The first Austronesian speakers are believed to have originated on the island of Taiwan following the migration of a group, or groups, of Pre-Austronesian speaking peoples from continental Asia approximately 10,000-6000 B.C. According to linguist Robert Blust, due to a lengthy split from the Pre-Austronesian populations, the Proto-Austronesian language and cultures emerged on Taiwan (Blust,1988).
Beginning around 5000-2500 B.C., the large scale Austronesian expansion began. Population growth primarily fueled this expansion. A society that gives prestige and a higher status to the descendants of a community's founder added more incentive to settle new lands.
These first settlers landed in northern Luzon in the Philippines intermingling with the earlier Australo-Melanesian population who had inhabited the islands 23,000 years previously. Over the next thousand years up until 1500 A.D., their descendants spread south to the rest of the Philippine islands, Celebes (modern-day Sulawesi), Borneo, the Moluccas (modern-day Maluku), and Java.
The Austronesian settlers in the Moluccas sailed eastward and spread to the islands of Melanesia and Micronesia between 1200 B.C. and 500 A.D. respectively. Those that spread westward reached Sumatra, the Malay peninsula and what is now southern Vietnam by 500 B.C.(See Champa)
Sailing from Melanesia and Micronesia Austronesians discovered remote Polynesia by 1000 B.C., which unlike Melanesia, Micronesia and the Malay Archipelago were previously uninhabited, and settled its three extremities Easter Island by 300 A.D., Hawaii by 400 A.D. and New Zealand by 800 A.D. In the Indian Ocean sailing from from Celebes (modern-day Sulawesi) and Borneo, they reached Madagascar by 200 A.D.
Trade with India and China flourished within the first millennia A.D., which allowed the creation of Indianized kingdoms such as Srivijaya, Melayu, and Majapahit and Muslim traders began arriving during the 10th century and brought with them Islam as well as the sultanates.
Europeans in search of spices later colonized most of Austronesia, starting from the 16th century, with British and Portuguese colonization of Malaysia, Portuguese and the Dutch colonization of Indonesia and East Timor, and the Spanish colonization and, later, the American governance of the Philippines. 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 during World War II. The latter half of the 20th century initiated independence of modern day Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and many of the Pacific Island nations.
Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines enjoyed a high rate of economic growth during the authoritarian rule of Suharto and Marcos that were later established years after the independence of Indonesia and the Philippines. Due to political and economic pressures from within and outside the countries at the time, stagnation resulted for a short period. Marcos' regime was toppled in 1986 and Suharto's rule ended in 1998 and the economies of the two countries are finally recovering but problems and challenges remain.
The Asian financial crisis in the mid-to-late 1990s largely devastated the economies of the Austronesian nations in Southeast Asia. Most economic indicators are back to pre-crisis levels as of 2006.
Austronesian peoples consist of the following groupings by name and geographic location.
According to a recent Stanford University study, there is wide variety of paternal ancestry among the Austronesian peoples. Aside from a few European introgression found in the Malay Archipelago (especially in Borneo and the Philippines) as well as in French Polynesia, the vast majority of Austronesian peoples are of autochthonous descent.
They constitute the dominant ethnic group in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, the Pattani region of Thailand, and East Timor inside the Malay Archipelago, in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia inside Oceania, in Madagascar, and in the Cham areas of Vietnam, Cambodia, and China (the remnants of the Champa kingdom which covered central and southern Vietnam).
An estimated 380,000,000 people around the world are thought of to be of Austronesian descent.
Many countries have been Westernized to varying degrees. The cultures of the Philippines, Northern Marianas Islands, and Guam have been largely affected by Hispanicization and Americanization. That of French Polynesia have been affected by Francization. Austronesians living in Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Micronesia, Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Western Samoa have also undergone Westernisation, although at a lesser degree.
The early Austronesian peoples considered the sea as the basic tenet of their life. Following their diaspora to Southeast Asia and Oceania, they used ships to migrate to other islands. Boats of different sizes and shapes have been found in every Austronesian culture, from Madagascar 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 and in some Indonesian groups in Celebes and Sumatra.
Writings among pre-modern Austronesians were limited to the Indianized states and sultanates in Malaysia, Indonesia, and The Philippines. However, prehistoric petroglyphs like the Rongorongo and Angono Petroglyphs may suggest otherwise.
Writing systems include abugidas from the Brahmic family, such as Baybayin, the Javanese script, and Old Kawi. Other writing systems include Jawi, an abjad derived from the Arabic script, as well as the modern alphabets derived from the Latin alphabet (ex. Hawaiian alphabet, Tagalog alphabet).
Indigenous religions were initially predominant. Mythologies vary by culture and geographical location, but are generally bound by the belief in an all-powerful Divine being. Other beliefs such as Ancestor Worship, Animism, and Shamanism are also practiced. Currently, many of these beliefs have gradually been replaced. Examples of native religions include: Anito, Gabâ, Kejawen, and the Māori religion. The moai of the Rapa Nui is another example since they are built to represent deceased ancestors.
Southeast Asian contact with India and China allowed the introduction of Hinduism and Buddhism. Later, Muslim traders introduced the Islamic faith during the 12th century. The European Age of Discovery, with their motto "gold, glory and gospel", brought Christianity to various parts of the region. Currently, the dominant religions are Islam (Indonesia, Malaysia, southern Thailand, southern Philippines, Brunei), Hinduism (Bali and Fiji) and Christianity (Philippines, Timor Leste, Eastern Indonesia, Pacific Islands, Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar).
Body art among Austronesian groups is common, especially tattooing. It is particularly prominent in Polynesian cultures, from where the word 'tattoo' derives. One such example is the moko of New Zealand Māori, but tattooing is also prominent among Austronesian speaking groups in Indonesia, Borneo and the Philippines. Decorated jars and other forms of pottery are also common.
Peoples closer to the Asian mainland are largely influenced by the Chinese, Indian and Islamic forms, and much modern Austronesian art is influenced to some extent by Western forms or by the use of Western tools. Some elaborate landscaping has been produced, such as the Banaue Rice Terraces of the Philippines. Similar terraced forms exist elsewhere in the region, for crop-growing and defensive purposes.
Prevalent within the Austronesian cultures that had close trade relationships with India and China were musical styles that had developed with both indigenous as well as foreign elements. In Indonesia, Gamelan, a type of orchestra that incorporates Xylophone and Metallophone elements, is widely known as the region's cultural music tradition. In the Philippines, another gong-drum ensemble known as Kulintang is prevalent, as well as the Gangsa gong-chime ensembles of the northern Luzon cordilleras. Slit drums are prevalent among maritime Southeast asian and Oceanic Austronesian groups.