. (2017) obtained a much more recent age range of between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago from dating fossil teeth, sediments encasing the fossils and overlying flowstone. They used a variety of dating techniques, including radiocarbon dating of teeth, optically stimulated luminescence of sediment, palaeomagnetic analysis of flowstone, and most conclusively, uranium-thorium dating of cave flowstone and teeth and electron spin resonance dating of teeth.[1][4] The latter two types of measurements of teeth were performed on blind duplicate samples by two different labs.[1])

H naledi is unlikely to be a major branch on the human family tree–much too recent to be one of our ancestors–but it still offers important information on the development of “human” traits and how human and ape-like traits can exist side-by-side in the same individual (a theme we will return to later.) (Perhaps, just as we modern Homo sapiens contain traits derived from ancestors who mated with Neanderthals, Denisovans, and others, H naledi owes some of its traits to hybridization between two very different hominins.) It’s also important because it is one more data point in favor of the recent existence of a great many different human varieties, not just a single group.

Flores Hobbit aka Homo floresiensis source

The Flores hominin, (aka the Hobbit,) tells a similar tale, but much further afield from humanity’s evolutionary cradle.

The island of Flores is part of the Indonesian archipelago, a surprisingly rich source of early hominin fossils. Homo erectus, the famous Java Man, arrived in the area around 1.7 million years ago, but to date no erectus remains have been discovered on the actual island of Flores. During the last Glacial Maximum, ocean levels were lower and most of Indonesia was connected in a single continent, called Sundaland. During one of these glacial periods, H erectus could have easily walked from China to Java, but Flores remained an island, cut off from the mainland by several miles of open ocean.

Stone tools appeared on Flores about 1 million years ago, though we don’t know yet who made them, nor how they developed the technology necessary to make the journey.

The diminutive Hobbits show up later, around 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, though stone tools recovered alongside their remains have been dated from 50,000 to 190,000 years ago. Homo erectus is generally believed to have lived between 2 million and 140,000 years ago, and Homo sapiens arrived in Indonesia around 50,000 years ago. This places Floresiensis neatly between the two–it could have interacted with either species–perhaps descended from erectus and wiped out, in turn, by sapiens. (Or perhaps floresiensis represents an altogether novel line of hominins who left Africa on a completely separate trek from erectus.)

Unlike H naledi, whose diminutive stature is still within the current human range (especially of humans in the area,) floresiensis is exceptionally small for a hominin. According to Wikipedia:

The first set of remains to have been found, LB1, was chosen as the type specimen for the proposed species. LB1 is a fairly complete skeleton, including a nearly complete cranium (skull), determined to be that of a 30-year-old female. LB1 has been nicknamed the Little Lady of Flores or “Flo”.[2]

LB1’s height has been estimated at about 1.06 m (3 ft 6 in). The height of a second skeleton, LB8, has been estimated at 1.09 m (3 ft 7 in) based on measurements of its tibia.[3] These estimates are outside the range of normal modern human height and considerably shorter than the average adult height of even the smallest modern humans, such as the Mbenga and Mbuti (< 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in)),[32] Twa, Semang (1.37 m (4 ft 6 in) for adult women) of the Malay Peninsula,[33] or the Andamanese (1.37 m (4 ft 6 in) for adult women).[34]

By body mass, differences between modern pygmies and Homo floresiensis are even greater. LB1’s body mass has been estimated at 25 kg (55 lb). This is smaller than that of not only modern H. sapiens, but also H. erectus, which Brown and colleagues have suggested is the immediate ancestor of H. floresiensis. LB1 and LB8 are also somewhat smaller than the australopithecines from three million years ago, not previously thought to have expanded beyond Africa. Thus, LB1 and LB8 may be the shortest and smallest members of the extended human family discovered thus far.[citation needed]

Aside from smaller body size, the specimens seem otherwise to resemble H. erectus, a species known to have been living in Southeast Asia at times coincident with earlier finds purported to be of H. floresiensis.[3]

There’s a lot of debate about whether floresiensis is a real species–perhaps affected by insular dwarfism–or just a hominin that had some severe problems. Interestingly, we have a find from about 700,000 years ago on Flores of another hominin, which we think was also a Hobbit, but is even smaller than Flo and her relatives.

Floresiensis, like Naledi, didn’t contribute to modern humans. Rather, it is interesting because it shows the breadth of our genus. We tend to assume that, ever since we split off from the rest of the great apes, some 7 or 8 million years ago, our path has been ever upward, more complex and successful. But these Hobbits, most likely descendants of one of the most successful human species, (Homo erectus, who mastered fire, was the first to leave Africa, spread across Asia and Indonesia, and lasted for over a million and half years, far longer than our puny 300,000 years,) went in the opposite direction from its ancestors. It became much smaller than even the smallest living human groups. Its brain shrank:

In addition to a small body size, H. floresiensis had a remarkably small brain size. The brain of the holotype LB1 is estimated to have had a volume of 380 cm3 (23 cu in), placing it at the range of chimpanzees or the extinct australopithecines.[2][40] LB1’s brain size is half that of its presumed immediate ancestor, H. erectus (980 cm3 (60 cu in)).[40] The brain-to-body mass ratio of LB1 lies between that of H. erectus and the great apes.[41]

Nevertheless, it still made tools, probably controlled fire, and hunted cooperatively.

Whatever it was, it was like us–and very much not like us.


More on Naledi: Another Awesome Twig on our Human Family Tree and Homo Naledi was Chipping its Teeth Amazingly Often.

