Head shot of William "Pila" Wilson

William “Pila” Wilson

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Professor William “Pila” Wilson has discovered evidence that the ancestors of East Polynesians, including Hawaiians, once lived on remote Polynesian Outlier atolls.

Wilson, a professor with Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, has published a study of 73 unique linguistic changes distinctive of East Polynesian languages and the languages of these Outliers. The article, entitled “Whence The East Polynesians?,” is in the December 2012 issue of Oceanic Linguistics.

“Anthropologists, archeologists and linguists have long assumed that the first settlers entered East Polynesia from Samoa,” Wilson noted. “The latest archeological research indicates the initial settlement took place as recently as a thousand years ago, which left many wondering why the East Polynesian and Samoan languages were so different. The associated cultures are also quite different, with ancient East Polynesian archeological sites exhibiting innovations in fishing technology that have long puzzled researchers.”

Wilson’s research found that the East Polynesian ancestors were separated far to the northwest of Samoa on Polynesian atolls for a considerable period before they entered East Polynesia, the huge geographic area containing Hawaiʻi, Rapanui, and New Zealand. It was in these Polynesian atolls that many of the unique features differentiating East Polynesian languages and cultures from the Samoan language and culture developed.

Read the news release for more about Wilson’s research or news coverage by Hawaii Tribune-Herald and The New Zealand Herald.