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Geographic definition of Polynesia

The Polynesian Dog (Canis lupus familiaris formerly Canis pacificus) refers to a few extinct varieties of domesticated pariah dogs from the islands of Polynesia. These dogs were used for both companionship and food and were introduced, alongside poultry and pigs, to various islands. They became extinct as a result of the crossbreeding that occurred after other breeds of dogs were introduced. Modern studies done on the DNA of the Polynesian dogs indicate that they descended from the domesticated dogs of Southeast Asia and may have shared a remote ancestor with the dingo.


In 1839, the British naturalist Charles Hamilton Smith classified this canine as Canis pacificus in his 1840 book The Natural History of Dogs: Canidae Or Genus Canis of Authors; Including Also the Genera Hyaena and Proteles.[1] In the third edition of Mammal Species of the World published in 2005, the mammalogist W. Christopher Wozencraft listed under the wolf Canis lupus the taxon "familiaris Linneaus, 1758 [domestic dog]". Wozencraft then listed Canis pacificus C. E. H. Smith, 1839 as a junior taxonomic synonym for the domestic dog.[2]

History and distributionEdit

These dogs were introduced by the ancestors of the Polynesian people during their settlement of the far-flung islands, with a few major archipelagos developing isolated breeds.[3][4]

Notable breeds include:

The distribution of Polynesian dogs on other islands was somewhat patchy. Islands like Mangareva, Tokelau and the Marquesas possessed domesticated dog populations after initial settlement that went extinct before the arrival of European explorers. On Easter Island, no evidence or traces of dogs have been found in middens around the island or in the oral tradition of the Rapa Nui people.[10][11] They were virtually absent from Western Polynesia (i.e., Samoa and Tonga) by the time Europeans arrived. However, dogs brought on European ships were recognized by the natives when they were introduced as items of trade, indicating a universal cultural recognition of dogs across the islands.[3] While the Maori brought dogs to New Zealand, the Moriori had no dogs in the Chatham Islands at the time of European discovery.[12]

Relationship to humansEdit

The Polynesians raised dogs for companionship and for food. Along with domesticated pigs and chickens, dog meat was an important animal protein source for the human populations of Polynesia.[13] For the most part, they were fed a vegetarian diet of either breadfruit, coconut, yam or poi made from taro, while the larger Kurī predominantly subsisted on a diet of fish.[3][4]

They never became feral because of the scarcity of food in the native forests.[14][15][16] The diet and environment of the islands resulted in a dog with small stature and a docile disposition, and European explorers described them as lazy. They were said to rarely bark, but would howl occasionally.[3][4]

The distinct breeds of the Polynesian Dog became extinct during the 19th and early 20th century due to interbreeding with introduced European dog breeds; declining consumption of dog meat was another contributing factor.[3][4]

In mythologyEdit

Dogs were an important part of the Polynesian narrative. They are often associated with the legendary exploits of the demigod Māui. According to the Māori narrative, Māui transformed his brother-in-law Irawaru, husband of Hina, into the first dog, which was used to explain the human characteristics of dogs.[17] According to the Tongan narrative, Maui-Atalaga and his son/brother Maui-Kijikiji attempted to hunt down Fulububuta, an enormous man-eating dog, larger than a horse, living in a cave on the Fijian island of Moturiki. However, Atalaga is killed and dragged into a cave by the monster, which is later slain by Maui-Kijikiji, who wastes away mourning his dead father.[18]

Genetic studiesEdit

Proposed route for the migration of dogs based on mDNA. Haplotype A29 relates most to the Australian dingo and the New Guinea singing dog, the ancient Polynesian Arc2 to modern Polynesian, Indonesian and ancient New Zealand dogs, and the ancient Polynesian Arc1 is indistinguishable from a number of widespread modern haplotypes.[19][20]

DNA evidence indicates that Polynesian dogs descended from the domesticated dogs of Southeast Asia and may have shared a remote ancestor with the dingo. The study of mtDNA show they carried two haplotypes: Arc1 and Arc2.[21][22]

In 2011, the mDNA of dogs from the Malay Peninsula found that the two most common dog haplotypes of the Indonesian region, in particular Bali and Kalimantan, were mDNA haplotype A75 (40%) and "the dingo founder haplotype" A29 (8%).[19][22] Also present were haplotypes A120 and A145.[22] All 4 haplotypes fall within the a2 mDNA sub-haplogroup.[23][24] The study also looked at archaeological specimens of ancient Polynesian dogs from which only a "short-haplotype" (a short sequence) could be derived. This short haplotype was named Arc2 and corresponds to mDNA haplotypes A75 and A120, and it could be found in 70% of samples found as far away as Hawaii and New Zealand. No dogs from Taiwan nor the Philippines carried the dingo or Polynesian haplotypes, which indicates that dogs did not enter the Pacific from a northeastern route.[22]

In 2015, a study looked at the mDNA sequences taken from ancient New Zealand kurī dog samples discovered at an archaeological site at Wairau Bar and found they correspond to the a2 mDNA sub-haplogroup. The dog samples all carried the mDNA haplotype A192, which has only been reported in some modern village dogs from Bali, Indonesia. When compared with the two ancient Polynesian haplotypes Arc1 and Arc2, all of the Wairau Bar dogs matched Arc2. Dogs from Wairau Bar likely represent part of the initial population of dogs introduced to New Zealand, having arrived with people around the beginning of the fourteenth century.[19][20]

All of these dogs carry haplotypes that fall under the mDNA a2 sub-haplogroup and are therefore descendants of a dog/Chinese wolf hybrid ancestor. In 2015, the most comprehensive study of mDNA haplotypes to date found that the a2 sub-haplogroup represents 3% of all dogs in South East Asia, 22% in the Indian subcontinent and 16% in East Asia.[24]


  1. ^ Smith 1840, pp. 210–212.
  2. ^ a b Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 575–577. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. url=
  3. ^ a b c d e f Luomala 1960, pp. 193, 203, 221.
  4. ^ a b c d Titcomb & Pukui 1969, pp. 1–48.
  5. ^ Titcomb & Pukui 1969, pp. 2–24.
  6. ^ Titcomb & Pukui 1969, pp. 40–47.
  7. ^ Titcomb & Pukui 1969, pp. 32–33.
  8. ^ Titcomb & Pukui 1969, pp. 24–30.
  9. ^ Titcomb & Pukui 1969, pp. 30–32.
  10. ^ Haun 2008, p. 242.
  11. ^ Greig, Walter & Matisoo-Smith 2015, pp. 462–482.
  12. ^ Sharp 1964, p. 120.
  13. ^ Diamond 1997, p. 60.
  14. ^ Titcomb & Pukui 1969, p. 1.
  15. ^ Worthy & Holdaway 2002, p. 536.
  16. ^ Millerstrom 2003, pp. 144–152.
  17. ^ Luomala 1958, pp. 49–50, 202–203.
  18. ^ Luomala 1949, pp. 49–50, 202–203.
  19. ^ a b c Greig, Walter & Matisoo-Smith 2016, pp. 471–475
  20. ^ a b Greig et al. 2015
  21. ^ Smith 2015, p. 72.
  22. ^ a b c d Oskarsson et al. 2011, pp. 967–974
  23. ^ Pang et al. 2009, pp. 2849–64
  24. ^ a b Duleba et al. 2015, pp. 123–129


Further readingEdit