Anthropology Friday: Tylor’s “Primitive Culture”

Today’s author is Edward B. Tylor, 1832 – 1917, father of modern anthropology. According to Wikipedia:

[Tylor] believed that there was a functional basis for the development of society and religion, which he determined was universal. … Tylor reintroduced the term animism (faith in the individual soul or anima of all things, and natural manifestations) into common use. He considered animism to be the first phase of development of religions. …

Tylor’s first publication was a result of his 1856 trip to Mexico with Christy. His notes on the beliefs and practices of the people he encountered were the basis of his work Anahuac: Or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern (1861). … Tylor continued to study the customs and beliefs of tribal communities, both existing and prehistoric (based on archaeological finds). He published his second work, Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization, in 1865. Following this came his most influential work, Primitive Culture (1871). This was important not only for its thorough study of human civilisation and contributions to the emergent field of anthropology, but for its undeniable influence on a handful of young scholars, such as J. G. Frazer…

Tylor was an “evolutionist,” but not necessarily in the sense of having read Darwin’s Origins of the Species. Rather, the “evolution” of things–societies, philosophies, art styles, animals–from simpler to more complex forms over time was part of the zeitgeist of the age.

His methods were comparative and historical ethnography. He believed that a “uniformity” was manifest in culture, which was the result of “uniform action of uniform causes.” He regarded his instances of parallel ethnographic concepts and practices as indicative of “laws of human thought and action.” … The task of cultural anthropology therefore is to discover “stages of development or evolution.”

Evolutionism was distinguished from another creed, diffusionism, postulating the spread of items of culture from regions of innovation. A given apparent parallelism thus had at least two explanations: the instances descend from an evolutionary ancestor, or they are alike because one diffused into the culture from elsewhere. These two views are exactly parallel to the tree model and wave model of historical linguistics, which are instances of evolutionism and diffusionism, language features being instances of culture.

Also, things can arise independently, like echidnas and hedgehogs.

Anthropology basically abandoned this kind of thinking ages ago, partly because “evolution” as applied to human societies became a dirty word, partly because Marxist-Freudians took over the profession, and partly because cultures don’t always evolve uniformly and predictably from less to more complex.

That said, what I have read so far of Tylor’s work (one whole chapter!) is much better–and on a much more solid footing–than a great deal of what follows. He started from actual observations (most of which look pretty sound,) noticed a lot of parallels, and attempted to work out why. As a result, I think his work still interesting and valuable enough to be worth quoting.

For the sake of readability, I will be using “” marks, rather than blockquote-formatting.

So let’s begin!

Primitive Culture, ch. 11

“It is habitually found that the theory of Animism divides into two great dogmas, forming parts of one consistent doctrine; first, concerning souls of individual creatures, capable of continued existence after the death or destruction of the body ; second, concerning other spirits, upward to the rank of powerful deities. Spiritual beings are held to affect or control the events of the material world, and man’s life here and hereafter; and it being considered that they hold intercourse with men, and receive pleasure or displeasure from human actions, the belief in their existence leads naturally, and it might almost be said inevitably, sooner or later to active reverence and propitiation.”

“But a quaint and special group of beliefs will serve to display the thoroughness with which the soul is thus conceived as an image of the body. … Thus it was recorded of the Indians of Brazil by one of the early European visitors, that they ‘ believe that the dead arrive in the other world wounded or hacked to pieces, in fact just as they left this.’ Thus, too, the Australian who has slain his enemy will cut off the right thumb of the corpse, so that although the spirit will become a hostile ghost, it cannot
throw with its mutilated hand the shadowy spear, and may be safely left to wander, malignant but harmless.”

“Departing from the body at the time of death, the soul or spirit is considered set free to linger near the tomb, to wander on earth or flit in the air, or to travel to the proper region of spirits the world beyond the grave. …

“Men do not stop short at the persuasion that death releases the soul to a free and active existence, but they quite logically proceed to assist nature, by slaying men in order to liberate their souls for ghostly uses. [bold mine] Thus there arises one of the most widespread, distinct, and intelligible rites of animistic religion that of funeral human sacrifice for the service of the dead. When a man of rank dies and his soul departs to its own place, wherever and whatever that place may be, it is a rational inference of early philosophy that the souls of attendants, slaves, and wives, put to death at his funeral, will make the same journey and continue their service in the next life, and the argument is frequently stretched further, to include the souls of new victims sacrificed in order that they may enter upon the same ghostly servitude. It will appear from the ethnography of this rite that it is not strongly marked in the very lowest levels of culture, but that, arising in the lower barbaric stage, it develops itself in the higher, and thenceforth continues or dwindles in survival.

“Of the murderous practices to which this opinion leads, remarkably distinct accounts may be cited from among tribes of the Indian Archipelago. The following account is given of the funerals of great men among the rude Kayans of Borneo: ‘Slaves are killed in order that they may follow the deceased and attend upon him. Before they are killed the relations who surround them enjoin them to take
great care of their master when they join him, to watch and shampoo him when he is indisposed, to be always near him, and to obey all his behests. The female relatives of the deceased then take a spear and slightly wound the victims, after which the males spear them to death. Again, the opinion of the Idaan is ‘that all whom they kill in this world shall attend them as slaves after death.’

“This notion of future interest in the destruction of the human species is a great impediment to an intercourse with them, as murder goes farther than present advantage or resentment. From the same principle they will purchase a slave, guilty of any capital crime, at fourfold his value, that they may be his executioners.’

“With the same idea is connected the ferocious custom of ‘ head-hunting’ so prevalent among the Dayaks before Rajah Brooke’s time. They considered that the owner of every human head they could procure would serve them in the next world, where, indeed, a man’s rank would be according to his number of heads in this. They would continue the mourning for a dead man till a head was brought in, to provide him with a slave to accompany him to the ‘habitation of souls;’ a father who lost his child would go out and kill the first man he met, as a funeral ceremony ; a young man might not marry till he had procured a head, and some tribes would bury with a dead man the first head he had taken, together with spears, cloth, rice, and betel. Waylaying and murdering men for their heads became, in fact, the Dayaks’ national sport, and they remarked ‘ the white men read books, we hunt for heads instead.'”

