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Hypothesis by: Obed Unasa

“Imagination is more important than Knowledge.” Albert Einstein


In presenting these findings it will be important to remember that these themes and ideas are only introductory. Other comparative studies based on my hypothesis will appear in a final and complete compilation of theories and ideas in a new book called, Samoan Minoans from Ancient Crete, to be produced in the near future.

One of history’s great mysteries that glitter in the realm of the unknown, just beyond the reach of scientific proof, is the origin of Polynesia. To this day scholars, historians, archeologists still speculate as to when and how the first people of Polynesia came to establish there new found homeland in the Pacific Ocean.

My hypothesis simply draws on the popular notion that Samoa is the Cradle of Polynesia. Rev. John B Stair coined the phrase in his book Old Samoa (one of the earliest accounts of Samoan history written in 1843). ”Samoa is the fountain head and Cradle of Polynesia.”

To construct a theory around the origin of Polynesia we must examine first the cultural and ancient oral traditions of Samoa itself. The undertaking is a difficult one, as it contradicts the traditional view, which is that the Samoan people did not migrate from any other island or motherland. Samoan traditions hold the view that Tagaloa-alagi created the world and the Samoan people out of the earth, hence their name Samoa. One traditional view states that anything born out of the ‘moa’ or centre of the earth was ‘sacred’ to moa (Samoa).

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I believe that a migration narrative can be established for the Samoan people as the first and true descendants of Polynesia. The first Polynesians were made up of the ancient people of Crete, known to the modern world as the Minoans, and the people from the Aegean Sea, notably the people from the island of Samos.

This view is founded on the theological and biblical account of creation, and the parallels within the Samoan culture and its ancient traditions, which are identical to those of the ancient Minoan civilization. To support this theory, I will present ideas around circumnavigation methods used by the ancient Minoans, to reach the Pacific region. Above all, we cannot understand the origins of Samoa without an in-depth knowledge of Samoa’s oral traditions and its proverbial statements, which are the “record keepers” of an older tradition and ancient world. An understanding of these older traditions and systems, was reserved only for those belonging to the ancient kings of Samoa and their heirs.

For the Samoan people it is common knowledge that in ancient Samoa, there was a separate language known as the Kingly language (or Gagaga fa’atupu). Samoans today belonging to a much older generation still speak the language, and although much of its language is used in the general setting through oratory speeches (or in a Matai’s lauga), only a very small percentage of Samoans know of its true meanings and origins.

Let us consider first of all the phrase; Samoa is founded by God, E faavae e le Atua Samoa. This is Samoa’s national motto. If we place this within the context of Samoa’s Christian belief, we then arrive at the notion that the Christian God is paramount, and therefore the biblical traditions are fundamentally significant within the Samoan culture (Faa-Samoa).

To unravel the mysteries around the origins of Samoa (and Polynesia), we must revisit the classic story of Noah and the flood, as described in the book of Genesis 7: 1-24.
What we want to examine here is the aftermath of the flood. When the Ark finally comes to rest on Mt Arafat (part of present day Turkey), there is, if you like, the dawning of a new world. From Genesis 6:9 we are also told about Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth.

This story can also be found in other western and eastern cultures where the story of Noah or variations of this particular event is part of their traditions. Greek, Indian and Chinese cultures are examples here. The origin of the first Polynesians begins here with Noah’s sons.

Of the three sons, Ham’s descendants can be traced to the tropical areas of Africa, India, the Mediterranean and the Pacific. According to the Table of Nations by Tim Osterholm, the descendants of Ham (Ham which means dark coloured or ‘hot’) include the Egyptian, Ethiopia, Canaanites, Phoenicians and Hittites. His descendants appear to be the first to fill the earth, as they were the first settlers of Africa, Asia, Australia, the South Pacific and the Americas.

The Mediterranean Sea and the location of Crete, are of great importance thus forming the centerpiece of my hypothesis. Crete is the center island of this particular region, the isolation of the island Crete is also crucial when comparing this to the Pacific Islands and in this case, Samoa’s central location geographically, from the other surrounding island groups in the Pacific.

Also as a point of reference, the only other area in the world where the scattering of other smaller islands is within the area of the Aegean Sea. This unique formation is identical to the Pacific Island formation in the Pacific Ocean, only on a smaller scale.

Again this is a systematic calculation by the Minoans for the selection of the Islands of Samoa as a settlement place of the first Polynesians. Centralization is a theme that runs profusely in ancient Minoan civilization, especially with its trading and commerce activities. This model has long been adopted in the modern world of today, such as centralized governments in New Zealand or in the U.S.

