Anthropology Friday: Pygmies and Papuans, pt 3/3

Welcome to Anthropology Friday. Today we are finishing A. F. R. Wollaston’s Pygmies and Papuans, published in 1912, with a focus primarily on the Pygmies of New Guinea and nearby areas (also known as Negritos.)

As usual, quotes will be in “” instead of blockquotes for readability.

Tapiro Pygmies

“At one time or another we took measurements of 40 adult men [of the Tapiro Pygmies], most of them men in the prime of life, and their average height was found to be 144·9 cm. (4 ft. 9 in.). … The height of the smallest man measured was 132·6 cm. By contrast with the Papuans they looked extremely small and, what was rather a curious thing, though many of our Malay coolies were no taller than they, the coolies looked merely under-sized and somewhat stunted men, while the Tapiro looked emphatically little men. They are cleanly-built, active-looking little fellows …

“In consequence of our entire lack of knowledge of their language we were not able to form a very reasonable estimate of their intelligence. …

“A rough test of an uncivilised man’s intelligence is the extent to which he is able to count, but in the case of the Tapiro there is an unfortunate difference of evidence in this respect. Capt. Rawling (Geograph. Journal, Vol. xxxviii., page 246) affirms that they are able to count up to ten. If this is so, it is a very interesting and remarkable fact. On several occasions I tried to make these people count, with a view to learning their numeral words, and I found that like the Papuans they only had words for one and two, and that those two words were the same as the Papuan words; but it appeared that, unlike the Papuans, they had not the custom of using their fingers and toes for the higher numbers.

“On the credit side of their intelligence must be placed their admirably constructed houses, their decorated arrows and ingeniously woven bags, and their cultivation.”

A large village:

“A few miles further down the river we came to another large village of yet a different character. The houses there were all built on piles, but while a few of them were of the usual small size, the majority were quite unlike anything else we had seen in that part of New Guinea. They were huge barn-like structures raised on piles ten or more feet above the ground, and the length of some of them must have been from one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet. It was quite evident that these were communal dwellings, indicating a social system entirely different from that of the surrounding districts, and it was very tantalising to pass them within a few yards and not to be able to visit them. The village extended for about a mile along the East bank and the natives that we saw must have numbered at least a thousand. ..


Crowds of people lined the river bank and some of them, holding short bamboos in their hands, jerked them in our direction and from the end came out a white cloud of powdered lime, which looked like smoke. …The suggestion that it is a means of imitating the appearance of fire-arms is ingenious, but it can hardly be seriously considered.”

EvX: I think this amusing explanation may well be correct, given the habits of people in many parts of the world to construct replica versions of technology they have seen mainly at a distance.

Here the author quotes a text by Dr. Haddon on the characteristics and cultural traits of local pygmy/negrito groups, “The Pygmy Question“:

“Pygmies, as their name implies, are very short men, and the first question to decide is whether this short stature is normal or merely a dwarfing due to unfavourable environment. … The average human stature appears to be about 1·675 m. (5 ft. 6 ins.). Those peoples who are 1·725 (5 ft. 8 ins.) or more in height are said to be tall, those below 1·625 m. (5 ft. 4 ins.) are short, while those who fall below 1·5 m. (4 ft. 11 ins.) are now usually termed pygmies. One has only to turn to the investigations of the Dordogne district by Collignon and others to see how profoundly la misère can affect the stature of a population living under adverse conditions, for example in the canton of Saint Mathieu there are 8·8 per cent. with a stature below 1·5 m. But when one finds within one area, as in the East Indian region, distinct peoples of medium, short and pygmy stature, living under conditions which appear to be very similar, one is inclined to suspect a racial difference between them, and the suspicion becomes confirmed if we find other characters associated with pygmy stature. …

“Asiatic pygmies have long been known, but it is only comparatively recently that they have been studied seriously, and even now there remains much to be discovered about them. There are two main stocks on the eastern border of the Indian Ocean, who have a very short stature and are respectively characterised by curly or wavy hair and by hair that grows in close small spirals—the so-called woolly hair.

“(i.) The Sakai or Senoi of the southern portion of the Malay Peninsula are typical examples of the former stock, their average stature is slightly above the pygmy limit … All these peoples together with the Vedda and some jungle tribes of the Deccan are now regarded as remnants of a once widely distributed race to which the term Pre-Dravidian has been applied; it is also believed by many students that the chief element in the Australians is of similar origin.