EvX, here: Wikipedia confirms this report:

Interior of a Dayak house, decorated with skulls and weapons.
Interior of a Dayak house, decorated with skulls and weapons.

“There were various reasons for headhunting as listed below:

  • For soil fertility so Dayaks hunted fresh heads before paddy harvesting seasons after which head festival would be held in honour of the new heads.
  • To add supernatural strength which Dayaks believed to be centred in the soul and head of humans. Fresh heads can give magical powers for communinal protection, bountiful paddy harvesting and disease curing.
  • To avenge revenge for murders based on “blood credit” principle unless “adat pati nyawa” (customary compensation token) is paid.
Dayak headhunters
Dayak headhunters
  • To pay dowry for marriages e.g. “derian palit mata” (eye blocking dowry) for Ibans once blood has been splashed prior to agreeing to marriage and of course, new fresh heads show prowess, bravery, ability and capability to protect his family, community and land
  • For foundation of new buildings to be stronger and meaningful than the normal practice of not putting in human heads.
  • For protection against enemy attacks according to the principle of “attack first before being attacked”.
  • As a symbol of power and social status ranking where the more heads someone has, the respect and glory due to him. The warleader is called tuai serang (warleader) or raja berani (king of the brave) while kayau anak (small raid) leader is only called tuai kayau (raid leader) whereby adat tebalu (widower rule) after their death would be paid according to their ranking status in the community.

The Dutch eventually put an end to headhunting:

As the Dutch secured the islands they eliminated slavery, widow burning, head-hunting, cannibalism, piracy, and internecine wars.[21] Railways, steamships, postal and telegraph services, and various government agencies all served to introduce a degree of new uniformity across the colony. Immigration within the archipelago—particularly by ethnic Chinese, Bataks, Javanese, and Bugis—increased dramatically.

In 1901 the Dutch adopted what they called the Ethical Policy, under which the colonial government had a duty to further the welfare of the Indonesian people in health and education. Other new measures under the policy included irrigation programs, transmigration, communications, flood mitigation, industrialisation, and protection of native industry.[13] Industrialisation did not significantly affect the majority of Indonesians, and Indonesia remained an agricultural colony; by 1930, there were 17 cities with populations over 50,000 and their combined populations numbered 1.87 million of the colony’s 60 million.

See also: Pictures from Oceana / Indonesia / Polynesia etc.

Returning to Tylor:

“Of such rites in the Pacific islands, the most hideously purposeful accounts reach us from the Fiji group. Till lately, a main part of the ceremony of a great man’s funeral was the strangling of wives, friends, and slaves, for the distinct purpose of attending him into the world of spirits. Ordinarily the first victim was the wife of the deceased, and more than one if he had several, and their corpses, oiled as for a feast, clothed with new fringed girdles, with heads dressed and ornamented, and vermilion and turmeric powder spread on their faces and bosoms, were laid by the side of the dead warrior. Associates and inferior attendants were likewise slain, and these bodies were spoken of as ‘ grass for bedding the grave.’ When Ra Mbithi, the pride of Somosomo, was lost at sea, seventeen of his wives were killed; and after the news of the massacre of the Namena people, in 1839, eighty women were strangled to accompany the spirits of their murdered husbands. Such sacrifices took place under the same pressure of public opinion which kept up the widow-burning in modern India. The Fijian widow was worked upon by her relatives with all the pressure of persuasion and of menace; she understood well that life to her henceforth would mean a wretched existence of neglect, disgrace, and destitution;
and tyrannous custom, as hard to struggle against in the savage as in the civilized world, drove her to the grave.

“Thus, far from resisting, she became importunate for death, and the new life to come, and till public opinion reached a more enlightened state, the missionaries often used their influence in vain to save from the strangling-cord some wife whom they could have rescued, but who herself refused to live. So repugnant to the native mind was the idea of a chieftain going unattended into the other world, that
the missionaries’ prohibition of the cherished custom was one reason of the popular dislike to Christianity. Many of the nominal Christians, when once a chief of theirs was shot from an ambush, esteemed it most fortunate that a stray shot at the same time killed a young man at a distance from him, and thus provided a companion for the spirit of the slain chief.

“In America, the funeral human sacrifice makes its characteristic appearance. A good example may be taken from among the Osages, whose habit was sometimes to plant in the cairn raised over a corpse a pole with an enemy’s scalp hanging to the top. Their notion was that by taking an enemy and suspending his scalp over the grave of a deceased friend, the spirit of the victim became subjected to the spirit of the buried warrior in the land of spirits. Hence the last and best service that could be performed for a deceased relative was to take an enemy’s life, and thus transmit it by his scalp. The correspondence of this idea with that just mentioned among the Dayaks is very striking. With a similar intention, the Caribs would slay on the dead master’s grave any of his slaves they could lay hands on.

“Among the native peoples risen to considerably higher grades of social and political life, these practices were not suppressed but exaggerated, in the ghastly sacrifices of warriors, slaves, and wives, who departed to continue their duteous offices at the funeral of the chief or monarch in Central America and Mexico, in Bogota and Peru.”

EvX here:

400px-Magliabchanopage_73r 400px-Kodeks_tudela_21

The Aztecs were lovely folks.

Back to Tylor:

“Of such funeral rites, carried out to the death, graphic and horrid descriptions are recorded in the countries across Africa East, Central, and West. A headman of the Wadoe is buried sitting in a shallow pit, and with the corpse a male and female slave alive, he with a bill-hook in his hand to cut fuel for his lord in the death-world, she seated on a little stool with the dead chief’s head in her lap. A chief of Unyamwezi is entombed in a vaulted pit, sitting on a low stool with a bow in his right hand, and provided with a pot of native beer ; with him are shut in alive three women slaves, and the ceremony is concluded with a libation of beer on the earth heaped up above them all.

