The series “Origins” opens the new season with several articles from our guest author Harry Bourne.

India, Africa, the Sea & Antiquity : Indonesia

Author: Harry Bourne

What is about to be described in this section is to demonstrate what is written about various groups hypothesised to have reached parts of Africa in antiquity and will mainly follow Oliver Cromwell’s much-quoted comment on the occasion of his portrait being painted. This was that the portrait had to include his warts plus all his other imperfections or never be done.

This wartsn’all approach means the noting of the good and bad about the cited groups. This will largely concentrate on the period between circa (= ca.) 500 BCE and ca. 500 CE. By BCE is meant Before Common Era (= BC) and CE indicates Common Era (= AD).

Indian seafarers are mainly excluded from this section and willbe discussed in Part 2 and onwards. Mention of such as “online in 2015” indicates access in that year.


Part 1.2



Polynesian tongues were seen as belonging to the Austronesian family as does the Fijian language which is the best known of those in Melanesia (= the Black Islands). Reasons put forward as to why there is so little evidence for brown-skinned Polynesians in Melanesia is that they moved so fast through Melanesia or that they were so few in number as to be unable resist absorption.

Colonisation somewhat to the west was traced in Hornell’s (12) famous “Indonesian Influences on East African Culture”. Roger Blench (13) is one of those arguing the same and again adopts the raft-first/canoe-next thinking. Pliny (1st c. CE Roman) refers to seacraft generally attached to ANs on vessels having no oars, no sails, no rudders, etc, carried by ocean currents directly for ca. 3500 miles between ISEA/Indonesia and an unpopulated “Great Island (= Madagascar). The ANs on Madagascar is proven by the Austronesian basis of Malagasy itself the language of all Madagascans.
The AN/Madagascan presence in east Africa seems shown several ways. Having seen traits regarded as integral for all Polynesians except the Maoris, so too were pigs and chickens and yet they too appear not have been brought with the ANs coming to the Great Isle. The Malagasy chickens plus pigs seemingly originate with east Africa.
Musas (= plantains/bananas) are generally seen as originally farmed in ISEA but they reached east Africa. According to Hornell (1934) and others citing Idrissi (12th c. Arab), the seacraft here were Austronesian/Indonesian as east Africans had no ships. Pliny wrote of the arrivals intermarrying with east Africans and Idrissi says the ANs and Africans understood each other’s language. Another Islamic historian is ibn Said/Zaid (13th c. CE).

A passage of his is cited by Hornell (ib.) as marking a mass migration of ANs and/or Malagasy inland towards Great Lakes plus Mountains of the Moon parts of east-central Africa. Hornell regards this as proven by the forms of Great Lakes canoes (esp. those of the Baganda type). More the same comes with the story of ANs shipwrecked in the Bajun Islands (off Somalia) and who passed into east terminology as the Wadiba. It runs as follows, on being rescued, the grateful ANs/Wadiba taught the Bajuni islanders how to construct seacraft called mitepe (plural of mtepe).
If it is correct bananas as a crop originate in southeast Asia, there are varieties unknown in east Africa or on the overland routes across Africa. However, there are some known as phytoliths in pits at Kang (Cameroon) of 1000-500 BCE in west Africa. Something else felt to originate in ISEA is the nasty disease called elephantiasis and it too carries dates on figurines of the Nok Culture (Nigeria) akin those for Kang. The Kang and Nok material is considered as positive proofs of Austronesians in these parts of west Africa.
Hornell (ib.) further says that among the famous carvings at the famous Buddhist at Burobudur (Java, Indonesia) are several of ships. He also cites Diogo de Couto (15th/16th c. Portuguese) described ANs (termed “Javanese” by de Couto) as reaching Cape Town (Sth. Af.). This means the ANs/Javanese ships were capable of surviving the terrors of the seas off Cape Agulhas. This was the case with the reconstruction of a Burobudur ship led described in “From Indonesia to Africa: The Burobudur Ship Expedition” by Philip Beale (14) from the IOR, past this Cape, on to the Atlantic, along Atlantic-facing shores to as far north as Ghana in west Africa.
At about the same time, Hornell (ib) notes Chinese texts record the several Javanese wrecks in presumably the South China Sea en route to China. The oddities of ANs putting themselves plus families on rafts having no oars, no sails and no rudders to drift non-stop across ca. 3500 miles of open ocean towards an unpeopled Madagascar seems absurd. Not to be overlooked is Pliny reporting many deaths on these voyages. On the other hand, this description of west-going ANs was evidently was once the considered opinion of some expert views of their day.
When looking at the migrations from ISEA, genetics applied to those going towards the east lead to the totally contradictory conclusions of the “fast-train” theory plus the equally daft label of thinking tagged as that of the “slow-boat”. These east-going Austronesians were seen to have evolved into the Polynesians in turn settled on even the remotest of Pacific islands. This included New Zealand where the Polynesians are named Maoris. Maori colonies south of New Zealand were shown and may be confirmed by the story of Uiterangi and Antarctica.
However, whether Maori Uiterangi seeing Antarctic ice has any more substance than Irish Brendan seeing Arctic ice must remain moot. Some of the doubts about ANs on Madagascar having no inhabitants were given above and more were said to have colonised parts of east Africa. These particular Austronesians are then said by Hornell (ib.) to have also brought with them the proto-mtepe plus features of certain types of the construction of Great Lakes canoes.

The direct and non-stop nature of these migratory voyages to a Madagascar devoid of people then inland parts of Africa stand to be challenged on many counts. The oddities of what some have believed about the voyages have been outlined. The Polynesians were definitely islanders and Hornell refers to the terms of Polynesians and Tyyans (= Islanders) used by Tamils of Pre-Tamils in south India. At the same time, he removes Tyyans as relevant when saying this is a Tamil word for Sri Lankans not Polynesians.
The lack of Pre-AN inhabitants is fully answered in “Madagascar in the Malayo/Polynesian Myths” by Keith Hall (15) telling us of Pre-AN inhabitants. Messrs. Worthington (16), Huntingford (17), Wicker (18), etc, do so on the matter of Hornell’s attribution of certain traits of Great Lakes canoes to AN/Wadiba sources. Indeed, Worthington’s final words might almost gloss might those of Neville Chittick when putting proto-mitepe to purely African sources.

At one stroke a major strut reinforcing Hornell’s theory of AN/Malagasy migrants in central Africa is removed. This also probably means this theory is as illusory as that of Phoenico/Punics on the far side of Africa. If mitepe were the seacraft carrying ANs from the IOR, past Cape Agulhas on to the Atlantic, their presence in east Africa is interesting. Here they were used to escape ships enforcing British anti-slavery policy. They did so by entering shallow waters where the British ships could not. Bob Holzman (19) shows they were notoriously leaky. We may well wonder if such a leaky and shallow-water ship-type could survive passing ocean to ocean. Manasala’s “Catalan, Y-DNA & the Sayabiga” noting possible ANs in Iberia may tell for overland not sea-borne contact(s).

Borobudur ship

Ship on Borobudur bas relief (Wikipedia)

Follow up: Part 1.3: “Amerindia”. Stay tuned. 

The first part of this series can be found here