Melanesia had been inhabited by dark-skinned peoples long before their arrival, New Guinea for more than 30,000 years. We may call the newcomers Proto-Polynesians, a people changing culturelly and physically, becoming but not yet Polynesian. Although they shared a culture, they may have lived in many groups, some exploring northward into the area of small islands now known as Micronesia and contributing to the ancestry of Micronesians, others acquiring Melanesian genes during periods of settlement along the northern coast of New Guinea or in the many islands of Malenesia. The trail of Lapita pottery leads eastward to Fiji, apparently settled by a people of mixed Proto Polynesian and Malanesian ancestry.
Searching farther to the east, others found uninhabited islands in Samoa - where finds of pottery are 3,000 years old - and Tonga. Here in this "Cradle of Polynesia," perhaps no more than a few canoe loads of Proto-Polynesia arrived. Over centuries they evolved the distinctive physical and cultural traits now regarded as Polynesian.
Later explorations continued the habit of moving eastward. Unable to sail against the prevailing easterly winds, they would have waited for periods of unsettled weather when wind shifts, brought about by the passage of low pressure troughs, enable to make their easting on winds varing from the north, west, or south. The Tahitian Islands and the Marquesas Islands were discovered, and became new homelands which spawned explorations to the outer limits of Polynesia. Hawai'i was discovered to the north at some time before 1,900 years ago, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) to the southeast, and New Zealand (Aoteroa) to the southwest - the three corners of a triangle equal in size to the combined surfaces of North and South America.
(To be continued...)