Semang man, Malaysia

“(ii.) For a long time it has been known that there are three groups of ulotrichous (woolly-haired), brachycephalic (broad-headed), dark-skinned, pygmy peoples inhabiting respectively the Andaman Islands, the Malay Peninsula and the Philippines; to this race the name Negrito is universally applied. We can now include in it a fourth element from New Guinea. The physical characters of these several groups may be summarised as follows:

Two Andamanese men

“1. The Andamanese, who are sometimes erroneously called Mincopies, inhabit the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. Their head hair is extremely frizzly (woolly), fine in texture, lustreless and seldom more than two or three inches long … Hair only occasionally grows on the face and then but scantily. There is little or no hair over the surface of the body. The skin has several shades of colour between bronze or dark copper, sooty, and black, … The average stature of 48 males is 1·492 m. (4 ft. 10-3/4 ins.), the extremes being 1·365 m. (4 ft. 5-3/4 ins.) and 1·632 m. (5 ft. 4-1/4 ins.). …

“2. The Semang live in the central region of the Malay Peninsula, some of them are known under the names of Udai, Pangan, Hami and Semán. The hair of the head is short, universally woolly, and black. Skeat says it is of a brownish black, not a bluish black like that of the Malays, and Martin alludes to a reddish shimmer when light falls on it … Hair is rare and scanty on face and body. Skeat describes the skin colour as dark chocolate brown approximating in some Kedah Negritos to glossy black… The data for the stature are not very satisfactory, the best are a series of 17 males by Annandale and Robinson, the average being 1·528 m. (5 ft. 0-1/4 in.), with extreme, of 1·372 m. (4 ft. 6 ins.) and 1·604 (5 ft. 3 ins.). …

Young Aeta girl, Philippines, 1901

“3. The Aeta live in the mountainous districts of the larger islands and in some of the smaller islands of the Philippines. It is convenient to retain this name for the variously named groups of Philippine Negritos, many of whom show admixture with other peoples. The hair of the head is universally woolly except when mixture may be suspected or is known … Reed says that the beard is very scanty but all adult males have some and that there is very little body hair, but Worcester states that the men often have abundant beards and a thick growth of hair on the arms, chest and legs. The skin is described as being of a dark chocolate brown, rather than black, with a yellowish tinge on the exposed parts (Reed), sooty black (Sawyer), or dark, sooty brown (Worcester). The average stature of 48 men is 1·463 m. (4 ft. 9-1/2 ins.), ranging from 1·282 m. (4 ft. 2-1/2 ins.) to 1·6 m. (5 ft. 3 ins.), but some of these were not pure breeds (Reed); other observations also show a considerable range in height. …

Papuan man accompanied by two Tapiro Pygmies, from Wollaston’s Pygmies and Papuans

“4. The discovery of pygmies in Netherlands New Guinea by the Expedition has drawn public attention to a problem of perennial interest to ethnologists. …

“The racial history of New Guinea has proved to be unexpectedly complicated. We are now justified in recognising at least two indigenous elements, the Negrito and Papuan; the effect of the island populations to the east has not yet been determined, but in the south-west two immigrations at least from Melanesia have taken place, which, with Seligmann, we may term Papuo-Melanesian. … It is, however, almost certain that future researches will reveal that the problem is not so simple as that just indicated.”

EvX: Just as my favorite map is the one where large tracts of Antarctica are marked “Unexplored,” so I find interesting the experience of simply discovering new groups of humans who had previously been unknown to outsiders.

New Guinea was, for mostly geographic reasons, one of the last places on Earth to be competently explored by outsiders, and thus held some of the last ‘undiscovered’ peoples.


“Finally Guppy, Ribbe and Rascher report the occurrence of very short people in the interior of the larger islands of the Bismarck Archipelago and of the Solomon Islands; recently Thurnwald refers to very small people in the mountainous interior of Bougainville who speak a non-Melanesian language, one man from Mari mountain had a stature of 1·39 m. (4 ft. 6-1/2 ins.). In the mountains the mixed population consists of types recalling the Solomon Islanders and “representatives of a small short-legged, broad-faced, short-skulled, very hairy, wide-nosed people.” …

“Discussing the pygmies of Melanesia von Luschan referred in 1910 (Zs. f. Ethnol. XLII., p. 939) to bones brought a century ago from the Admiralty Islands which must have belonged to individuals 1·32-1·35 m. (4 ft. 4 ins.-4 ft. 5 ins.) in stature; it is unlikely that the type persists, though Moseley mentions an unusually short man, a little over 5 ft. (Journ. Anth. Inst. 1877, p. 384). In the collection made by the German Marine Expedition there are a number of extremely small skulls from New Ireland, which von Luschan is convinced belong to pygmies. Finsch brought from New Britain over thirty years ago the smallest known skull of a normal adult person; it came from the S.W. coast of Gazelle Peninsula. …

“At the same time that the Expedition discovered pygmies in Netherlands New Guinea, Mr. R. W. Williamson was investigating the Mafulu, a mountain people on the upper waters of the Angabunga river in the Mekeo District. … The average stature is 1·551 m. (5 ft. 1 in.) ranging from 1·47 m. (4 ft. 10 ins.) to 1·63 m. (5 ft. 4 ins.). They are fairly strong and muscular, but rather slender and slight in development. …

