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Friday, 13 January 2012

Is the Israelite Lehi the father of the Polynesians?

  "We express gratitude that to these fertile Islands Thou didst guide descendants of Father Lehi." 
—New Zealand Temple dedicatory prayer, 1958
Mormon Folklore
Mormons believe that Polynesians are a branch of the House of Israel that sprouted from the descendants of Lehi, an Israelite who the Book of Mormon claims sailed to the Americas in 600BC. Mormon folklore links the Book of Mormon sailor Hagoth (descendant of Lehi who lived in 54 BC), with the colonization of the Pacific. Hagoth was an “exceedingly curious” Nephite who built very large ships that were launched into the West Sea. These ships transported large numbers of Nephite men, women, and children and their provisions to lands northward (Alma 63:5). Many Mormons believe that some of these ships got lost and landed in the islands of the Pacific.

Unlike most Mormon theology, which travels from the prophet down, this remarkable Polynesian-Israelite belief appears to have traveled in a reverse direction, emerging first among missionaries serving in the Pacific. Joseph Smith made no recorded statements related to this belief, and in Mormon scriptures we find no explicit statement in its favor.  In 1858 prophetic approval was bestowed on the speculation when Brigham Young declared,
“Those islanders, and the natives of this country are of the House of Israel, of the seed of Abraham”

—Douglas 1974
In 1911 the First Presidency claimed
“The Lord ... directed their course away from this continent [America] to their island homes, that they might not be left to be preyed upon and destroyed by the more wicked part of the House of Israel whose descendants still roam upon this continent in a fallen and degraded state”
—Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and John Henry Smith 
Unlike the Polynesians, the inhabitants of the western isles of the Pacific bore an unsettling resemblance to members of the African race, who according to other LDS revelation had inherited a harsh racial curse from God. Eastern Polynesians were thought to possess the fair complexion of the…
“original [Lehite] stock,” while “Figi [sic] ... Islanders, the New Zealanders, the inhabitants of New Caledonia and the New Hebrides … have greatly mixed with the Australian race or with the Negroes of New Guinea and the Philipine [sic] Islands.”
—Juvenile Instructor, 1868
Consequently, Melanesia and Micronesia had virtually no contact with Mormon missionaries for the next century until the curse was redefined as applicable only to people who were of African descent. But in the early history of the church, missionaries were kept away from Fiji, New Guinea, New Caledonia, and the Caroline and Solomon Islands. The influence of racial theology is clearly seen in LDS proselyting patterns in the Pacific (figure). Missionaries first reached Polynesia in 1843 and had visited all the major Polynesian groups by the end of the nineteenth century. Serious efforts to proselyte in Melanesia and Micronesia began in the 1950s, with a rapid expansion occurring toward the end of the 1970s. The church officially started baptizing Fijians and other Melanesians after missionaries consulted with anthropologists at the Fiji museum on Suva Island; Melanesians were judged to be racially distinct from Negroes (Gordon 1988). The two Polynesian groups not visited until the twentieth century both have very small populations of about 2,000.

Scientific View of Pacific Colonization

Archaeological evidence
“It is extraordinary that the same nation should have spread themselves over all the isles in this vast Ocean from New Zealand to this Island which is almost a fourth part of the circumference of the Globe.”
—Captain James Cook, Easter Island, 1774 
The close genetic ties between Polynesians were clearly evident to European sailors from the outset. But did their ancestors come from Southeast Asia or did they come from the Americas? All of the (abundant) scientific evidence points west towards Southeast Asia. 

The archaeological evidence suggests that there were three major waves of Pacific settlement. The first phase resulted in the colonization of Australia between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago (Roberts et al. 1990, Thorne et al. 1999). By 30,000 years ago, the original settlers had spread throughout most of the Australian continent. More recent waves of immigration from Papua New Guinea probably occurred as recently as 6,000 years ago. One group brought domestic dogs, which gave rise to the dingo, a wild dog found on mainland Australia.

In the next phase the Melanesian islands in the Bismarck Archipelago and the Northern Solomons were colonized between 6,000-15,000 years ago (Bellwood 1987). The settlers of western Micronesia are thought to have originated in Indonesia or the Philippines, while eastern Micronesia appears to have been settled from Melanesia, possibly Fiji.

The third and final phase of settlement (of Melanesia, parts of Micronesia, and much of Polynesia) was very rapid (Diamond 1988), taking about 2,000 years until complete in about AD 1000. These people shared a common language (Austronesian); strong evidence for a close genealogical link. The ancestors of the Polynesians spread a distinctively styled Lapita pottery, named after an archaeological site in New Caledonia where it was first described. Lapita pottery, with its striking geometric designs, has been found all the way from coastal Papua New Guinea eastward to Samoa (Bellwood 1979).

DNA evidence
Polynesians trace their molecular roots back to Asia. The first survey of Polynesian mitochondrial DNA found that most of the people they surveyed (90%) from the islands of Samoa, New Zealand, Niue, the Cook Islands, and Tonga had mitochondrial DNA belonging to the B lineage, which is common among Southeast Asians (Hertzberg et al. 1989). The general trend is one of a steady increase in the frequency of the B maternal lineage as one moves from Asia to the extremities of Polynesia.

