Book of Mormon/Lamanites/Relationship to Polynesians

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    Are the Polynesians descendants of the Lamanites?

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Questions


  • It is claimed that the Church has expanded the definition of "Lamanite" to Polynesians.
  • Modern day prophets have repeatedly declared that Polynesians are Lamanites.
  • The patriarchal blessings of Polynesians often state that they are of the tribe of Manasseh (through Lehi).

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Answer


The presence of a New World plant in pre-Columbian Polynesia does not prove anything with respect to the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is to be believed based upon faith rather than circumstantial evidence. The data that is coming to light, however, continues to support the possibility of multiple pre-Columbian connections between Polynesia and the New World. More importantly, this data is eliminating "absence of evidence" as a critical argument against a Polynesian connection with the New World.

Topics


Relationship to Polynesians

It is claimed that the Church has expanded the definition of "Lamanite" to Polynesians. Modern day prophets have repeatedly declared that Polynesians are Lamanites. The patriarchal blessings of Polynesians often state that they are of the tribe of Manasseh (through Lehi). (Click here for full article)

  • Statements
    Brief Summary: A collection of various statements from Church leaders about Polynesian origins/identity (Click here for full article)
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Detailed Analysis

Background

Many Latter-day prophets and apostles have stated that the inhabitants of the islands of the Pacific are considered to be Lamanites. This belief, at least in part, stems from the story of Hagoth in the Book of Mormon, who built ships which eventually carried an undetermined number of people to geographical regions outside the scope of the Book of Mormon narrative. Critics insist, however, that modern evidence, including DNA data, precludes the islanders from being descendants of Book of Mormon people.

The story of Hagoth

The Book of Mormon talks of groups of people who set sail in ships and were never seen again.

And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.
And behold, there were many of the Nephites who did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children; and they took their course northward. And thus ended the thirty and seventh year.
And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships. And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward.
And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not. Alma 63:5-8

This story has traditionally been used to explain why the Pacific islanders are considered to be Lamanites.

Statements by Church leaders

Elder Spencer W. Kimball, while he was the Acting President of the Council of the Twelve, said in 1971,

With pride I tell those who come to my office that a Lamanite is a descendant of one Lehi who left Jerusalem some 600 years before Christ and with his family crossed the mighty deep and landed in America. And Lehi and his family became the ancestors of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea, for in the middle of their history there were those who left America in ships of their making and went to the islands of the sea…they are in nearly all the islands of the sea from Hawaii south to southern New Zealand…Today we have many Lamanite leaders in the Church. For example, in Tonga, where 20 percent of all the people in the islands belong to the Church, we have three large stakes. Two of them are presided over wholly by Lamanites and the other almost wholly by them. There are three stakes in Samoa and another is to be organized in those small Samoan islands. Four more stakes with Lamanite leaders![1]

The approach by the critics, therefore, is very simple: If the islanders can be proven to have no connection to the New World, then Polynesians cannot be considered to be Lamanites. The statements made by Elder Kimball and other Church leaders would therefore be incorrect, thus proving that these leaders are not inspired. Proving a negative, however, is extremely difficult to do. Many critics' arguments against the Book of Mormon rely upon proving that something does not exist. In the case of Polynesia, there is at least one well known anomaly tying Polynesia to the New World that is acknowledged by non-LDS scientists.

The sweet potato

An anomaly long puzzled over by botanists is the presence of the sweet potato in Polynesia. The Sweet Potato is native to New World, and it is believed to have originated in either the Central or South American lowlands.[2] The subject of how and when the sweet potato traveled from the New World to Polynesia has long been the subject of debate among scientists. Dr. Roland B. Dixon, a cultural anthropologist who organized one of the world’s most comprehensive and functional anthropological libraries, noted three theories that have been proposed to explain the presence of this New World plant in the islands:[3]

  1. The plant was introduced by the Spanish conquerors of South America during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
  2. It was introduced in pre-Columbian times by Polynesians who visited South America and brought it back with them.
  3. It was introduced by New World travelers during exploratory voyages to the west.

