Most native Madagascar people today, called Malagasy, can trace their ancestry back to the founding 30 mothers, according to an extensive new DNA study published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B,. Researchers focused on mitochondrial DNA, passed down from mothers to their offspring. Scientists assume some men were with the women.
"I'm afraid this wasn't a settlement by Amazon seafarers!" lead author Murray Cox told Discovery News. "We propose settlement by a very small group of Indonesian women, around 30, but we also presume from the genetics that there were at least some Indonesian men with them. At this stage, we don't know how many."
Cox, a senior lecturer at Massey University's Institute of Molecular BioSciences, and his colleagues analyzed genetic samples from 2745 individuals hailing from 12 Indonesian archipelago island groups. They then compared the results with genetic information from 266 individuals from three Malagasy ethnic groups: Mikea hunter-gatherers, semi-nomadic Vezo fishermen and the dominant Andriana Merina ethnic group.
Many Malagasy carry a gene tied to Indonesia. The DNA detective work indicates just 30 Indonesian women founded the Malagasy population, with a much smaller biological contribution from Africa. The women may have mated with their male Indonesian travel companions, or with men from Africa.
This isn't a strange pill to swallow. Growing up in Hawaii, we learned a lot as children about the currents of the Pacific Ocean, how that affection voyages across Polynesia. What they didn't teach us about Melanesia, Micronesia and any other nesia is stuff like this. Some of it wasn't known, that's for sure. DNA testing? Not when I was a kid.