“It is worth noting that Pöch had in 1906 measured two Fergusson Island men with statures 1·403 and 1·425 m. (4 ft. 7-1/4 ins., 4 ft. 8 ins.), who told him that “all the people in that tribe were as small or smaller.” …

“On reading through the brief synopses which I have given it is apparent that, with the possible exception of the Andamanese, each of the Negrito peoples shows considerable diversity in its physical characters and this is more evident when more detailed accounts and photographs are studied…

“The Negritos have certain cultural characters more or less in common, some of which differentiate them from their neighbours. There is very little artificial deformation of the person. … The Semang women possess numerous bamboo combs which are engraved with curious designs of a magical import, similar combs are possessed by nearly every Aeta man and woman. The Andamanese have no combs.

“The Andamanese make three kinds of simple huts on the ground and large communal huts are sometimes built. The Semang construct “bee-hive” and long communal huts and weather screens similar to those of the Andamanese. They also erect tree shelters, but direct evidence is very scanty that pure Semang inhabit huts with a flooring raised on piles; they sleep on bamboo platforms. The Aeta usually make very simple huts sometimes with a raised bamboo sleeping platform inside. …

“All the Negritos have the bow and arrow. The Great Andamanese bow is peculiar while that of the Little Andamanese appears to resemble that of the Semang. The Great Andamanese and the Tapiro have very long bows. Harpoon arrows with iron points are used by the Andamanese and Aeta, the arrows of the Andamanese, Semang and Aeta are nocked, but only those of the two latter are feathered.  …

“So far as is known the social structure of the Negritos is very simple. … Our knowledge concerning the Semang and Aeta is extremely imperfect but they probably resemble the Andamanese in these points. The Andamanese and Semang are strictly monogamous, polygyny is allowed among the Aeta, but monogamy prevails. The only restriction at all on marriage appears to be the prohibition of marriage between near kindred, and divorce is very rare. All bury their dead, but it is considered by the Andamanese more complimentary to place the dead on a platform which is generally built in a large tree, and the more honourable practice of the Semang is to expose the dead in trees. The Mafulu bury ordinary people, but the corpses of chiefs are placed in an open box either on a platform or in the fork of a kind of fig tree.”

EvX: That’s all for today. Next week, I have a book from Appalachia planned.

Cathedral Round-Up #30: HLS’s Bicentennial Class

Harvard Law Bulletin recently released a special issue commemorating HLS’s 200th anniversary:


A Memorial to the Enslaved People Who Enabled the Founding of Harvard Law School

On a clear, windy afternoon in early September at the opening of its bicentennial observance, Harvard Law School unveiled a memorial on campus. The plaque, affixed to a large stone, reads:

In honor of the enslaved whose labor created wealth that made possible the founding of Harvard Law School

May we pursue the highest ideals of law and justice in their memory

Harvard Law School was founded in 1817, with a bequest from Isaac Royall Jr. Royall’s wealth was derived from the labor of enslaved people on a sugar plantation he owned on the island of Antigua and on farms he owned in Massachusetts.

“We have placed this memorial here, in the campus cross-roads, at the center of the school, where everyone travels, where it cannot be missed,” said HLS Dean John Manning ’85. …

Harvard University President Drew Faust… also spoke at the unveiling, which followed a lecture focused on the complicated early history of the school.

“How fitting that you should begin your bicentennial,” said Faust, “with this ceremony reminding us that the path toward justice is neither smooth nor straight.” …

Halley, holder of the Royall Professorship of Law, who has spoken frequently about the Royall legacy, read aloud the names of enslaved men, women, and children of the Royall household from records that have survived, “so that we can all share together the shock of the sheer number, she said, “and a brief shared experience of their loss.”

“These names are the tattered, ruined remains, the accidents of recording and the encrustation of a system that sought to convert human beings into property,’ she said “But they’re our tattered remains.”

This commemorative issue also contains an interview with ImeIme Umana, Harvard Law Review’s 131st president, “How Have Harvard Scholars Shaped the Law?”:

How has legal scholarship changed since the Law Review began publishing more than a century ago?

Scholarship certainly has changed over time, and these pieces, whether or not they acknowledge it to a great extent, are consistent with the changing nature of the legal field in that they bring more voices to the table and more diverse perspectives. If you look back at our older scholarship, you’ll tend to see more traditional, doctrinal, technical pieces. now, they’re more aspirational, more critical, and have more social commentary in them. It’s a distinction between writing on what the law is and writing on what the law should be, and asking why things are the way they are.

BTW, you can purchase the Harvard Law Review on Amazon.

What Kind of scholarship do you find especially meaningful?

