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 Hawaiian double hulled sailing canoe setting out on ceremonial voyage

Robert Cudney / CC-BY-SA-4.0

I am the proud descendant of people who, at least 1,000 years ago, made one of the riskiest decisions in human history: to leave behind their homeland and set sail into the world’s largest ocean. As the first Native Hawaiian to be awarded a Ph.D. in genome sciences, I realized in graduate school that there is another possible line of evidence that can give insights into my ancestors’ voyaging history: our moʻokuʻauhau, our genome. Our ancestors’ genomes were shaped by evolutionary and cultural factors, including our migration and the ebb and flow of the Pacific Ocean. They were also shaped by the devastating history of colonialism.

Through analyzing genomes from present-day peoples, we can do incredible things like determine the approximate number of wa‘a (voyaging canoes) that arrived when my ancestors landed on Hawaii island, or even reconstruct the genomes of some of the legendary Chiefs and navigators that discovered the islands of the Pacific. And beyond these scientific and historical discoveries, genomics research can also help us understand and rectify the... see more