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Tuesday, August 11, 1998 Published at 06:02 GMT 07:02 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Maoris may have come from China

The Maoris are now believed to have come from China

By the BBC's Fuchsia Dunlop.

The ancestral roots of New Zealand's Maori population and the Polynesian peoples of the Pacific probably lie in China, according to new research.

Dr Geoffrey Chambers, a zoologist from Victoria University in New Zealand, says he has found genetic evidence of the migration of Polynesian people from the Asian mainland over many centuries.

Dr Geoffrey Chambers: "The Maoris arrived in New Zealand at least 600 years ago"
The Maori people trace their roots to a mythical homeland which they call Hawaiki.

Their oral histories tell of ancestors reaching New Zealand, which they call Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud) after long boat journeys from distant islands.

Myths backed up by fact

Last month genetic research found these myths were based on historical fact and the original settlers of the country were deliberate migrants.

Now Dr Chambers says: "The information that has come from several studies in my laboratory turns out to be consistent with a pattern of migration starting with an ancestral population in mainland Asia."

[ image: The traditional haka wardance is a symbol of modern Maori culture]
The traditional haka wardance is a symbol of modern Maori culture
He believes they migrated from mainland China to Taiwan, the Philippines, the Pacific islands and eventually New Zealand.

Dr Chambers found less genetic variation among Maoris and Polynesians than in other population groups, which makes it likely they have repeatedly migrated over history.

Genetically protected against alcoholism

He also found their populations carry unusual genetic codes which protect them against alcohol addiction.

This new genetic theory has drawn broad support from other scientists and scholars.

Historians, linguists and anthropologists have all argued in the past the Polynesians have their roots in northern Asia.

That biological evidence should lead towards the same conclusion may have come as little surprise.

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