The term Austronesian peoples refers to a population group present in Southeast Asia or Oceania who speak, or had ancestors who spoke, one of the Austronesian languages. Apart from the Polynesian people of Oceania, the Austronesian people include: Taiwanese Aborigines, the majority ethnic groups of East Timor, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Western scholars believe the Austronesian people originated on the island of Taiwan following the migration of pre-Austronesian-speaking peoples from continental Asia approximately 10,000-6000 B.C. Due to a lengthy split from the Pre-Austronesian populations, the Proto-Austronesian language; the cultures and ethnic groups of the Austronesian peoples began on Taiwan approximately 6,000 years ago.

The Austronesian people themselves have a variety of different traditions and history of their origins. According to most Western scholars, however, the Austronesian people originated in the island of Taiwan, and are spread as far away as Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and the Polynesian islands of the Pacific Ocean. 

According to mainstream Western studies, a large scale Austronesian expansion began around 5000-2500 B.C. Population growth primarily fuelled this migration. These first settlers may have landed in northern Luzon in the island of the Philippines intermingling with the earlier Austral-Melanesian population who had inhabited the islands about 23,000 years earlier. Over the next thousand years, the Austronesian people migrated south-east to the rest of the Philippine Islands, and into the islands of the Celebes Sea, Borneo, and Indonesia. The Austronesian people of Maritime Southeast Asia sailed eastward, and spread to the islands of Melanesia and Micronesia between 1200 BE.CO., and 500 A.DO. respectively. The Austronesian inhabitants that spread westward through Maritime Southeast Asia had reached some parts of mainland Southeast Asia, and later on to Madagascar.


The Philippine Islands - 1899

Sailing from Melanesia and Micronesia, the Austronesian people discovered Polynesia by 1000 BE.CO. These people settled most of the Pacific Islands. In the Indian Ocean, sailing west from Maritime Southeast Asia. the Austronesian people reached Madagascar by 200 A.D.

Similar results by recent studies by Stanford University, in the United States, support the idea that there is a wide variety of paternal ancestry among the Austronesian people, aside from European introgression found in Maritime Southeast Asia, Oceania and Madagascar. They constitute the dominant ethnic group in Maritime Southeast Asia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and Madagascar. An estimated figure of around 380,000,000 people living in these regions are of Austronesian descent.

The early Austronesian peoples considered the sea as the basic tenet of their life. Following their diaspora to Southeast Asia and Oceania, they used boats to migrate to other islands. Boats of different sizes and shapes have been found in every Austronesian culture, from Madagascar, Maritime Southeast Asia, to Polynesia, and have different names.

In Southeast Asia, head-hunting was particularly restricted to the highlands as a result of warfare. Mummification is only found among the highland Austronesian Filipinos, as well as in some Indonesian groups in the Celebes and Sumatra.

The Philippine Islands - 1899

By the beginning of the first millennium A.D., most of the Austronesian inhabitants in Maritime Southeast Asia began trading with India and China, allowing the establishment of Hinduism and Buddhism. Muslim traders from the Arabian peninsula were thought to have brought Islam by the 10th century. Islam was established as the dominant religion in the Indonesian archipelago by the 16th century. Christianity is normally found in the islands of the Philippines, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, most of the Pacific Islands, Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar. The Austronesian inhabitants of Polynesia were, to a large degree, unaffected by this cultural trade, and were able to retain their indigenous culture in the Pacific region.

The Austronesian music in Maritime Southeast Asia had a mixture of Chinese, Indian and Islamic musical styles and sounds that had fused together with the indigenous Austronesian culture and music. In Indonesia, Gamelan, a type of orchestra that incorporates Xylophone and Metallophone elements, is widely used in its Islamic cultural tradition. In some parts of the southern and northern Philippine Islands, an Islamic gong-drum known as Kulintang, and a gong-chime known as Gangsa, are also used. The Austronesian music of Oceania have retained their indigenous Austronesian sounds. The Slit drum is an indigenous Austronesian musical instrument that was invented and used by the Southeast Asian-Austronesian and Oceanic-Austronesian ethnic groups.

The Philippine Islands - 1899

Europeans in search of spices later colonized most of the Austronesian-speaking countries of the Asia-Pacific region, beginning from the 16th century with the Portuguese and Spanish colonization of some parts of Indonesia (present-day East Timor), the Philippines, Palau, Guam and the Mariana Islands; the Dutch colonization of the Indonesian archipelago; the British colonization of Malaysia and Oceania; the French colonization of French Polynesia; and later, the American governance of the Pacific.

Meanwhile, the British, Germans, French, Americans and Japanese began establishing spheres of influence within the Pacific Islands during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Japanese later invaded most of Southeast Asia and some parts of the Pacific during World War II. The latter half of the 20th century initiated independence of modern-day Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippine Islands, and many of the Pacific Island nations.

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