“The same idea which in Guinea makes it common for the living to send messages by the dying to the dead, is developed in Ashanti and Dahome into a monstrous system of massacre. The King of Dahome must enter Deadland with a ghostly court of hundreds of wives, eunuchs, singers, drummers,
and soldiers. Nor is this all. Captain Burton thus describes the yearly ‘Customs:’ ‘They periodically supply the departed monarch with fresh attendants in the shadowy world. For unhappily these murderous scenes are an expression, lamentably mistaken but perfectly sincere, of the liveliest filial piety.’ Even this annual slaughter must be supplemented by almost daily murder. Whatever action,
however trivial, is performed by the King, it must dutifully be reported to his sire in the shadowy realm. A victim, almost always a war-captive, is chosen ; the message is delivered to him, an intoxicating draught of rum follows it, and he is dispatched to Hades in the best of humours.'”

EvX, here. In 1859, the Macon Messenger published an obituary for King Gezo of Dahomey:

His majesty, the King of Dahomey, the great negro seller of Africa, has departed this life. He was in the habit of ransacking all the neighboring African kingdoms, for the purpose of making captives, whom he sold to the slavers. At his funeral obsequies, his loving subjects manifested their sorrow by sacrificing eight hundred negroes to his memory. He is succeeded by his son, King Gezo II.


Pictures from Oceana / Indonesia / Polynesia etc.

Lots of megaliths:

Haʻamonga ʻa Maui, a stone trilithon on the Tongan island of Tongatapu.
Haʻamonga ʻa Maui, a stone trilithon on the Tongan island of Tongatapu.

Haʻamonga ʻa Maui was built in the early 1200s (the talk page says 1300s); each of its three slabs weighs at least 30-40 tons.

“Between about 3000 and 1000 BC speakers of Austronesian languages spread through island South-East Asia – almost certainly starting out from Taiwan,[1] as tribes whose natives were thought to have previously arrived about from mainland South China about 8000 years ago – into the edges of western Micronesia and on into Melanesia. … In the mid-2nd millennium BC a distinctive culture appeared suddenly in north-west Melanesia, in the Bismarck Archipelago, the chain of islands forming a great arch from New Britain to the Admiralty Islands. This culture, known as Lapita, stands out in the Melanesian archeological record, with its large permanent villages on beach terraces along the coasts. … Within a mere three or four centuries between about 1300 and 900 BC, the Lapita culture spread 6000 km further to the east from the Bismarck Archipelago, until it reached as far as Tonga and Samoa.[2] In this region, the distinctive Polynesian culture developed. The Polynesians are then believed to have spread eastward from the Samoan Islands into the Marquesas, the Society Islands, the Hawaiian Islands and Easter Island; and south to New Zealand. The pattern of settlement also extended to the north of Samoa to the Tuvaluan atolls, with Tuvalu providing a stepping stone to migration into the Polynesian Outlier communities in Melanesia and Micronesia.[3][4][5]” (source) (bold mine)


Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island
Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island (source)
In't it cute?
Palindo, a megalith in Lore Lindu National Park, Indonesia

“Various archaeological studies have dated the carvings from between 3000 BC to 1300 AD.[4]

Megalith being transported on Nias Island, Indonesia, circa 1915
Megalith being transported on Nias Island, Indonesia, circa 1915

“The story has it that it took 525 people three days to erect this stone in the village of Bawemataloeo. (P. Boomgaard, 2001)” (source)

Wikipedia claims that Nias is a popular surfing and tourist destination, but beware that, “… transport links on and to the island have become poor. Internally, the road system is in a very bad condition. Externally the air and ferry links are unreliable. There are two ferry terminals (Gunungsitoli and Teluk Dalam) and an airport (Binaka, near G. Sitoli[6]) on the island, serviced mainly from Sibolga and Medan respectively. However, local ferry companies regularly go out of business (or their boats sink), so only one terminal may be active at any given time. Since the 2005 earthquake, transportation has improved to cope with the increase in travel needs for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.”

Toraja monolith, Indonesia, circa 1935
Toraja monolith, Indonesia, circa 1935


A group of headhunters on the isle of Nias, now part of Indonesia, surrendering to the Dutch
A group of headhunters on the isle of Nias, now part of Indonesia, surrendering to the Dutch

Elsewhere in Indonesia, “Ritual cannibalism was well documented among pre-colonial Batak people, being performed in order to strengthen the eater’s tendi.[2] In particular, the blood, heart, palms and soles of the feet were seen as rich in tendi.”

Marco Polo claims, “They suffocate him. And when he is dead they have him cooked, and gather together all the dead man’s kin, and eat him. And I assure you they do suck the very bones till not a particle of marrow remains in them…And so they eat him up stump and rump. And when they have thus eaten him they collect his bones and put them in fine chests, and carry them away, and place them in caverns among the mountains where no beast nor other creature can get at them. And you must know also that if they take prisoner a man of another country, and he cannot pay a ransom in coin, they kill him and eat him straightway.[7]

There’s some debate on just how much cannibalism the Batak were engaged in. “Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in the 1820s studied the Batak and their rituals and laws regarding the consumption of human flesh… Raffles stated that “It is usual for the people to eat their parents when too old to work,” and that for certain crimes a criminal would be eaten alive: “The flesh is eaten raw or grilled, with lime, salt and a little rice.”[11]”

But, “German physician and geographer Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn visited the Batak lands in 1840-41. Junghuhn says about cannibalism among the Batak (whom he called “Battaer”):

“People do the honest Battaer an injustice when it is said that they sell human flesh in the markets, and that they slaughter their old people as soon as they are unfit for work…They eat human flesh only in wartime, when they are enraged, and in a few legal instances.” “

