Medieval Trade in the South Pacific
The people of the South Pacific were descended from a group that migrated from South China and Southeast Asia about 6000 years ago to Taiwan, the Philippines, and Eastern Indonesia. That group was then divided into two new groups, one of which continued to travel east and became known as the Polynesians.
The Polynesians sailed in single and double canoes, ranging from 100 to 150 feet long and built of wood bound together by fiber cords. Each was propelled forward by a woven, square sail. These innovative boats provided the Polynesians with transportation not only for themselves, but also for their food and livestock. The canoes also allowed the South Pacific people to make extensive voyages as far southeast as Easter Island, as far southwest as New Zealand, and as far north as Hawaii. These sea-faring people visited every island within the triangle of Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island. Often, they would set up impressive stone statues, most famously, those of Easter Island. The Polynesians sailed to these places not for the enjoyment or the spirit of adventure, but simply because they had the need for land to settle on where they could raise families and secure sufficient food supply. However, the cultural and technological similarities between the islands suggest that inter-Polynesian trade continued even after the settlement of various islands.
Aside from trading within the South Pacific, it can be assumed that the Polynesians made contact with the Americas at least once, based upon their possession of sweet potatoes, which are not naturally found in the South Pacific, and manioc, a plant which grew in Latin America. Knowing the climate and type of fruits indigenous to Polynesia, it seems likely that the Polynesians traded tropical fruits such as banana passion fruits, mangos, guavas, and a type of passion fruit called a “lililoi”.
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