I’m always interested in legends among “indigenous” populations of little people who preceded them.
From the South China Morning Post:
Scientists prove existence of tiny people – once enigmatic characters from legend – who inhabited Taiwan long before indigenous population
OCTOBER 16, 2022
PUBLISHED AT 7:12 PM
By KEVIN MCSPADDEN
Taiwan famously features an indigenous population of Austronesian people whose history on the island stretches back 5,000 years.
Austronesian speakers sprawl from Madagascar to Hawaii. Taiwan’s aboriginal Austronesians make up about two percent of Taiwan’s population today. It’s widely believed that today’s Polynesians began their spectacular expansion from Taiwan. Taiwanese aborigines are somewhat Polynesian looking. They don’t look much like Chinese.
Taiwan is believed to be the homeland of the Austronesian language and the well-spring of the vast Austronesian Expansion across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
But among these people, oral traditions have referred to another civilisation that seemed to be far older. They were often referred to as “pygmies” or tiny people and were described as having dark skin, curly hair and a diminutive stature.
For centuries, they only existed in fables, although they popped up with remarkable consistency over an extremely long period of time.
In early October, scientists proved they existed in Taiwan.
According to a paper published in World Archaeology, a peer-reviewed journal, archaeologists analysing skeletons from a cave in southeastern Taiwan built a strong argument that those remains belonged to “Negritos”, an ethnic group that still exists in the Philippines, Malay Peninsula and Andaman Islands.
Hung said the teams’ discovery represented proof that this ancient hunter-gatherer population had lived in Taiwan for centuries, and possibly tens of thousands of years before the island was later inhabited by the Austronesian people, who are the ancestors of modern indigenous groups.
The term “Negritos” is a direct Spanish translation meaning “small-black” and is the widely accepted scientific and historical name to refer to this ethnic group.
But not for long. In the future, some anthropologist is going to get canceled for using it in a lecture, and after that, they’ll only be referred to in academic journalists as the Nameless Ones.
Seriously, there is declining interest in human biodiversity as represented by Negritos. It’s hard to square the conventional wisdom that Race Does Not Exist with the sheer existence of tribes of tiny black (but not Sub-Saharan) people in the backwoods of southeast Asia and the islands.
Negritos are believed to be descendants of the First Sundaland People. They are an important group of people for researchers studying the “Out of Africa” theory, as their ancestors are believed to have migrated eastward by following the coastlines stretching from Africa, through South Asia and eventually East Asia.
Who really knows, though? There has been a lot of time for who knows how much evolution over the last 50,000 or so years.
The scientists confirmed that the skulls found in a Taiwanese cave, called Xiaoma, are consistent with other Negrito skulls and, by analysing the femur bone, the team estimated that the skeletons were about 139cm (a bit under 4’6”) tall.
Hung said that the earliest known inhabitants of Taiwan arrived around 30,000 years ago when an ancient land bridge connected the island with modern-day mainland China. However, the land bridge disappeared about 10,000 years ago after being cut off by the sea.
“At several cave sites of eastern Taiwan, the ancient archaeological layers have shown that hunter-gatherers had been living in this area at least since 30,000 years ago. Therefore, the findings at Xiaoma around 6,000 years ago represented people of the same ancient hunter-gatherer population but at a much later time period,” said Hung.
Probably, but 24,000 years is lot of time for who knows what to happen. One of the things we’ve learned from ancestral DNA over the last dozen or so years is that all sorts of invasions happened in prehistory. So, I’d like to see more evidence that the Negrito skull from 6,000 years ago is directly descended from the people who arrived in Taiwan 30,000 years ago.
Previous histories of Taiwan usually feature a major gap from about 15,000 years ago to 7,000 years ago. The Negrito skulls are around 6,000 years old, while Austronesian populations migrated to the island in significant numbers about 5,000 years ago. …
The legend of the Negrito people in Taiwan is quite interesting. Of the ethnic groups, about half of the Austronesians viewed the Negritos as enemies, while another half thought of them as either allies, neutrals or ancestors. However, one ethnic group, the Saisiyats, had a remarkably complicated relationship with the Negritos.
The Saisiyats, of which a small population still exists in Taiwan today, have a tradition called the “Pas-ta’ai” – a ritual to “honour the Short People”.
According to legend, the ancient Saisiyats and “dwarf-sized Ta’ai people” were neighbours, and the Ta’ai people taught the Saisiyats the basics of medicine, singing, dancing and other cultural traditions.
However, the legend says the Ta’ai people harassed the Saisiyat women, and eventually the ancient Saisiyat people decided they had enough and killed almost all of the Ta’ai people.
The myth says the Saisiyats then experienced a terrible famine, which they attributed to “vengeful pygmy spirits”. Now, every two years, the Saisiyats hold the “Pas-ta’ai” ritual to beg for forgiveness for their ancestors’ crimes.
So, if Austronesians encountered Negritos native to Taiwan, where did the Austronesians come from?