“Oscar von Kessel visited Silindung in the 1840s and in 1844 was probably the first European to observe a Batak cannibalistic ritual in which a convicted adulterer was eaten alive. … von Kessel states that cannibalism was regarded by the Batak as a judicial act and its application was restricted to very narrowly defined infringements of the law including theft, adultery, spying or treason. Salt, red pepper and lemons had to be provided by the relatives of the victim as a sign that they accepted the verdict of the community and were not thinking of revenge.[14]”

Prisoners of war are tied to a tree and beheaded at once; but the blood is carefully preserved for drinking, and sometimes made into a kind of pudding with boiled rice. The body is then distributed; the ears, the nose, and the soles of the feet are the exclusive property of the Rajah, who has besides a claim on other portions. The palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the flesh of the head, and the heart and liver, are reckoned peculiar delicacies, and the flesh in general is roasted and eaten with salt. The Regents assured me, with a certain air of relish, that it was very good food, and that they had not the least objection to eat it. The women are not allowed to take part in these grand public dinners.”[15]

“Samuel Munson and Henry Lyman, American Baptist missionaries to the Batak, were cannibalized in 1834. … In 1890 the Dutch colonial government banned cannibalism in the regions under their control.[18] Rumors of Batak cannibalism survived into the early 20th century but it seems probable that the custom was rare after 1816, due partially to the influence of Islam.[19]”

Debating exactly how much cannibalism was going on seems to miss the big picture.

Traditional house, Nias
Traditional house, Nias
Funerary Monoliths, Toraja
Funerary Monoliths, Toraja

“Each monolith here memorializes a particular deceased person, although – since the standing stones are neither carved nor signed – the person’s name may be soon forgotten. The buildings in the background, at the base of the hill, were erected as temporary pavilions for the funeral celebrations; they may eventually be reused here, disassembled and re-erected nearby, kept up for tourist visits, or left to deteriorate, depending on local condition.” (source)

Carved stone burial site, with effigies of the deceased, Toraja
Carved stone burial site, with effigies of the deceased, Toraja

“In Toraja society, the funeral ritual is the most elaborate and expensive event. … The death feast of a nobleman is usually attended by thousands and lasts for several days. … The ceremony is often held weeks, months, or years after the death so that the deceased’s family can raise the significant funds needed to cover funeral expenses. … During the waiting period, the body of the deceased is wrapped in several layers of cloth and kept under the tongkonan. …

“Slaughtering tens of water buffalo and hundreds of pigs using a machete is the climax of the elaborate death feast, with dancing and music and young boys who catch spurting blood in long bamboo tubes. … As with the sacrifice of the buffalo and the pigs, the cockfight is considered sacred because it involves the spilling of blood on the earth. … it is common for at least 25 pairs of chickens to be set against each other in the context of the ceremony.

“… The wealthy are often buried in a stone grave carved out of a rocky cliff. The grave is usually expensive and takes a few months to complete. In some areas, a stone cave may be found that is large enough to accommodate a whole family. A wood-carved effigy, called Tau tau, is usually placed in the cave looking out over the land.[30] The coffin of a baby or child may be hung from ropes on a cliff face or from a tree. This hanging grave usually lasts for years, until the ropes rot and the coffin falls to the ground.

“In the ritual called Ma’Nene, that takes place each year in August, the bodies of the deceased are exhumed to be washed, groomed and dressed in new clothes.[31] The mummies are then walked around the village.[32]”


Traditional house, Toraja, Indonesia
Traditional house, Toraja, Indonesia

Indonesia has some nice looking temples, called Candi:

8th century Sewu Temple compound, Indonesia
8th century Sewu Temple compound, Indonesia
Borobudur Temple, 9th century
Borobudur Temple, 9th century
Map showing the locations of candis built during the Indonesian Classical Period
Map showing the locations of candis built during the Indonesian Classical Period
Prambanan complex, 9th century
Prambanan complex, 9th century


Punden berundak, traditional megalithic monument of Indonesia
Punden berundak, traditional megalithic monument of Indonesia
10th century candi, photo by Dany13
10th century candi, photo by Dany13

As far as I can gather–though this is somewhat iffy because some of the sources sounded speculative and some of them that seemed better weren’t in English, and I couldn’t figure out what language they were in in order to translate them, but anyway–Indonesia has an ancient tradition of building “step pyramids” out of rocks, which morphed over time into building these big candi stupas, with some Hindu and Buddhist influence along the way.

I haven’t found many good pics of the ancient sites; one supposed ancient site appears to be a bunch of naturally-occurring basalt that people might have moved around, but the Wikipedia page on it sounded so questionable, I opted not to include it. (Again, there was a page that looked better, but was not in English.)

The ruined city of Nan Madol, Pohnpei island, Micronesia
The ruined city of Nan Madol, built in the ocean off the coast of Pohnpei island, Micronesia
Map of Nan Madol, constructed in the ocean off the coast of Pohnpei, Micronesia
Map of Nan Madol

Understanding Law in Micronesia notes that The Federated States of Micronesia’s laws and legal institutions are “uninterestingly similar to [those of Western countries]”. However, it explains that “law in Micronesia is an extraordinary flux and flow of contrasting thought and meaning, inside and outside the legal system”.”  …

“The people [of Micronesia] today form many ethnicities, but are all descended from and belong to the Micronesian culture. The Micronesian culture was one of the last native cultures of the region to develop. It developed from a mixture of Melanesians, Polynesians, and Filipinos. Because of this mixture of descent, many of the ethnicities of Micronesia feel closer to some groups in Melanesia, Polynesia or the Philippines. A good example of this are the Yapese who are related to Austronesian tribes in the Northern Philippines.[25] A 2011 survey found that 93.1% of Micronesian are Christians.[26]” (source)

Speaking of Micronesia:

Castle Bravo blast, Bikini Island, Micronesia
Castle Bravo blast, Bikini Atoll, Micronesia

“The islands of Bokonijien, Aerokojlol, and Nam were vaporized during nuclear tests that occurred there.”