The occurrence of the B lineage in the Pacific Islands and the Americas raises the question of recent common ancestry. The Asian, rather than American, origin is supported by the occurrence of unique mutations in Polynesian B lineage that are found in Southeast Asian B lineages but not in Native American B lineages (Sykes et al. 1995).

The distribution of the Polynesian maternal B lineage throughout the World is shown in the figure below. The most widely accepted homeland for the ancestors of the Polynesians is Taiwan, but the descendants of the original Polynesians mixed considerably with other populations and spread most of the way around the globe. The triangle indicates the extent of Polynesia. The discovery of the Polynesian lineage in the Malagasy from the island of Madagascar (Soodyall et al. 1995) is a striking testament to the maritime skills of the Polynesians.

Sources: Hertzberg et al. 1989, Lum et al. 1994, Lum and Cann 1998, Melton et al. 1995, Murray-McIntosh et al. 1998, Soodyall et al. 1995, Stoneking and Wilson 1989, Sykes et al. 1995.

Rosalind Murray-McIntosh of Massey University, New Zealand, believes the DNA evidence strongly suggests that there were a significant number of females in the canoes when the Polynesians colonized New Zealand. Based on the variation found in the B lineages of the Maoris she estimates that between 50 and 100 women sailed in the colonizing group(s) (Murray-McIntosh et al. 1998). This strongly suggests that the settlement of New Zealand was planned and that it involved numerous boats and possibly multiple voyages.

A detailed examination of 655 Polynesian maternal lineages in 1995 revealed that about 6 percent do not belong to the B lineage family (Sykes et al. 1995). Most are related to lineages found among people from Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. This is compatible with a colonization history of small groups of skilled seafarers who island-hopped through Southeast Asia and Melanesia, mixing with coastal populations. The remaining 2 percent of Polynesian lineages were similar to Filipino lineages and others appeared to come from western Europe, most likely the United Kingdom.

The accumulated molecular research strongly supports a Polynesian genealogy leading back exclusively to Asia. As one moves away from Asia through the Pacific Islands to the most distant islands of New Zealand, Hawaii, and Easter Island, the number of DNA lineages decreases. Immigration from America would have increased the number of female lineages near the New World. Rather, the trend is consistent with an eastward migration of small founding groups that colonized the islands in succession, each new colonization resulting in a reduced number of maternal DNA lineages among those taking possession of the newly discovered island. The Maoris of New Zealand illustrates the endpoint of this trend, where virtually all individuals posses the Polynesian B lineage.

Bellwood, Peter S. 1979. Man’s Conquest of the Pacific: The Prehistory of Southeast Asia and Oceania. New York: Oxford University.
Bellwood, Peter S. 1987. The Polynesians: Prehistory of an Island People, rev. ed. London: Thames and Hudson.
Diamond, Jared M. 1988. “Express Train to Polynesia,” Nature 336:307-08.
Douglas, Norman. 1974. “The Sons of Lehi and the Seed of Cain: Racial Myths in Mormon Scripture and Their Relevance to the Pacific Islands, Journal of Religious History 8:90-104.
Gordon, Tamar. 1988. Inventing Mormon Identity in Tonga, Ph.D. diss., University of California at Berkeley.
Hertzberg, Mark, K. M. Mickleson, S. W. Serjeantson, et al. 1989. “An Asian-Specific 9-bp Deletion of Mitochondrial DNA Is Frequently Found in Polynesians,” American Journal of Human Genetics 44:504-10.
Lum, J. Koji, and Rebecca Luisa Cann. 1998. “MtDNA and Language Support a Common Origin of Micronesians and Polynesians in Island Southeast Asia,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 105:109-19.
Lum, J. Koji, Olga Rickards, C. Ching, et al. 1994. “Polynesian Mitochondrial DNAs Reveal Three Deep Maternal Lineage Clusters,” Human Biology 66:567-90.
Melton, Terry, R. Peterson, A. J. Redd, et al. 1995. “Polynesian Genetic Affinities with Southeast Asian Populations as Identified by MtDNA Analysis,” American Journal of Human Genetics 57:403-14.
Murray-McIntosh, Rosalind P., Brian J. Scrimshaw, Peter J. Hatfield, et al. 1998. “Testing Migration Patterns and Estimating Founding Population Size in Polynesia by Using Human MtDNA Sequences,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 95:9047-52.
Roberts, Richard G., R. Jones, and M. A. Smith. 1990. “Thermoluminescence Dating of a 50,000-Year-Old Human Occupation Site in Northern Australia,” Nature 345:153-6.
Soodyall, Himla, Trefor Jenkins, and Mark Stoneking. 1995. “‘Polynesian’ MtDNA in the Malagasy,” Nature Genetics 10:377-78.
Stoneking, Mark, and Allan C. Wilson. 1989. “Mitochondrial DNA,” in The Colonization of the Pacific: A Genetic Trail, eds. Adrian V. S. Hill and Susan W. Serjeantson. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sykes, Bryan, A. Leiboff, J. Low-Beer, et al. 1995. “The Origins of the Polynesians: An Interpretation from Mitochondrial Lineage Analysis,” American Journal of Human Genetics 57:1463-75.
Thorne, Alan, Rainer Grün, Graham Mortimer, et al. 1999. “Australia’s Oldest Human Remains: Age of the Lake Mungo 3 Skeleton,” Journal of Human Evolution 36:591-612.