An even more intriguing is the name of this plant: In Peru, the Quechua name for a particular type of sweet potato is “kumar.” In Polynesia, some of the names used are “kumala” and “kumara.” Dr. Dixon concluded in 1932 that,

An exhaustive, impartial, and able analysis of the evidence demonstrates that the kumara was widely spread in Polynesia centuries before the Spaniards, first of European explorers, saw the Pacific.[4]

Molecular biologist Simon Southerton, in his critical book Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, takes the position that the similarity in names must have been the result of European colonization.[5] The theory that the sweet potato's arrival was due to the Spaniards was proven to be incorrect, however, with the discovery of carbonized sweet potato remains in excavations at Mangaia, in the Cook Islands. The remains were dated to A.D. 1000, a full 500 years before the arrival of the Spaniards.[6] Additional sweet potato remains which pre-date European contact have also been discovered in Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand, indicating that the plant was widely dispersed before the Europeans arrived.[7] Dr. Dixon rejected the idea that South Americans could have traveled to Polynesia because they did not have the skill to build ships capable of making the voyage. More recently, however, scientists have noted that possibility that the plant may have arrived in the islands accidentally, either on a disabled craft or by means of seed capsules that drifted to the islands from the New World. It is even more interesting to note that during drift tests conducted to investigate this possibility, that the most probable drift route was found to be between Central America and the Marshall Islands.[8]

The possibility of plants (and people), drifting to the islands from the New World certainly fits well with the story of Hagoth.

Other possible connections between the Pacific islands and the New World

The island of Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island), there are stone walls which were built and without the aid of mortar. The stones fit so precisely together than there are no visible gaps. The workmanship of these stone walls very closely resembles that of similar walls found in Peru.[9] There is now DNA evidence that at least some of the ancestry of Easter Islanders definitely came from South America.[10] Perhaps they brought some of their technological know-how with them, which may explain the similarity in the walls. Another connection between Polynesia and South America came to light in 2007 when the bones of a chicken native to Polynesia were found in an archaeological dig in El Arenal. The bones pre-date the arrival of the Spaniards by approximately 100 years.[11] A variety of cotton in Hawaii has been genetically linked to the most common variety of cotton grown in Mexico.[12]

Notes

  1. Spencer W. Kimball, "Of Royal Blood," Ensign (July 1971), 7.
  2. Patricia J. O’Brien, “The Sweet Potato: Its Origin and Dispersal,” American Anthropologist, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Jun. 1972), pp. 342-365.
  3. Roland B. Dixon, “The Problem of the Sweet Potato in Polynesia,” American Anthropologist, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar. 1932), 40-66
  4. Dixon, 40-66.
  5. Simon Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2004) 177. ( Index of claims )
  6. Norman Hammond, "The lowly sweet potato may unlock America's past, How the root vegetable found its way across the Pacific", Mar. 24, 2008. P. Kirch, On the Road of The Winds: An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands Before European Contact. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. R. C. Green, "Sweet Potato Transfers in Polynesian prehistory" in C. Ballard, P. Brown, R.M. Bourke, T. Harwood (eds.) The Sweet Potato in Oceania: A Reappraisal. New South Wales, Australia : University of Sydney Press, 2005.
  7. Montenegro et al., "Modelling the pre-historic arrival of the sweet potato in Polynesia", University of Victoria, School of Earth and Ocean Science.
  8. Hammond, ibid.
  9. Liesl Clark, "First Inhabitants," Nova Online Adventure
  10. Michael Marshall, Early Americans helped colonise Easter Island, published in New Scientist, June 6, 2011
  11. "Chicken Bones Suggest Polynesians Found Americas Before Columbus", LiveScience, June 4, 2007. "Study: Spaniards didn’t get to South America first", Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2007.
  12. John L. Sorenson, "New Technology and Ancient Voyages," in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 177-179. off-site



Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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