Economy: “Additional money comes in from government grants, mostly from the United States, and the $150 million the US paid into a trust fund for reparations of residents of Bikini Atoll that had to move after nuclear testing.”

Apparently the radiation fallout affected some nearby islands, where a bunch of people got radiation poisoning and had to move. (Some Japanese fishermen, who hadn’t been warned about top-secret military testing, got killed by the blast.)

“Most residents of Micronesia can freely move to, and work within, the United States.”

“The roughly 3000 residents of the Federated States of Micronesia that reside in Kapingamarangi, nicknamed ‘Kapings’, are both one of the most remote and most difficult people to visit in Micronesia and the entire world. Their home atoll is almost a 1000-mile round trip to the nearest point of immigration check-in and check-out. There are no regular flights. The only way to legally visit is to first check-in, travel on a high-speed sailboat to the atoll, and then backtrack almost 500 miles. Owing to this difficulty, only a handful of the few sailors that travel across the Pacific will attempt to visit.”

It looks like an amoeba

Technically, both Bhutan and North Sentinel Island sound harder to get to (and North Korea?) but point taken.

I was wondering if Indonesians knew about Australia (it seems like they would have,) and it turns out that at least some of them did: “Fishing fleets began to visit the northern coasts of Australia from Makassar (formerly Ujung Pandang) in southern Sulawesi, from about 1720, but possibly earlier. While Campbell Macknight’s classic study of the Makassan trepang industry accepts the start of the industry as about 1720, with the earliest recorded trepang voyage made in 1751,[5] Regina Ganter of Griffith University notes a Sulawesi historian who suggests a commencement date for the industry of about 1640.[6] Ganter also notes that for some anthropologists, the extensive impact of the trepang industry on the Yolngu people suggests a longer period of contact. Arnhem land rock art, recorded by archaeologists in 2008, appears to provide further evidence of Makassan contact in the mid-1600s.[7]


Luritja man, Australia, demonstrating a method of attacking with a boomerang (1920).
Luritja man, Australia, demonstrating a method of attacking with a boomerang (1920).

Prehistoric Australia is known primarily for its nomadic hunter-gatherers, but they did build some permanent or semi-permanent stone houses and other structures, eg:

Ancient Aborigine stone house, Heword Lake Condah Ruins
Remains of 1,700 year old Aboriginal stone house, Lake Condah Ruins
Lake Condah  Ruins Of Ancient Aboriginal Engineering Drainage Works
Lake Condah Ruins Of Ancient Aboriginal Engineering Drainage Works

More about the Lake Condah stone houses.

The website Trans-Pacific Project wonders if Polynesians made contact (and trade) with the Americas:

Did Polynesians make it to the Americas?

Don’t forget possible Melanesian DNA in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest.

They don't move them very often.
Rai stone, used as currency on the island of Yap
Hawaiian multi-hulled boat
Hawaiian multi-hulled boat

“On his first voyage of Pacific exploration Cook had the services of a Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, who drew a hand-drawn Chart of the islands within 2,000 miles (3,200 km) radius (to the north and west) of his home island of Ra’iatea. Tupaia had knowledge of 130 islands and named 74 on his Chart.[47] Tupaia had navigated from Ra’iatea in short voyages to 13 islands. He had not visited western Polynesia, as since his grandfather’s time the extent of voyaging by Raiateans has diminished to the islands of eastern Polynesia. His grandfather and father had passed to Tupaia the knowledge as to the location of the major islands of western Polynesia and the navigation information necessary to voyage to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.” (source)

James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti
James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti

“The Samoan Crisis was a confrontation standoff between the United States, Imperial Germany and Great Britain from 1887–1889 over control of the Samoan Islands during the Samoan Civil War. The incident involved three American warships, USS Vandalia, USS Trenton and USS Nipsic and three German warships, SMS Adler, SMS Olga, and SMS Eber, keeping each other at bay over several months in Apia harbour, which was monitored by the British warship HMS Calliope.

“The standoff ended on 15 and 16 March when a cyclone wrecked all six warships in the harbour.” (source)


Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa, Fijian chieftan
Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa, Fijian chieftan
Fijian mountain warrior
Fijian mountain warrior

Pottery art from Fijian towns shows that Fiji was settled before or around 3500 to 1000 BC, although the question of Pacific migration still lingers. It is believed that the Lapita people or the ancestors of the Polynesians settled the islands first but not much is known of what became of them after the Melanesians arrived…”

“Constant warfare and cannibalism between warring tribes were quite rampant and very much part of everyday [Fijian] life.[22] During the 19th century, Ratu Udre Udre is said to have consumed 872 people and to have made a pile of stones to record his achievement.[23] According to Deryck Scarr (“A Short History of Fiji”, 1984, page 3), “Ceremonial occasions saw freshly killed corpses piled up for eating. ‘Eat me!’ was a proper ritual greeting from a commoner to a chief.” Scarr also reported that the posts that supported the chief’s house or the priest’s temple would have sacrificed bodies buried underneath them, with the rationale that the spirit of the ritually sacrificed person would invoke the gods to help support the structure, and “men were sacrificed whenever posts had to be renewed” (Scarr, page 3). Also, when a new boat, or drua, was launched, if it was not hauled over men as rollers, crushing them to death, “it would not be expected to float long” (Scarr, page 19). Fijians today regard those times as “na gauna ni tevoro” (time of the devil). The ferocity of the cannibal lifestyle deterred European sailors from going near Fijian waters, giving Fiji the name Cannibal Isles; as a result, Fiji remained unknown to the rest of the world.[24]”


Remember, folks, whites are the most evil people to ever walk the face of the earth, and indigenous native peoples were all peaceful, non-violent matriarchists:

Link to the original article (warning, it is on Salon.)
Link to the original article (warning, it is on Salon.)