Samoa was chosen for its central location within the Pacific realm surrounded by the main island groups of Tonga, Fiji, and Tahiti. The relationship between these island groups is well documented through their shared histories and oral traditions.
One of the important features of my research deals with the naming process for Samoa in relation to the Island name of Samos. While the name Minoan is from a more recent tradition, the name Samos can be traced to an ancient period in history. The names given to other places in Samos bear a close resemblance to the place names given to Samoa and other Polynesian islands. For instance, Avlakia or Aulakia (Samos) is similar to the name Aitutaki, which is part of the Cook Islands. Also the Samiopoula Island (Samos), bares similarity to the name Upolu, a place both in Samoa and Hawaii. Finally, the names Samos and Samoa are very similar.

The ancient Samoan proverb, E tala tau Toga ae tala tofia Samoa, is applicable to this analysis. The proverb states, The stories of Tonga are about war while the stories of Samoa are about a chosen people, with special appointments or blessings and bestowments. The first settlers of Polynesia chose the Samoan islands as their settlement place.
The second point to note, deals with a reference to ‘The Sea People’, as discussed by Sanfold Holst in Sea People and the Phoenicians. Here we are reminded by Ham’s descendants the Phoenicians, that the Sea People were from the Aegean Sea. They were great navigators and masters of the sea. Ham’s descendants were characterised by interest and abilities in agriculture, trading and commerce.

The Minoans were seafarers and skilled traders who established the first trade routes in this region, and often traded with Egypt and other countries during this period.
History also states that Samoa was referred to as the ‘Navigators Islands’ by French circumnavigator Bourgainville in 1768. In ancient Samoan traditions the belief was and still is, O Samoa o tagata folau. Samoans are navigators. The term folau means ‘to sail, or travel.’ The word navigator means Tautai, Tau means reach or fight and tai means waves, sea or ocean.

This proverb is the key to understanding the origin of Samoa as the first people of Polynesia. It alludes to a people who travelled from a distant place in search of new land. In other words, the Minoans were sea people and great navigators.

The question then is, why did the ancient people of Crete, the Minoans, leave their original homeland, and how did they navigate through the vast oceans and into the pacific region?

Minoans were highly skilled and advanced technologically. Their isolation from the mainland allowed them to construct a new system of government and culture that is unmatched even by today’s modern standards. They created the ideals of a utopian society and lived accordingly by these principles. A popular view today held by modern scholars, is that the Minoans are the same people who established the city of Atlantis.

The Minoans were also the first to establish the trade routes, which enabled them to trade across this region; they were a sea power and depended on their naval ships for their livelihood. They also established colonies at Thera, Rodos, Melos and Kithira. Frescoes found in these places, point to the political and social dominance of the Minoan culture, which included the region of the Aegean Sea and other surrounding islands.

Minoan civilization, would flourish for hundreds of years, it would also give rise to the Greek world a generation later. The turning point would arrive around 1450 B.C. when the island of Thera within the Aegean Sea, erupted which decimated this region, crippling the Minoan civilization. By the time the Minoans rebuilt their cities and temples, Crete was under Mycenaean rule.
What happened to the Minoans after this time is shrouded in mystery. The most remarkable of occurrence around this time, as indicated by ancient historians, anthropologists and archeologists, is the fact that on the other side of the world, the settlement of Polynesia takes place around the same time of the Thera eruption.

If we place the settlement of Polynesia at about 1470 B.C., then there was a 20-year interim period for the Minoans to find a new settlement place after the eruption at Thera. The motive to leave their homeland of Crete was simply to avoid future natural disasters, and to rebuild their communities outside the Mediterranean Sea. What takes place next was the long search for new islands similar to the natural environment offered by Crete and the Aegean Sea; their route would take them to the Indo-Pacific region and into the ‘gateway’ of Polynesia.
This route is commonly known as the Trade winds or circumnavigation route used by the early European explorers, and also by today’s modern travellers.

A typical sailing circumnavigation of the world by the trade winds and the Suez and Panama Canal, is an important feature in modern travelling activity. Although the Suez and Panama Canal was only completed in 1869, the passage through the Red Sea was still used in ancient times. This is a route followed by many cruising sailors going in the western direction; the use of trade winds make it a relatively easy sail, through a number of zones of calm or light winds.

