Wednesday, May 1, 2013

More East Africa-Asia Connections

Alice C. Linsley

The peoples and languages of Madagascar, Borneo, and Sulawesi in Indonesia linguistic connections to populations in East Africa. The African–Indonesian connections have been confirmed by numerous genetic, linguistic, ethnographic and archaeological studies. The connections indicate migration and mixing of populations across the Indian Ocean, called "an Afro-Asiatic Mediterranean" in this study. The seasonal monsoon winds made movement and trade possible across great distances with boats hopping from island to island.

Findings published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, show that half of the genetic lineages of Madagascar derive from settlers from Borneo to the east, and the other half from East Africa. Archaeological evidence indicates that people were moving in and out of East Africa, Madagascar, Borneo and Sulawesi well before 1200 years ago. Evidently some travelers settled in these islands and contributed to the genetic makeup of their populations.
Young worker in Madagascar

According to Dr Matthew Hurles, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the language of Madagascar, called Malagasy, has its closest linguistic relative in the Ma'anyan language of southern Borneo.

Malagasy peoples have a 50:50 Indonesian and East African ancestry. A team, from Cambridge, Oxford and Leicester, used Y chromosomes and mitochondrial DNA to test how similar the Malagasy were to populations around the Indian Ocean. The set of non-African Y chromosomes found in the Malagasy was much more similar to the set of lineages found in Borneo than in any other population. A 'Centre of Gravity' was estimated for every mitochondrial DNA to suggest a likely geographical origin for each.

"The Centres of Gravity fell in the islands of southeast Asia or in sub-Saharan Africa," explained Dr Peter Forster, from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, one of the co-authors. "The evidence from these two independent bits of DNA supports the linguistic evidence in suggesting that a migrating population made their way 4500 miles across the Indian Ocean from Borneo." Read more here.


Sulawesians and Madagascans exhibit the same range of physical appearance, including African, Arabian, Indian, Indonesian and Chinese. They may be genetically related to the Dravidians, if the linguistic connections have a biological basis. Sulawe appears to be related to ancient Egyptian, Dravidian, and East African words for rice.

"Sulawesi" might also be related to the words write or rice records. If those who were moving from island to island  were merchants, they would have recorded their transactions. Sulawe resembles the Egyptian word for writing ssw; and the Mande sewe; and the Dravidian ha-verasu (referring to written record of rice sales).

Linguistic connections are further evident in term for slash and burn cultivation used in Sulawesi and East Africa.The word trematrema is used in Northeast Betsimisaraa to refer to a one to three year old slashed-and-burnt field. It is related to the Swahili word tema, ‘to cut’, and the redoubled form tematema, ‘to slash, to chop. This technique is used also by Sulawesians who practice "dry rice" planting.

Rice grain formed the basis of weight measurement from East Africa to Sulawesi. On Madagascar, the the weight of one grain of rice is called vary, and corresponds to the Swahili wari and to the Dravidian verasu. The Hebrew word for rice is orez and Arabic ruz and these share the RZ root with Dravidian. The Dravidian word reflects the written records of commercial weights.

There are two species of cultivated rice in the world: African rice (Oryza glaberrima) and Asian rice (Oryza sativa). African rice was domesticated from the wild ancestor Oryza barthii (Oryza brevilugata) by peoples living in the Benue-Niger floodplain about 3,000 years ago. The two strains of Asian rice are Oryza japonica and Oryza indica, identified with Japan and India.
Rice terraces in Madagascar
A Royal Society report edited by Murray P. Cox states, "The settlement of Madagascar is one of the most unusual, and least understood, episodes in human prehistory. Madagascar was one of the last landmasses to be reached by people, and despite the island's location just off the east coast of Africa, evidence from genetics, language and culture all attests that it was settled jointly by Africans, and more surprisingly, Indonesians. Nevertheless, extremely little is known about the settlement process itself. Here, we report broad geographical screening of Malagasy and Indonesian genetic variation, from which we infer a statistically robust coalescent model of the island's initial settlement. Maximum-likelihood estimates favour a scenario in which Madagascar was settled approximately 1200 years ago by a very small group of women (approx. 30), most of Indonesian descent (approx. 93%). This highly restricted founding population raises the possibility that Madagascar was settled not as a large-scale planned colonization event from Indonesia, but rather through a small, perhaps even unintended, transoceanic crossing."

Recently rock paintings dating to about 40,000 years have been found in caves at Maros in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Other migrations out of the Nile Valley

The Nilotic Ainu also crossed great distances arriving in Northern Japan and continuing on to the Marianas which had human settlements 3,500 years ago. These long-distance migrations involved crossing the Indian Ocean. The Ainu, in mtDNA haplogroup X, also traveled overland to Finland, as shown in the chart below.

The Canadian Ainu (Micmac) report that their ancestors came to Canada via Finland, Greenland and Labrador.


Unknown said...

What is your take on this study showing that the Antemoro tribe in Madagascar has a genetic link to the Middle East? The link is possibly direct, or possibly through Borneo.

This study has highlighted a Middle Eastern biological trace in Madagascar consistent with the Middle Eastern cultural tradition of the population involved. The results of the Antemoro gene pool analysis suggest a Middle Eastern origin to some of the Y chromosome variation associated specifically with haplogroups J1 and T1, but this does not exclude an origin of this variation from unsampled/not studied African or Southeastern Asian populations.

Alice Linsley said...

J1 and T1 have a wide dispersion: Anatolia, Yemen, north-east Africa, Saudi Arabia, the Fertile Crescent, and the Caucasus. I'm not surprised to find these also in Madagascar.

I suspect that the word Borneo is itself of African origin. Borno/Borneo share a common root BRN.

Where J1 and T1 are found in high frequency, mtDNA haplogroups HV, N1 and U3 are also present.
A subclade of J1 includes ZS227, which includes the Kohanim (priest) haplotype found among both Jews and Arabs.