“The future of life on the planet depends on bringing the 500-year rampage of the white man to a halt. For five centuries his ever more destructive weaponry has become far too common. His widespread and better systems of exploiting other humans and nature dominate the globe. The time for replacing white supremacy with new values is now.”

What kind of non-white values ? Cannibalism? Burkas? Living without white technology like vaccines, antibiotics, and telephones?

“And just as some whites played a part in ending slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow segregation, and South African apartheid, there is surely a role whites can play in restraining other whites in this era.”

LOL what? Who, exactly, fought and died in the Civil War? A bunch of white people, you ass. Who put a stop to the slave trade in Africa? The English. (and probably the French, Dutch, etc.) Who stopped cannibalism throughout the world? Americans, Dutch, English, French, and missionaries from the world’s great religions–Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. (The influence of the last three on the bulk of Indonesia seems obvious enough.) Whites don’t have a monopoly on greatness, but the claim that whites have done nothing for the planet is not only ignorant bullshit, but displays a profound ignorance of and refusal to learn about the histories and cultures of the entire non-white part of the world.

Normally, SJWs might deem spouting astonishingly ignorant nonsense about non-whites “racist,” but so long as your ignorance is being used to attack whites, then obviously everything is peachy keen and you’re worthy of publication on a major liberal website.

The sunken continent of Zealandia
The sunken continent of Zealandia

“Pre-European Māori had no distance weapons except for tao (spears)[14] and the introduction of the musket had an enormous impact on Māori warfare. Tribes with muskets would attack tribes without them, killing or enslaving many.[15] As a result, guns became very valuable and Māori would trade huge quantities of goods for a single musket. From 1805 to 1843 the Musket Wars raged until a new balance of power was achieved after most tribes had acquired muskets. In 1835, the peaceful Moriori of the Chatham Islands were attacked, enslaved, and nearly exterminated by mainland Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama Māori.[16] In the 1901 census, only 35 Moriori were recorded although the numbers subsequently increased.” (source)

Maori people
Maori people

“During the Musket wars, it has been estimated that the total number of the Māori population dropped from about 100,000 in 1800 to between 50,000 and 80,000 at the end of the wars in 1843. The 1856–1857 census of Māori, which gives a figure of 56,049, suggests the lower number of around 50,000 is perhaps more accurate. … the Maori suffered high mortality rates for new Eurasian infectious diseases, such as influenza, smallpox and measles, which killed an unknown number of Māori: estimates vary between ten and fifty percent.” (source)

Model of fortified Maori town
Model of fortified Maori town

“Initial contact between Māori and Europeans proved problematic, sometimes fatal, with several accounts of Europeans being cannibalised.[35] … In the Boyd Massacre in 1809, Māori took hostage and killed 66 members of the crew and passengers in apparent revenge for the captain’s whipping the son of a Māori chief. Given accounts of cannibalism in this attack, shipping companies and missionaries kept a distance and significantly reduced contact with the Māori for several years.” (source)



Traditional tattoos on a Filipino man, Bontoc people (why is "Filipino" spelled with an F?)
Traditional tattoos on a Filipino man, Bontoc people (why is “Filipino” spelled with an F?)

“The realm of legend suggests that Ui-te-Rangiora around the year 650, led a fleet of Waka Tīwai south until they reached, “a place of bitter cold where rock-like structures rose from a solid sea”,[21] The brief description appears to match the Ross Ice Shelf or possibly the Antarctic mainland,[22] but may just be a description of icebergs and Pack Ice found in the Southern Ocean[23][24]

“Polynesian navigators employed a whole range of techniques including use of the stars, the movement of ocean currents and wave patterns, the air and sea interference patterns caused by islands and atolls, the flight of birds, the winds and the weather.[32]

“Harold Gatty suggested that long-distance Polynesian voyaging followed the seasonal paths of bird migrations. There are some references in their oral traditions to the flight of birds and some say that there were range marks onshore pointing to distant islands in line with the West Pacific Flyway. A voyage from Tahiti, the Tuamotus or the Cook Islands to New Zealand might have followed the migration of the long-tailed cuckoo (Eudynamys taitensis) just as the voyage from Tahiti to Hawaiʻi would coincide with the track of the Pacific golden plover (Pluvialis fulva) and the bristle-thighed curlew (Numenius tahitiensis). It is also believed that Polynesians employed shore-sighting birds as did many seafaring peoples. One theory is that they would have taken a frigatebird (Fregata) with them. These birds refuse to land on the water as their feathers will become waterlogged making it impossible to fly. When the voyagers thought they were close to land they may have released the bird, which would either fly towards land or else return to the canoe.

“For navigators near the equator celestial navigation is simplified since the whole celestial sphere is exposed. Any star that passes the zenith (overhead) is on the celestial equator, the basis of the equatorial coordinate system. The stars are known by their declination, and when they rise or set they determine a bearing for navigation. For example, in the Caroline Islands Mau Piailug taught natural navigation using a star compass. The development of “sidereal compasses” has been studied[33] and theorized to have developed from an ancient pelorus.[32]

“It is likely that the Polynesians also used wave and swell formations to navigate. Many of the habitable areas of the Pacific Ocean are groups of islands (or atolls) in chains hundreds of kilometers long. Island chains have predictable effects on waves and on currents. Navigators who lived within a group of islands would learn the effect various islands had on their shape, direction, and motion and would have been able to correct their path in accordance with the changes they perceived. When they arrived in the vicinity of a chain of islands they were unfamiliar with, they may have been able to transfer their experience and deduce that they were nearing a group of islands. Once they had arrived fairly close to a destination island, they would have been able to pinpoint its location by sightings of land-based birds, certain cloud formations, as well as the reflections shallow water made on the undersides of clouds. It is thought that the Polynesian navigators may have measured the time it took to sail between islands in “canoe-days” or a similar type of expression.[32]”

