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Ancient Indonesians

Ancestors of Malagasy Came from Banjar

The latest genetics research has found that the ethnic Banjar people in South Kalimantan are the ancestors of the Malagasy people in Madagascar. The diaspora journeyed across the Indian Ocean 1,200 years ago and this answers the riddle of how Indonesians became the ancestors of the population of the small island off Africa's eastern coast.

The notion that the Malagasy people descended from Indonesians has actually been known for a long time. Early assumptions were based on the similarities of cultural artefacts, including traditional xylophones, outrigger canoes, the techniques used in cultivating rice, root vegetables and mung beans, various metal tools and weaving art. "These cultural artefacts are still found today in Madagascar, including weaving techniques similar to those found in eastern Indonesia," said Herawati Sudoyo-Supolo, a geneticist at the Research, Technology and Higher Education Ministry's Eijkman Molecular Biology Institute, after a recent field survey in Madagascar.

It was later determined that 90 percent of the Malagasy language is rooted in the language of the Dayak Ma'anyan people living on the banks of the Barito River in South Kalimantan. The similarities in language led to researchers believing that the Dayak Ma'anyan were the ancestors of the Malagasy people.

However, later genetics research found more clues. A study by Eijkman Institute researcher Pradiptajati Kusuma and his team found that the genetics of the Dayak Ma'anyan are different from that of the Malagasy. This study was published in the May 18 edition of the Nature Scientific Reports journal.

If not the Dayak Ma'anyan, then which ethnic group in the Nusantara archipelago migrated to Madagascar?

Further research was conducted by Pradiptajati and his colleague from the University of Toulouse in France, Nicolas Brucato, and a number of other researchers from the Eijkman Institute. They tried to match the genetics of the Malagasy people with the entire genetics data of Indonesian people that had been gathered. A match was then found between the genetics of the Malagasy people and that of the Banjar.

"This is our latest finding that confirms a long search for the origins of Austronesian genetics in Madagascar," said Pradiptajati, who is currently completing his doctoral degree at the University of Toulouse.

This latest research, which was published in the July 5 edition of the Molecular Biology and Evolution journal, was said by Herawati to reaffirm the importance of genetics research to map the origins and migrations of humankind.

A genetics revolution began when Compton Crick discovered the structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in 1953. According to the theory, the human body is composed by billions of cells, each of which contains a nucleus. Inside the nucleus there are the chromosomes, groups of genes that look like threads.

More microscopically, genes are composed by DNA molecules that are combinations of alkalis named thymine (T), adenine (A), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). They determine the color of one's skin and hair, as well as tendency to suffer from diabetes, whether people have the potential to be fat or thin and even their behavior. Through our knowledge of this combination of alkalis and their changes, we can track the journey of human DNA to our distant past.

In Indonesia, the research to map the genetics of the population has been conducted by the Eijkman Molecular Biology Institute for the past 20 years. The institute has mapped the genetics and migrations of 70 Indonesian ethnicities.

Banjar people

The Banjar people, Pradiptajati said, came from a mixture of the Dayak Ma'anyan and the Malay peoples. The mixture was alleged to have been the result of interisland trade in the Nusantara region since the 5th century and was alleged to have intensified during the era of the Sriwijaya Kingdom in the 7th century.

"The Malay people who became the ancestors of the Banjar people have genetic similarities with today's population on the Malaysian peninsula," Pradiptajati said. "The composition of the Banjar people is 76 to 77 percent Malay and 23 to 24 percent Dayak Ma'anyan."

It was these Banjar people who sailed to Madagascar 1,000 to 1,200 years ago. In Madagascar, they intermarried with the Bantu people from South Africa.

"The genetic mixture of the Banjar and Bantu peoples in Madagascar was first recorded around 670 years ago and the current Malagasy population, with a genetics composition of 36 to 37 percent Banjar and the rest from Bantu, emerged from this mixture," Pradiptajati explained.

Even though the ancient Banjar people were a mixture of Malay and Dayak Ma'anyan peoples, they also had a record of intensive assimilation with other cultures in Nusantara. The traces can be seen by the presence of Javanese and Bugis loan words brought by the Banjar people to Madagascar. Javanese words found in the Malagasy language include the words rama (father), which remained rama, alas (forest), which became ala, raden (male royalty), which became rahadyan, and tumut (follow), which became tumutra. Bugis words found in Madagascar include huta (chew), which became ota, leha (go), which became loka, matua (elder), which became matoa, and utti (banana), which became untsi.

The Banjar diaspora in Madagascar confirms Indonesia had an advanced maritime culture in the distant past. On the other side, the formation of the Banjar ethnicity itself shows that ethnic mixture in Nusantara has been going on for a long time. If traced even further, where do the Malay and Dayak Ma'anyan peoples come from? Genetics research has found that there are no pure genes. Humanity, including in Indonesia, comes from a mixture of various genetics and all of them originated in Africa.

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