I’m really passionate about the sate of the criminal legal system and civil rights. The cherry on top within those topics is scholarship that proposes new ways of thinking or challenges the status quo.

One of my favorite articles is [Assistant] Professor Andrew Crespo’s “Systemic Facts” [published in the June 2016 Harvard Law Review], because it does just that. The thesis is that courts are institutionally positioned to bring about systemic change, and that they can use their position to collect facts that they are institutionally privy to. It calls on them to do that such that we might learn more about how the legal system is structured.

I’ve noticed the increased emphasis on criminal law lately, especially bail reform.

The Law Review was founded 130 years ago, and now you are its president. Do you ever get caught up in thinking about the historical implications of running such a well-known and influential publication?

… Looking at it through a historical lens, the diversity of the student body and Law Review editors and authors is especially meaningful, as it makes legal institutions more inclusive, and therefore the law more inclusive. It’s important to keep pushing in that direction and never become complacent. The history is very important.

You are the first black woman who was elected to serve as president of the Law Review. Why do you think it took so long for that to happen?

Ive thought about it a lot and I just don’t know the answer. My thought is that it just tracks the lack of inclusion of black women in legal institutions, full stop. It’s a function of that. There’ always more we can be doing to be more inclusive. The slowness of milestones like this might have a broader cause than just something specific to the Law Review.

It probably tracks closer to the inclusion of Nigerian women at Harvard than black women. Umana is Nigerian American, and Nigerian Americans score significantly better on the SAT and LSAT than African Americans. (Based on average incomes, Nigerian Americans do better than white Americans, too.) So I’m going to go out on a limb and wager that significant black firsts at HLR are due to the arrival of more Nigerian and Kenyan immigrants, rather than the integration of America’s African American community.

While reading about ImeIme Umana, I noticed that American publications–such as NBC News–describe her as a “native” of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. By contrast, Financial Nigeria proudly claims her as a “Nigerian American”:

Born to Nigerian immigrant parents originally from Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria, Umana is a resident of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, United States. Umana graduated with a BA in Joint Concentration in African American Studies and Government from Harvard University in 2014. She is currently working on a Doctor of Law degree (Class of 2018) at the Harvard Law School.

Who is this man? HLS Class of 1926

The issue is full of fascinating older photographs with minimalist captions, because the graphic design team prefers white space over information.

For example, on page 58 is a photo of a collection of students and older men (is that Judge Learned Hand in the first row?) captioned simply 1926 and “Stepping up: by 1925, lawyers could pursue graduate degrees (LL.M.s and S.J.D.s) at HLS.

<- Seated in the front row is this man. Who is he? Quick perusal of a list of famous Indians reveals only that he isn’t any of them.

There is also an Asian man seated directly behind him whose photo I’ll post below. You might think, in our diversity obsessed age, when we track the first black editor of this and first black female head of that, someone would be curious enough about these men to tell us their stories. Who were they? How did they get to Harvard Law?

After some searching and help from @prius_1995, I think the Indian man is Dr. Kashi Narayan Malaviya, S.J.D. HLS 1926, and the Asian man is Domingo Tiongco Zavalla, LL.M. 1927, from the Philippines. (If you are curious, here are the relevant class lists.)

I haven’t been able to find out much about Dr. Malaviya. Clearly he associated with folks in high places, as indicated by this quote from Hindu Nationalism and the Language of Politic in Late Colonial India:

In Allahabad, during a meeting attended by Uma Nehru, Hriday Nath Kunzru and Dr. Kashi Narayan Malaviya, M. K. Acharya made the link between the politics of the nation and the plight of Hinduism very clear…

Domingo Tiongco Zavalla, LL.M. HLS 1927

(Unfortunately, it appears that he has a more famous relative named Madan Mohan Malaviya, who is coming up in the search results. His great-grandson is single, however, if any of you ladies are looking for a Brahmin husband.)

1926 was during the period when America ruled the Philippines, so it would be sensible for Filipinos to want to learn about the American legal system and become credentialed in it. Domingo Zavalla went on to be a delegate to the Philippines’s Commonwealth Constitutional Convention (This was probably the 1934 Convention: “The Convention drafted the 1935 Constitution, which was the basic law of the Philippines under the American-sponsored Commonwealth of the Philippines and the post-War, sovereign Third Republic.”)

That’s about all I’ve found about Zavalla.

How quickly we fall into obscurity and are forgotten.

Navigation and the Wealth of Nations

Global Determinants of Navigational Ability, by Coutrot et al:

Using a mobile-based virtual reality navigation task, we measured spatial navigation ability in more than 2.5 million people globally. Using a clustering approach, we find that navigation ability is not smoothly distributed globally but clustered into five distinct yet geographically related groups of countries. Furthermore, the economic wealth of a nation (Gross Domestic Product per capita) was predictive of the average navigation ability of its inhabitants and gender inequality (Gender Gap Index) was predictive of the size of performance difference between males and females. Thus, cognitive abilities, at least for spatial navigation, are clustered according to economic wealth and gender inequalities globally.