“The first settlers of the Hawaiian Islands are thought to have sailed from the Marquesas Islands using Polynesian navigation methods.[34] To test this theory, the Hawaiian Polynesian Voyaging Society was established in 1973. The group built a replica of an ancient double-hulled canoe called the Hōkūle‘a, whose crew successfully navigated the Pacific Ocean from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti in 1976 without instruments. In 1980, a Hawaiian named Nainoa Thompson invented a new method of non instrument navigation (called the “modern Hawaiian wayfinding system”), enabling him to complete the voyage from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti and back. In 1987, a Māori named Matahi Whakataka (Greg Brightwell) and his mentor Francis Cowan sailed from Tahiti to Aotearoa without instruments.” (source)

New Zealand: where prehistoric migrations and historic migrations meet

… There were, however, some societies, like those in the Pacific, which developed in extreme geographical isolation, since less than one percent of the Pacific is land. For hundreds of years, the Pacific sat apart from the major trade routes and so the cross-fertilization of naviational ideas was limited. One result of this was that the unique navigation methods that were developed in the Pacific remain distinct and different to this day. –Tristan Gooley, The Natural Navigator

The Pacific is also the last (major) region of Earth to be settled. We figured out how to survive on the polar sea ice thousands of years before we figured out long-distance ocean navigation. Humans didn’t arrive in New Zealand until sometime around 1250-1300 AD, (which means they got to Hawaii and Easter Island–one of the mot geographically isolated places in the world–before New Zealand.) Or to put it another way, less time passed between the Maori settling New Zealand and Columbus arriving Cuba than between Columbus and the American Revolution. (This is even more remarkable when you consider that humans arrived in Australia 40-50,000 years ago.)

I found one in English

The short version of all of this, as we’ve been discussing, is that the Melanesians (who, as their name indicates, have a lot of melanin,) spread out along the southern coast of Asia following the Out-of-Africa event, settling in the Andaman Islands, modern Indonesia, PNG, and eventually Australia.

After that, they basically stopped. The distances between their islands and the next islands were too great for Melanesian technology, and the islands they had were probably pretty nice compared to taking their chances out in the open waves just to hope they might make landfall on some tiny speck hundreds or thousands of miles away.

About 32,000 years later, a group of Taiwanese folks (probably also descended from Melanesians,) developed some better boats and navigational technologies and set out to discover the Pacific.

Micronesian "stick chart" for mapping ocean swells and currents (National Geographic)
Micronesian “stick chart” for mapping ocean swells and currents (National Geographic)

(Interestingly, they also went in the opposite direction, across the Indian ocean, and settled in Madagascar.) The Polynesians who eventually landed in New Zealand are among their descendants.


Getting to Indonesia does not seem to have posed much of a problem for ancient man, since Homo Erectus got there even before h. Sapiens, a good 1.5 million years ago. Lower sea levels probably made this easier than it would be today, by linking up a lot of the islands to the mainland.

(I believe Indonesia is actually located on a sinking magmatic “cool spot” that is essentially drawing the whole region downward, leaving only the tips of its mountains above water; southern Africa is located over a rising magmatic warm spot, lifting the crust in that area.) But the movements of large chunks of crust across the mantle are beyond our temporal scope; we just want to know what Indonesia, PNG, and Australia looked like during the Ice Ages:

Indonesia and Australia during the Ice Age
Indonesia and Australia during the Ice Age

This still requires boats to cross, but it’s not too complicated a voyage. New Zealand, though, is right out. You’re not getting to New Zealand this way–the ocean currents are against you. I suspect it’s easier to get to NZ from the middle of the Pacific–as people actually did–than from Australia.



Indonesian Mystery Solved

A while back, (before the advent of this blog,) I read some study which claimed that Indonesian Muslims in the Netherlands commit far less crime than other Muslims in the Netherlands. (It’s been a long time, so I can’t find the study right now.) This seemed mysterious: what’s special about Indonesian Muslims in the Netherlands?

Perhaps Indonesians just have really low crime rates, I thought. (According to Wikipedia, Indonesia’s homicide rate is way lower than ours.) Perhaps Indonesians have something special about them culturally or genetically. Maybe it’s just very difficult to get from Indonesia to the Netherlands, so only a special sub-set of Indonesians makes it. Or maybe there just aren’t a lot of Indonesians in the Netherlands, resulting in measurement error due to small N.

Now I’ve found another, should have been obvious answer:

“My husband is of Dutch Indonesian heritage & was among the first wave of immigrants of color to arrive in Holland after Sukarno exiled them after the revolution. The Dutch Indonesians assimilated quickly into society, worked hard & were too proud ever to rely on the generous Dutch social safety net. In fact, my husband & his brother attended Catholic school, excelled & became a prominent dentist & business owner. Then, the various waves that followed included the Turks, Moroccans, Somali & Surinamese who had difficulty assimilating into the homogeneous society & placed a heavy burden on the already extremely overtaxed citizens. Many of the devout Muslims demanded that the tolerant & permissive Dutch should change their society especially after the murder of film director, Theo van Gogh & threats against Somali women’s right activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This is too much pressure for such a small country & now the society is full of conflict & increasing crime & stress.” —carla van rijk, NY Times commentator quoted by iSteve.

That’s right, the Dutch colonized Indonesia, ages ago. The Dutch East India Company and all that. Which means there exists (or existed) in Indonesia some population of people who already spoke Dutch, were educated in Dutch-run schools, were potentially even part-Dutch, culturally Dutch, or at least fairly familiar with Dutch culture. And if these people were employees of the Dutch government in Indonesia who were expelled after the end of colonialism, they may have viewed the Netherlands quite favorably.

Something similar may be true about folks employed by former colonial governments in a lot of countries.

At any rate, clearly this is a different situation, in many ways, than the circumstances surrounding most other groups headed to the Netherlands.