Polynesian Ethnicity

A Scattering of Pacific Islands and Archipelagos

Discover more about your ethnicity with AncestryDNA. By comparing your genetic signature to the DNA of people from the Polynesian region, AncestryDNA can give you a clearer picture of your ethnic origins.

People in this DNA ethnicity group may identify as:
Tongan, Samoan

The story of your ethnicity lives in your DNA.

Polynesian Ethnicity

Most of Polynesia’s islands lie within a triangular area in the Pacific Ocean. The Polynesian Triangle’s “points” are Hawaii, Easter Island (Rapu Nui) and New Zealand. It’s a world defined by the ocean. With about 120,000 square miles of land spread across some 10 million square miles of water, Polynesia’s islands were among the last places on Earth to be settled by humans. Despite great distances separating the outer islands, the Polynesian people are linked by linguistic, cultural and genetic ties.

Polynesian Geography

Modern Polynesia comprises more than 1,000 islands scattered throughout the Central and South Pacific. Major island groups include Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Hawaii, among others. Most lie east of Fiji, which serves as a rough border between Melanesia and Polynesia. The majority of Polynesia’s islands are volcanic, although some are coral atolls, and a few, like New Zealand and Norfolk Island, are remnants of the submerged continent of Zealandia.


Many scholars believe that the Polynesian people originated on another island: Formosa, or modern-day Taiwan. They assert that Austronesian migrants made their way south to the Philippines, then continued into maritime Southeast Asia. A second theory, which genetic research may help to confirm, is that Polynesia’s Austronesian roots lie not in the north, but deeper in Southeast Asia.

Your ethnicity reveals the places where your family story began.

Superior sailors

Wherever their true homeland lies, the Neolithic Austronesians were accomplished sailors. Eventually, they settled the north coast of Papua New Guinea and the Bismarck and Solomon Islands, bringing domesticated chickens, pigs and a few crops for farming. These Neolithic Austronesians were most likely the ancestors of the Lapita culture, which reached as far east as Tonga and, many believe, gave rise to the Polynesian culture. The Polynesians’ ancestors continued spreading east by sea: 2,500 years before Columbus sailed his ships across the Atlantic, they had already populated the islands of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. The early Polynesians continued east to Tahiti and the Marquesas, then ventured north to Hawaii and farther southeast to Rapu Nui (Easter Island). New Zealand was the last major landmass on Earth to be populated by humans—the Polynesians finally landed there around the 13th century. Their descendants are the Maori people.

The Polynesians developed superior navigation skills based on stars, currents, flight patterns of birds and other natural observations that allowed them to cross wide stretches of open ocean. They migrated to the farthest reaches of the Polynesian Triangle on large, double-hulled canoes, akin to modern catamarans. These boats could carry both settlers and their cargo, including plants and animals. Starting in the 1970s, groups from the Polynesian Islands began building boats based on the old designs, studying traditional navigation and retracing the ancient voyages between the islands. One group recently completed a trip from New Zealand to Easter Island and back, sailing two waka hourua (double-hulled canoes) more than 10,000 nautical miles.

Polynesian languages

Polynesians speak a related group of languages called Malayo-Polynesian, which comes from a Proto-Austronesian language spoken in Southeast Asia millennia ago. One interesting difference between Polynesia and Melanesia is the wider diversity in languages among the islands of Melanesia. Melanesia is one of the most linguistically diverse regions in the world, while Polynesia typically has one language per island group.

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