This is an incredible study. They got 2.5 million people from all over the world to participate.

If you’ve been following any of the myriad debates about intelligence, IQ, and education, you’re probably familiar with the concept of “multiple intelligences” and the fact that there’s rather little evidence that people actually have “different intelligences” that operate separately from each other. In general, it looks like people who have brains that are good at working out how to do one kind of task tend to be good at working out other sorts of tasks.

I’ve long held navigational ability as a possible exception to this: perhaps people in, say, Polynesian societies depended historically far more on navigational abilities than the rest of us, even though math and literacy were nearly absent.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the authors got enough samples from Polynesia to include it in the study, but they did get data from Indonesia and the Philippines, which I’ll return to in a moment.

Frankly, I don’t see what the authors mean by “five distinct yet geographically related groups of countries.” South Korea is ranked between the UK and Belgium; Russia is next to Malaysia; Indonesia is next to Portugal and Hungary.

GDP per capita appears to be a stronger predictor than geography:

Some people will say these results merely reflect experience playing video games–people in wealthier countries have probably spent more time and money on computers and games. But assuming that the people who are participating in the study in the first place are people who have access to smartphones, computers, video games, etc., the results are not good for the multiple-intelligences hypothesis.

In the GDP per Capita vs. Conditional Modes (ie how well a nation scored overall, with low scores better than high scores) graph, countries above the trend line are under-performing relative to their GDPs, and countries below the line are over-performing relative to their GDPs.

South Africa, for example, significantly over-performs relative to its GDP, probably due to sampling bias: white South Africans with smartphones and computers were probably more likely to participate in the study than the nation’s 90% black population, but the GDP reflects the entire population. Finland and New Zealand are also under-performing economically, perhaps because Finland is really cold and NZ is isolated.

On the other side of the line, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Greece over-perform relative to GDP. Two of these are oil states that would be much poorer if not for geographic chance, and as far as I can tell, the whole Greek economy is being propped up by German loans. (There is also evidence that Greek IQ is falling, though this may be a near universal problem in developed nations.)

Three other nations stand out in the “scoring better than GDP predicts” category: Ukraine, (which suffered under Communism–Communism seems to do bad things to countries,) Indonesia and the Philippines. While we could be looking at selection bias similar to South Africa, these are island nations in which navigational ability surely had some historical effect on people’s ability to survive.

Indonesia and the Philippines still didn’t do as well as first-world nations like Norway and Canada, but they outperformed other nations with similar GDPs like Egypt, India, and Macedonia. This is the best evidence I know of for independent selection for navigational ability in some populations.

The study’s other interesting findings were that women performed consistently worse than men, both across countries and age groups (except for the post-90 cohort, but that might just be an error in the data.) Navigational ability declines steeply for everyone post-23 years old until about 75 years; the authors suggest the subsequent increase in abilities post-70s might be sampling error due to old people who are good at video games being disproportionately likely to seek out video game related challenges.

The authors note that people who drive more (eg, the US and Canada) might do better on navigational tasks than people who use public transportation more (eg, Europeans) but also that Finno-Scandians are among the world’s best navigators despite heavy use of public transport in those countries. The authors write:

We speculate that this specificity may be linked to Nordic countries sharing a culture of participating in a sport related to navigation: orienteering. Invented as an official sport in the late 19th century in Sweden, the first orienteering competition open to the public was held in Norway in 1897. Since then, it has been more popular in Nordic countries than anywhere else in the world, and is taught in many schools [26]. We found that ‘orienteering world championship’ country results significantly correlated with countries’ CM (Pearson’s correlation ρ = .55, p = .01), even after correcting for GDP per capita (see Extended Data Fig. 15). Future targeted research will be required to evaluate the impact of cultural activities on navigation skill.

I suggest a different causal relationship: people make hobbies out of things they’re already good at and enjoy doing, rather than things they’re bad at.



Please note that the study doesn’t look at a big chunk of countries, like most of Africa. Being at the bottom in navigational abilities in this study by no means indicates that a country is at the bottom globally–given the trends already present in the data, it is likely that the poorer countries that weren’t included in the study would do even worse.

Some Historical Photos of Negrito People

Young Negrito Girl from the Philippines

There’s this weird divide between physical anthropology (which talks about what people look like,) and cultural anthropology (which talks about what they do.) When I read about what people are doing, I always want to know what they look like, especially if they’re from obscure groups I’ve never met anyone from in real life.

