COVID-19 in the South Pacific
Prepared by Peter Boldt, Multimedia Coordinator, Pacific Peoples’ Partnership
As the Covid-19 pandemic ravages much of the world, many South Pacific Islands have managed to resiliently stave off the virus. Despite its significant poverty levels, Timor-Leste has set an example to the rest of the international community, maintaining its total coronavirus case count to only 24. The Timor-Leste government acted quickly, calling an early state-of-emergency, locking down borders and enforcing strict quarantine measures. Nationwide, communities acted in accordance with government recommendations by staying home and avoiding crowds. The country, which just recently gained its independence in 2002, knew it had to act swiftly in order to avoid a collapse of its limited healthcare system.
New Zealand and the Marshall Islands followed in a similar fashion. Taking note of the staggering rate of infection around the world, governments in both countries enacted early travel bans and implemented broad and strict public health measures. For other countries, travel bans were implemented far too late and the consequences were severe. Aiming for a total limitation of who could enter the country, both the Marshall Islands and New Zealand were able to effectively stop the spread of the coronavirus in its tracks.
The Pacific Island diaspora, particularly in the United States, has been hit disproportionally hard by the coronavirus. In Los Angeles County, Pacific Islanders are suffering a higher rate of coronavirus infection than any other ethnic group. Public health experts are comparing Pacific Islanders’ struggle to those of the Latino community that has suffered a similar fate and have identified characteristics that may be contributing to high coronavirus vulnerability such as reduced access to healthcare, high levels of poverty, multigenerational/crowded households and underlying health conditions such as diabetes, and heart disease. Pacific Islanders themselves also note that certain cultural traditions such as large family gatherings and in-person church/funeral services may be contributing to high transmission rates. Similarly, Marshall Island communities in Oregon and Washington have been hit particularly hard.
Palauan diplomat Ngedikes Olai Uludong in a podcast titled: Cultural identity, small island states, and climate change, has called on the international community to act in solidarity with regards to climate action in the same way it has in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. During the podcast, she goes on to say: “I learned that just because you’re from a small island doesn’t mean you can’t change the world.” A powerful message that speaks to the leadership and urgency needed to address climate change issues in small island states.
Black Lives Matter in Oceania
Prepared by Jaimie Sumner, Operations Coordinator, Pacific Peoples’ Partnership
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has rippled across the world. A call to end the racism, police violence, and inequity faced by Black Americans has resonated far and wide, including in Oceania. Many are taking this moment to show solidarity, reflect on racism in their own communities, and learn how to take action.
Many Pacific Islanders have stood up with their Black American brothers and sisters and added their voices to the fight against anti-black discrimination. BLM protests have sprung forth in Guam, American Samoa, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia. Supporters held a BLM ceremony on the water at Launiupoko in Maui and Māori protesters performed a Haka at a protest in Christchurch. For some great stories from Pacific BLM supporters, visit here.
Some amazing Pacific writers and speakers have expressed beautifully the strong connection between Pacific Islanders and the BLM movement. You can read through Fijian-Tongan author Tagi Qolouvaki’s personal story about how Islanders can engage with BLM and challenge anti-blackness in their communities. Or, for perspectives rooted in Hawai’i, check out Joy Enomoto’s reflection on BLM and Black history in Hawai’i and Marshallese writer Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s powerful spoken word poem (one curse word). Or watch the recent livestream on BLM in Asia Pacific with Papuan lecturer Elvira Rumkabu and Wamba Wamba lawyer Eddie Synot.
In tandem with Black Lives Matter, a parallel movement has arisen in Indonesia called #PapuanLivesMatter (PLM). This campaign was inspired by the BLM movement, as activists noticed the similar struggles of African Americans and Papuans against race-based oppression. Papuan Lives Matter is not meant to detract from Black Lives Matter but to call attention to racism and police brutality against Papuans in Indonesian-controlled Papuan provinces.
BLM and PLM have touched many across Oceania, and we hope to carry these movements forward and challenge racism wherever it lingers. For ways you can support this work, here are a few resources:
– It Starts at Home: Confronting Anti-Blackness in South Asian Communities by the Queer South Asian National Network
Genetic Links Between Native Americans in South America and Pacific Islanders
Prepared by Andy Nystrom, Archivist & Research Assistant
On July 8, 2020, Stanford Medicine announced that their own scientists and collaborators conducted a study proving contact between Polynesians and Native Americans from what is now Colombia, and did so prior to the arrival in South America from Europeans. “To conduct the study, Ioannidis and a team of international researchers collected genetic data from more than 800 living Indigenous inhabitants of several South American countries, Mexico and Polynesia, conducting extensive genetic analyses to find signals of common ancestry. Based on trackable, heritable segments of DNA, the team was able to trace common genetic signatures of Native American and Polynesian DNA back hundreds of years.” This is something that had long been speculated but difficult to prove. “Other studies have analyzed ancient DNA from bones belonging to Native Americans and native Polynesians. Ancient DNA samples, however, are often degraded, so these studies were unable to provide sufficient evidence that the two populations shared a moment in history.” According to Stanford postdoctoral scholar Alexander Ioannidis, “We found identical-by-descent segments of Native American ancestry across several Polynesian islands… It was conclusive evidence that there was a single shared contact event.” So around 1,200 AD, this contact resulted in children with DNA from both cultures.
Lisa Matisoo-Smith and Anna Gosling accept the likely contact date and even the suggestion that first contact could even have been as early as 1082. However, the study above suggests that they two groups met at Easter Island, where Native Americans already were, and the latter two authors claim that this is unlikely; they say it’s more likely that the long-distance voyaging was done by the Polynesians. “Polynesians are among the greatest navigators and sailors in the world. Their ancestors had been undertaking voyages on the open ocean for at least 3,000 years… Indigenous Americans have no history of open-ocean voyaging. Similarly, there is no archaeological evidence of pre-Polynesian occupation on any of the islands of Polynesia.” They also question the comparative populations. “The only non-East Polynesian Pacific population used in analyses was from Vanuatu. Taiwanese Aboriginal populations were used as representatives of the “pure” Austronesian ancestral population for Polynesians.” In the next paragraph, they add, “This is wrong and overly simplistic. Polynesian genomes themselves are inherently admixed. They result from intermarriages between people probably from a homeland in island southeast Asia (not necessarily Taiwan) and other populations encountered en route through the Pacific.”
The latest finding is only the latest look at the ties between Indigenous populations in North & South America and Pacific Islanders. A 2015 study found that “some Native American groups from the Amazon rainforest — also known as Amazonia — derive a fraction of their ancestry from a population that is more closely related to the Onge from the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, New Guineans, Papuans and indigenous Australians than it is to present-day Eurasians or Native Americans.” This genetic signature is absent in Native American populations in North and Central America. Prior to that, a 2013 DNA study found a link between Indigenous Brazilians and Polynesians. Sérgio Pena, a “molecular geneticist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil” and his colleagues looked at “samples drilled from teeth in 14 Botocudo skulls kept in a museum collection in Rio de Janeiro.” Twelve of the skulls did not show any evidence related to Pacific Islanders, but “mtDNA from two of the skulls included a haplogroup commonly found in Polynesia, Easter Island and other Pacific island archipelagos”. At the time, they concluded that Polynesians voyaging to the west coast of South America and making their way to southeastern Brazil was unlikely due to the Andes. Still, it is clear from both these earlier studies and the study from this month that there is some ties between Native South Americans and Pacific Islanders, particularly Polynesians, and that these ties happened prior to Europeans arriving at South America.