On Solheim’s Nusantao — Filipino Origins

I’ve posted something about Bellwood’s hypothesis on the peopling of Southeast Asia and Oceania somewhere in this blog. And I believe that when one discusses Bellwood, s/he is also obliged to discuss Wilhelm Solheim’s hypothesis. The Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication Network is something that Solheim has been thinking through since the 1960s – aside from his Sa-Huynh Kalanay complex.

First off – what the heck does Nusantao mean? It was derived by the linguist George Grace from the root words “Nusa” which means “South” and “Tau” which means “Human”. We can see in the etymology itself how it differs from Bellwood’s hypothesis. Solheim suggests a South-to-North dispersal of the Austronesian-speaking peoples starting from Sarawak and Southern Mindanao.

The most striking part about Solheim’s thoughts is his emphasis on the cultural aspect of the peoples of Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania – yet again another alternative to Bellwood’s thinking who puts more emphasis on the biological origin of the peoples in the area. Solheim stresses that the spread of language and culture in the aforementioned areas was not a product of migration but a product of years of trading – the Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication Network.

Beyond Bellwood’s given date of the spread of the Austronesian-speaking peoples, Solheim suggests that there had been massive maritime network in parts of the areas as far back as 30,000 BC. This is evident through the commonalities in culture in Southeast Asia’s Hoabinhian, Korea’s Early Neolithic and Japan’s Early Jomon, Jomon and Yayoi period (up to Eastern Honshu). Some linguists  even say that there are certain Japanese words – mostly related to farming – that might have originated from Southeast Asia. A species of rice – Javanica – which originated in Sarawak, is also present in parts of Japan. Moreover, Japonica, the rice species that they have in the Mainland China (where Bellwood thinks the proto-Austronesians originated before moving on to Taiwan) is not archaeologically present in Insular Southeast Asia.

The Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication Network started, as Solheim thought, in 5000 B.C. He suggested four lobes dividing parts of East Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania – the Eastern Lobe, the Central Lobe, The Northern Lobe and the Southern Lobe. All of these lobes’ point of origin is the Central Lobe.

(Image via Flessen’s Article)

The NMTCN (Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication) isn’t ripe yet, in my opinion. Indeed, most people will adhere to Bellwood’s claims as it has a more biological approach. However, I see many points and potentials in Solheim’s thinking – though it is still very early to say which one among them is right or if really anyone is indeed exclusively right. Bellwood has his points and Solheim has his. In my view, we need more data. Excavations in the Philippines and much of Southeast Asia and Oceania are not yet sufficient to give a clear picture. Much of Mindanao – which is archaeologically crucial, in my opinion – has been left out in framing hypotheses (though Solheim looked into it more than Bellwood did, the latter concentrating more on Northern Philippines and no attention whatsoever in the South).

In the end, both of them might be right. They just might be two sides of the same coin. There might be clashes in their hypotheses, but there’s also a way to fit them in – if fit them in is what we should do.

Flessen, C. 2006. Bellwood and Solheim: Models of Neolithic movements of people in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Available:https://files.itslearning.com/data/ntnu/44801/bellwood-solheim.pdf[Accessed: 11/26/2009].

Solheim, W. 1996.Nusantao and the North-South Dispersals. Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association Bulletin, 2: 101-109.

Solheim, W. 2006. Archaeology and Culture in Southeast Asia: Unraveling the Nusantao. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

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