But when talking about people whose lifestyles have changed radically over the past hundred years or so, you run into a sharp divide between historical photos,
(depicting nearly naked hunter-gatherers in a nearly Edenic environment,) and modern photos of young women at the mall. With few exceptions, the folks Anthropologists love to study still exist–they did remain in the 1800s–even if Wikipedia contains no updated information on their modern lives.

So with that caveat, this post is devoted to historical photos of Negritos, with the emphasis on historical. Outside of the Sentinelese, who have remained independent and preserved their historical lifestyle by killing anyone who gets too close to their island, most modern Negritos no longer live like the folks depicted in these photos.

But the past is still fascinating.

The Negrito couple on the left hails from the lovely Andaman Islands (of which North Sentinel Island is part,) off the west coast of Indo-China and today part of India; the remaining Andamanese are designated a Scheduled Tribe[1] under Indian law.

To the right: Two Great Andamanese men, circa. 1875.

The Andamanese are believed to have arrived in the area around 26,000 years ago, about the time of the last glacial maximum, when lower sea levels made getting to such isolated places much easier.

Unfortunately, contact with the outside world has devastated the population, estimated at 7,000 in the late 1700s and only 400-450 today (and the Jangil are completely gone,) despite access to at least some of the modern medicines and technologies that are allowing populations to explode elsewhere.

The following photo is one of my favorites:

Perhaps this Andamanese fellow–a young man or teen, I assume–was showing off for the camera, but that is quite the leap he made in pursuit of the turtle he is spearing.

The boat (as you can see in other pictures) is quite long and can hold several fishermen (or warriors) at once.

I don’t know the purpose of the enclosure in the background; perhaps it also served to catch fish?

This fellow is not carrying about the skull of his defeated enemy, but a memento of a loved relative. According to the Handbook to Ethnographical Collections, “The dead are buried within the encampment in a sitting posture and wrapped up in leaves. The encampment is then deserted forthree months, after which the body is exhumed, and washed in the sea. Necklaces are then made of the bones, which are worn as mementoes by relations and friends, and are thought to cure pain or disease. Thus a man afflicted with toothache ties such a necklace round his face… The skull of the deceased is also worn round the neck as a mark of affection.”

Here is a jawbone worn in similar style, and a necklace made of what look like finger bones.

Their villages looked something like this village from Car Nicobar Island, with a thatched roof raised well above the ground. Here is another village, which shows how the huts could come right over the water, and a view of the inside of a large hut.

Here is a view of the outside of a large hut; this one’s sides go all the way to the ground–perhaps it belonged to a different tribe than the folks with the elevated huts.

The huts of the Jangil Negritos of the Andaman islands were completely different and look more like temporary sun-shelters than houses. (Though I note they are very similar to this double-decker storage and lounging hut.) When the weather is warm all year long, you just don’t need much in the way of house.

This young woman to the right is wearing a “tail skirt,” a piece of traditional finery that Wikimedia speculates may have led to legends of “monkey-tailed people” inhabiting the Andaman Islands.

Here is a photograph of Riala, Age 35, Andamanese-English interpreter from the Aka-Kede tribe, showing a traditional Andaman hairstyle (1890s), and here is a photo showing a traditional Andaman Negrito scarification pattern.

The Negritos of the Philippines, of course, having long inter-married with the other Filipinos, look a great deal like their neighbors.

This illustration of two pre-Hispanic Filipino Negrito warriors comes from the Boxer Codex, created around 1590. The Boxer Codex is filled with lovely illustrations of the various ethnic groups of the Philippines at the time of first contact with the Spanish, including Tagalogs, Visayans, Zambals, Cagayanes or possibly Ibanags, as well as several non-Filipino groups like Chinese and Vietnamese who had also settled there.

The Codex is (probably intentionally) also a guide to relative social class, with wealthier folks wearing far more (and colorfully dyed) clothes than than poor folks like these nearly-naked warriors.


Some 300 years later (1899), the Smithsonian published a near-recreation of the illustration, featuring two Negritos from Luzon, demonstrating their skill with the bow:

Here is another photograph of the same men plus several of their fellow tribesfolk (including three women), showing off their extremely long bows and fine hats.

Sadly, Wikimedia doesn’t seem to have any photos of Malaysian or other mainland Negritos.

For the most part, the Philippine Negritos appear to have tightly curled hair similar to the Andamanese, Papulans, and Melanesians, but some have wavy hair, more similar to the Australian Aborigines (though the effect is probably due entirely to marrying a non-Negrito neighbor.

(I note as well that the lady on the right is a bit taller than her friend on the left, which also suggests intermarriage–leaving us with a different question: Why do Aborigines have wavy hair?)

I have also met Vietnamese women with wavy hair (though perhaps not as wavy as this woman’s.) It contrasts with the extremely straight hair associated with Chinese and Japanese people, and I also wonder where it came from, though perhaps it’s just within the range of totally normal human variation.

