I am a proud generation of people, at least 1,000 years ago, who made one of the most dangerous decisions in human history: to leave their homeland and take a voyage to the world\’s largest ocean. I saw in high school that there is another line of evidence that might provide insight into the history of my ancestors \’journey: our\’ em, our genealogy. The genome of our ancestors is shaped by changing and cultural factors, including our migration and the descent and flow of the Pacific Ocean.
By analyzing genomes from modern humans, we can do good things like finding a limited number of wa\’a (sailing boats) that arrived when my ancestors arrived on the island of Hawaii, or rebuilding the genomes of other famous Kings and sailors that found the Pacific islands. And in addition to these scientific and historical findings, genomics research can also help us to understand and correct past injustices. For example, genomics may specify how colonialism has influenced factors such as genetic predisposition to disease – details that are important in developing specific human interventions. It can also help us to reconstruct the land use history, which can provide new evidence in court cases on land disputes.
First, let us examine what we already know about oral tradition and how to make archeological discoveries about our amazing history of voyages in the Pacific. Using sophisticated observational science and nature as their guide, my ancestors used bird migration patterns, air and weather systems, ocean currents, green light at the bottom of a cloud reflecting the harbor, and complex understanding of stars, astronomy, and physics to discover the most distant places on earth. These intrepid travelers were the first to introduce what Kanaka Maoli (a major Hawaiian sailor) Nainoa Thompson called the first “moon drag”.
This incredibly dangerous adventure paid off: In less than fifty generations (1,000 years), my ancestors were able to do sailing in both hemispheres. Roaming across the highway the Eurasian space in double hulled camps filled with masses of taro, sweet potatoes, pigs and chickens, using night stars to navigate with other advanced techniques and technologies, completed over time. This could be a very impressive human migration act – no other culture in human history has covered such a long distance in such a short time.
The history of my pedestrian ancestors and their heritage was passed down to us traditionally through our ōlo (language), mo\’olelo (oral history) and hula. Like Kanaka Maoli, I have grown to know them: how Maui evacuated the Hawaiian Islands from the sea and how Herb Kāne, Ben Finney, Tommy Holmes, Mau Piailug and many other members of the Polynesian Voyaging Society made the first illegal trip Tahiti to Hawaii more than 600 years in \’a, iHōkūle\’a.
Genomes from the Modern Pacific Islands allow us to reconstruct specific times, routes, and branch patterns, or divisions, of this ancient voyage that offers a clearer understanding of the sequence of many Pacific islands. Working in partnership with communities, our approach has directly challenged the legacy of colonial science to take antiquities and genetic material without permission. Similar tools in new genomics have undoubtedly been misused in the past to justify racist and social motives. However, by using the genetic information kindly provided by many communities throughout the Pacific, and by allowing it to set priorities in the study, my colleagues and I were able to say “I was hopeful, but I was hopeful,” or “go back to the future. ”
Genome sequence data not only helps to provide refined historical data, but also helps us understand and manage important time-related issues such as human-specific diseases. The precise timing of the arrival of these Pacific Islanders, as well as the order in which the world\’s most remote islands settled, is a matter of understanding the events and acumen among the Islanders of many complex diseases today.
Consider our genetic history as a tree, with modern humans under the influence of branches and elders near the trunk. Going back in time – or from the tips to the trunk – you encounter places where two branches, or people, come from the same ancestor. Areas where branches split represent events in the history of living where two people split up, usually as a result of moving to a new location.
These events provide important details on what geneticists call \”the effects of the founder\” and \”human problems,\” most importantly to understand the tendency of disease. For example, if there is a certain condition in the people at the branch event, then people in the later resolved islands will have a higher chance of presenting that state of health. The inventors provided important information about specific human-specific diseases. Other examples include Ashkenazi Jewish and the influence of Tay-Sachs disease and Mennonite communities and the tendency to maple syrup urine (MSUD).
This study also sheds light on important aspects of colonialism. When European settlers arrived in the Pacific in places such as Hawaii, Tahiti, and Aotearoa (New Zealand), they not only introduced printing presses, Bibles, and gunpower, they introduced deadly viruses. In the case of many Native peoples, historical contact with Europeans led to the collapse of the people.
By combining digital sequencing data (DSI) from both modern and ancient genetic variants in genetic regions such as the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system, we can see a reduction in human genetic diversity in modern humans, compared to ancient times. In this way, we can see more clearly how colonialism shaped the genomes of modern indigenous peoples.
Today less than one percent of the organization\’s genome-wide study, which identifies the link between disease and genetic variation, and less than 5 percent of clinical trials include Indigenous people. We have just started developing mRNA-based therapies that have already shown that they have the potential to “save the world.
Finally, genomics also has the potential to have a political impact on Indigenous rights, and in particular how we think about the history of land management and ownership. For example, emerging genomics evidence can strongly confirm who first lived in a competitive environment – e.g. traditional groups can specify how many generations came before the colonies — which can be used in a court of law to settle claims for land restitution and resources.
Genetics give us insight into the historical impact of migration and the shameful legacy of colonialism. We need to encourage the use of this data to design treatment for minor, end-of-life, end-to-end and exclusion, and to make policies and legal decisions that can remedy the history of injustice. Once used to make claims about the stigma attached to Indigenous peoples, today genome science can be part of the Indigenous future we all believe in.