  1. Replies
    1. Dear Brother Simon,
      I hope you will update your blog with more recent science that shows genetic connections between Jews and American Indians. For example, according to studies published by National Geographic in 2013, nearly one third of American Indian genes come from peoples in the Middle East.
      Studies about the Indian-Jewish connection have been published from the 1700s through the present day. For example, as Epoch Times reported on May 4, 2016, the latest genetic studies confirm the the cultural, linguistic and social similarities between these peoples.
      I look forward to your continued study of this subject, and applaud your efforts to find truth.

    2. The first article doesn't refer to Jews but as Western Eurasian linked to the middle east and europe and it goes onto to say that this mix of DNA may have occurred in Siberia prior to the migration to the Americas, that more research needs to be done to determine this...the second article refers to similarities between different cultures which if you look between any 2 cultures you always find points in common and the so-called DNA expert has no science degree and just because he purchase a company that tests for DNA it hardly makes him an the same principle if I purchased a hospital that would not make me a brain surgeon

    3. Sorry Anonymous, I'm doubtful Simon will update that claim based on the Nat Geo article. The remains that DNA was extracted from were 24,000 years old. Here you, this bud's for you...

  2. Mr. Southerton,

    Last week, I finished reading your book, 'Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church', from which this blog entry is based...And today, I learned of the existence of your blog and arrived here by means of a post on the board.

    I haven't made my exit from the church just yet, although I am certainly inactive right now and the matter of reconstituting my faith doesn't appear likely.

    Come what may, I just want to thank you for sharing your research and providing a genuine approach to explain what has been uncovered, pertaining to DNA lineages, by the scientific community. These days, I understand how sheltered I was in relation to ignoring anything that didn't originate from church leaders or our manuals, and it just devastates me to look back and realize how close-minded and ignorant I really was.

    Again, thank you.

    1. Hi anonymous,

      I have been through the same self examination and many others have as well. How did we not see the obvious? I was contacted recently by a bishop who is about to resign next month. His wife, 4 adult children and their partners and children will leave soon afterwards. He asked me "Simon, where were our heads when we were reading all the stuff about
      white and delightsome and we just rolled with it?" I don't know but I'm glad I don't have to keep rolling with it. My best wishes for your future happiness.

  3. Tony Allen-Mills17 January 2012 at 09:16

    I'm an English journalist working on a magazine article about mormonism and the scrutiny it is likely to receive if Mitt Romney becomes Obama's presidential opponent. Could you possibly email me at if you wouldn't mind talking about your work and experience ? Thank you

  4. Hi there Simon

    I previously served as a Bishop, Branch Pres Disrict Pres and as a Manager for the Sydney Church Office for some 14 years.

    Then one day something happens and you realise that all that you have been taught is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

    What a great feeling of freedom comes when finally you break free of the Church and actually have the time to make a personal relationship with God!

    Not needing the 'Brethern' to tell you how to pray, how to think, how to eat, how to drink, how to laugh, how to spend your time, how to raise your family, how to give your money, how to live.

    Keep up the great work. The truth will indeed set you free.

    Best regards

    Alan Robinson

    1. Hi Alan,

      I would be very interested in talking to you. You must have a very unique perspective on the church in Sydney during the years I lived there. Feel free to email me at


  5. For me, the great feeling of freedom came when I broke free of the church AND god, and realized that atheism was the only logical philosophy. I'm now a very happy humanist! :)

    1. Yes, the same path I have taken. I think holding no beliefs is perfectly respectable and something I am very comfortable with.

  6. My haplogroup is B4a1a1a3, a branch of the Polynesian motif - B4a1a1. My Y haplogroup also exists in Polynesia, although that isn't my Polynesian side. Would be interesting if they were to have figured who this Hagoth person was, and where his DNA descendants are, or better yet if we could connect our actual ancestor's name to Hagoth.

  7. I offer nothing either spiritual intellectual or academic. But after l that is said and done. We stl don't know everything. The pursuit of knowledge is ambiguous. Truth exists in every paradigm of understanding. The question is really ... what is truth? compared to what is ALL truth? More importantly what is the source of all truth? Anyone can gather remnants of the whole. But what is the whole?

  8. *all that is said and done. *still don't know everything.

  9. Mormonism requires a dedication,free from vices. What was your vice that you werent willing to surrender and to start a blog to justify your short comings? Be honest now.

  10. You offer nothing spiritual, intellectual or academic, but you do offer judgment.