The Negritos of Sundaland, Sahul, and the Philippines

Ati (Negrito) woman from the Philippines

The Negritos are a fascinating group of short-statured, dark-skinned, frizzy-haired peoples from southeast Asia–chiefly the Andaman Islands, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand. (Spelling note: “Negritoes” is also an acceptable plural, and some sources use the Spanish Negrillos.)

Because of their appearance, they have long been associated with African peoples, especially the Pygmies. Pygmies are formally defined as any group where adult men are, on average 4’11” or less and is almost always used specifically to refer to African Pygmies; the term pygmoid is sometimes used for groups whose men average 5’1″ or below, including the Negritos. (Some of the Bushmen tribes, Bolivians, Amazonians, the remote Taron, and a variety of others may also be pygmoid, by this definition.)

However, genetic testing has long indicated that they, along with other Melanesians and Australian Aborigines, are more closely related to other east Asian peoples than any African groups. In other words, they’re part of the greater Asian race, albeit a distant branch of it.

But how distant? And are the various Negrito groups closely related to each other, or do there just happen to be a variety of short groups of people in the area, perhaps due to convergent evolution triggered by insular dwarfism?

From Wikimedia

In Discerning the origins of the Negritos, First Sundaland Peoples: deep divergence and archaic admixture, Jinam et al gathered genetic data from Filipino, Malaysian, and Andamanese Negrito populations, and compared them both to each other and other Asian, African, and European groups. (Be sure to download the supplementary materials to get all of the graphs and maps.)

They found that the Negrito groups they studied “are basal to other East and Southeast Asians,” (basal: forming the bottom layer or base. In this case, it means they split off first,) “and that they diverged from West Eurasians at least 38,000 years ago.” (West Eurasians: Caucasians, consisting of Europeans, Middle Easterners, North Africans, and people from India.) “We also found relatively high traces of Denisovan admixture in the Philippine Negritos, but not in the Malaysian and Andamanese groups.” (Denisovans are a group of extinct humans similar to Neanderthals, but we’ve yet to find many of their bones. Just as Neanderthal DNA shows up in non-Sub-Saharan-Africans, so Denisvoan shows up in Melanesians.)

Figure 1 (A) shows PC analysis of Andamanese, Malaysian, and Philippine Negritos, revealing three distinct clusters:

In the upper right-hand corner, the Aeta, Agta, Batak, and Mamanwa are Philippine Negritos. The Manobo are non-Negrito Filipinos.

In the lower right-hand corner are the Jehai, Kintak and Batek are Malaysian Negritos.

And in the upper left, we have the extremely isolated Andamanese Onge and Jarawa Negritos.

(Phil-NN and Mly-NN I believe are Filipino and Malaysian Non-Negritos.)

You can find the same chart, but flipped upside down, with Papuan and Melanesian DNA in the supplemental materials. Of the three groups, they cluster closest to the Philippine Negritos, along the same line with the Malaysians.

By excluding the Andamanese (and Kintak) Negritos, Figure 1 (B) allows a closer look at the structure of the Philippine Negritos.

The Agta, Aeta, and Batak form a horizontal “comet-like pattern,” which likely indicates admixture with non-Negrito Philipine groups like the Manobo. The Mamanawa, who hail from a different part of the Philippines, also show this comet-like patterns, but along a different axis–likely because they intermixed with the different Filipinos who lived in their area. As you can see, there’s a fair amount of overlap–several of the Manobo individuals clustered with the Mamanwa Negritos, and the Batak cluster near several non-Negrito groups (see supplemental chart S4 B)–suggesting high amounts of mixing between these groups.

ADMIXTURE analysis reveals a similar picture. The non-Negrito Filipino groups show up primarily as Orange. The Aeta, Agta, and Batak form a clear genetic cluster with each other and cline with the Orange Filipinos, with the Aeta the least admixed and Batak the most.

The white are on the chart isn’t a data error, but the unique signature of the geographically separated Mananwa, who are highly mixed with the Manobo–and the Manobo, in turn, are mixed with them.

But this alone doesn’t tell us how ancient these populations are, nor if they’re descended from one ancestral pop. For this, the authors constructed several phylogenetic trees, based on all of the data at hand and assuming from 0 – 5 admixture events. The one on the left assumes 5 events, but for clarity only shows three of them. The Denisovan DNA is fascinating and well-documented elsewhere in Melanesian populatons; that Malaysian and Philippine Negritos mixed with their neighbors is also known, supporting the choice of this tree as the most likely to be accurate.

Regardless of which you pick, all of the trees show very similar results, with the biggest difference being whether the Melanesians/Papuans split before or after the Andamanese/Malaysian Negritos.