The Trade winds (trade in old English meant path or track) are the prevailing patterns of easterly surface winds found in the tropics, within the lower portion of the earth’s equator. (Glossary of Meteorology (2000) “Trade winds.” American Metrological Society 2008).
Historically, the trade winds have been used by captains of sailing ships to cross the world’s oceans for centuries, and enabled European empires to expand into the Americas and trade across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Using circumnavigation which covers at least a great circle, and in particular one which passes through at least one pair of points ANTIPODAL to each other, the ancient Minoans who were masters of the sea, would have sailed across to Egypt, built their ships along the Red Sea, and then headed down the Red Sea and into the Indo-Pacific region.

Once in open sea they would have entered the first antipodal points, the end of Yemen and Somalia. The second points are Maldives Island and Sri Lanka. The third points are the guiding shorelines of Indonesia and the points between the tips of Australia and Papua New Guinea. The forth points they would have entered in my view, is the ‘gateway’ to the Pacific Ocean; these points are the two Island groups of Solomon Island, and Vanuatu. (atu / alu in Samoan means go to or all of). The final antipodal points are the Islands of Tuvalu and Fiji. When you join these points on a map and draw a line between these, you will discover that the dominant island group in direct line of this circumnavigation route following the trade winds, is the Islands of Samoa. Notice the geographic position of Tonga to the south and outside the circumnavigation route. This simply rules out Tonga, as the first point of contact as a settlement destination for the first Polynesians as supported by other commentators.

With the settlement of Samoa, the Minoans then began a process of establishing a whole new culture called Polynesia (after the Greek word Poly = many and nesos = islands). The Island of Manu’a in Samoa based on the ancient traditions of Polynesia, is considered to be the first settlement place of Polynesia. After analysing new information, the actual site and region where the first Minoans settled before the dispersion to other parts of Samoa, may be established, and will be discussed at a later stage. Over time the Samoan Minoans would formulate a new language and oral tradition, and also a political system (later developing into the Samoan Matai system) based around the ideals of Monarchism, identical to those of Crete. The Minoans, the masters of the sea, would turn the islands of Samoa into the center point for navigational exploration into the wider Pacific Ocean. Samoa would become the hub for trading purposes, and through this activity, they would spread their new culture right across the Pacific region including the distant islands of Hawaii. They also reached the American continent but returned to its preferred isolated center of Samoa. These were natural traits from a system already grounded in Crete and the Aegean Sea. The Minoans had simply duplicated the Minoan civilization in their chosen place of settlement, which was Samoa.

From this comparative study, the features which have a remarkably striking resemblance, are found in the religious (spirituality and demigod beliefs), the social, and creative art forms for both the Samoan, and Minoan cultures. These art forms and social activities were a key factor for the well being of its people in ancient times and also in today’s postmodern world.

After examining numerous ancient Minoan pottery, and frescoes along side the patterns of traditional Samoan tattooing (Tatau), and the Siapo (or tapa cloths), the similarity in design motifs and imagery are incredibly identical in form and style. In an interview with world renowned Samoan Tattooist the late Su’a Suluape Paulo II in March 1999, Paulo addressing the question on Polynesian origins stated, “Eventually through the tattooing, I am going to write something, because all these motifs, the designs that are very similar in the Polynesian islands, are going to connect somewhere.”

I have presented these ideas and themes, as a way of looking beyond scientific proof, and explored the possible origins more from a cultural perspective, considering ancient traditions of Samoa. Numerous theories on the origins of Polynesia have been expressed with little attention to the traditions of the indigenous people of the land. Only through this passage can we come to understand the complex nature of any known civilization and its origins. The Egyptians have its mysterious hieroglyphics, the Incas its many inscriptions, Asia the Confucius philosophy, and in Europe its sacred temples. Samoa and the rest of Polynesia share a common bond written in its oral traditions, and proverbial statements. One thing is clear, is that they each share the same origin story of a known race; calling themselves O Samoa o tagata folau, people of the sea, from the motherland known as Samoa.
There was once a unique civilization, which flourished in the heart of the Pacific for hundreds of years, before the rivalry and conflict, before the intermarriage across bloodlines, especially between the Melanesians of Tonga and Fiji, with pure Polynesian Samoans. Despite all these changes in Pacific history, there are still pure Polynesians living among us in the motherland of Samoa. When we examine our own ancestral lineage we will come to recognise them as pure Polynesians, Samoan Minoans from ancient Crete.


Obed Unasa is a Samoan historical researcher.

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