In case you are unfamiliar with these trees, I’ll run down a quick explanation: This is a human family tree, with each split showing where one group of humans split off from the others and became an isolated group with its own unique genetic patterns. The orange and red lines mark places where formerly isolated groups met and interbred, producing children that are a mix of both. The first split in the tree, going back million of years, is between all Homo sapiens (our species) and the Denisovans, a sister species related to the Neanderthals.

All humans outside of sub-Saharan Africans have some Neanderthal DNA because their ancestors met and interbred with Neanderthals on their way Out of Africa. Melanesians, Papuans, and some Negritos also have some Denisovan DNA, because their ancestors met and made children with members of this obscure human species, but Denisovan DNA is quite rare outside these groups.

Here is a map of Denisovan DNA levels the authors found, with 4% of Papuan DNA hailing from Denisivan ancestors, and Aeta nearly as high. By contrast, the Andamanese Negritos appear to have zero Denisovan. Either the Andamanese split off before the ancestors of the Philippine Negritos and Papuans met the Denisovans, or all Denisovan DNA has been purged from their bloodlines, perhaps because it just wasn’t helpful for surviving on their islands.

Back to the Tree: The second node is where the Biaka, a group of Pygmies from the Congo Rainforest in central Africa. Pygmy lineages are among the most ancient on earth, potentially going back over 200,000 years, well before any Homo sapiens had left Africa.

The next group that splits off from the rest of humanity are the Yoruba, a single ethnic group chosen to stand in for the entirety of the Bantus. Bantus are the group that you most likely think of when you think of black Africans, because over the past three millennia they have expanded greatly and conquered most of sub-Saharan Africa.

Next we have the Out of Africa event and the split between Caucasians (here represented by the French) and the greater Asian clade, which includes Australian Aborigines, Melanesians, Polynesians, Chinese, Japanese, Siberians, Inuit, and Native Americans.

The first groups to split off from the greater Asian clade (aka race) were the Andamanese and Malaysian Negritos, followed by the Papuans/Melanesians Australian Aborigines are closely related to Papuans, as Australia and Papua New Guinea were connected in a single continent (called Sahul) back during the last Ice Age. Most of Indonesia and parts of the Philippines were also connected into a single landmass, called Sunda. Sensibly, people reached Sunda before Sahul, though (Perhaps at that time the Andaman islands, to the northwest of Sumatra, were also connected or at least closer to the mainland.)

Irrespective of the exact order in which Melanesians and individual Negrito groups split off, they all split well before all of the other Asian groups in the area.

This is supported by legends told by the Filipinos themselves:

Legends, such as those involving the Ten Bornean Datus and the Binirayan Festival, tell tales about how, at the beginning of the 12th century when Indonesia and Philippines were under the rule of Indianized native kingdoms, the ancestors of the Bisaya escaped from Borneo from the persecution of Rajah Makatunaw. Led by Datu Puti and Datu Sumakwel and sailing with boats called balangays, they landed near a river called Suaragan, on the southwest coast of Panay, (the place then known as Aninipay), and bartered the land from an Ati [Negrito] headman named Polpolan and his son Marikudo for the price of a necklace and one golden salakot. The hills were left to the Atis while the plains and rivers to the Malays. This meeting is commemorated through the Ati-atihan festival.[4]

The study’s authors estimate that the Negritos split from Europeans (Caucasians) around 30-38,000 years ago, and that the Malaysian and Philippine Negritos split around
13-15,000 years ago. (This all seems a bit tentative, IMO, especially since we have physical evidence of people in the area going back much further than that, and the authors themselves admit in the discussion that their time estimate may be too short.)

The authors also note:

Both our NJ (fig. 3A) and UPGMA (supplementary fig. S10) trees show that after divergence from Europeans, the ancestral Asians subsequently split into Papuans, Negritos and East Asians, implying a one-wave colonization of Asia. … This is in contrast to the study based on whole genome sequences that suggested Australian Aboriginal/Papuan first split from European/East Asians 60 kya, and later Europeans and East Asians diverged 40 kya (Malaspinas et al. 2016). This implies a two-wave migration into Asia…

The matter is still up for debate/more study.

Negrito couple from the Andaman Islands

In conclusion: All of the Negrito groups are likely descended from a common ancestor, (rather than having evolved from separate groups that happened to develop similar body types due to exposure to similar environments,) and were among the very first inhabitants of their regions. Despite their short stature, they are more closely related to other Asian groups (like the Chinese) than to African Pygmies. Significant mixing with their neighbors, however, is quickly obscuring their ancient lineages.

I wonder if all ancient human groups were originally short, and height a recently evolved trait in some groups?

In closing, I’d like to thank Jinam et al for their hard work in writing this article and making it available to the public, their sponsors, and the unique Negrito peoples themselves for surviving so long.