THE sketch of the mythology of Oceania given in the preceding pages has been arranged in five main sections, each confined to one of the geographic or ethnographic areas into which the whole region is usually divided. At the end of each section we have given the general conclusions reached from a survey of the material; and these may now be briefly summarized, in order that we may gain an outline of the growth of Oceanic mythology as a whole.
The oldest and most primitive stratum of mythology in Oceania is either lost to us entirely, as in the case of Tasmania, or else is unknown, since no material from the Negrito peoples of the area is as yet accessible. Of its character, affiliations, and sources, therefore, nothing can be said. Following next upon this, at least in Melanesia and Australia, is what has been called the Papuan type--still very imperfectly known and apparently quite variable in its character. With the rest of the mythology of Oceania it presents comparatively little in common except in Melanesia, where the later Melanesian stratum probably contains a considerable element derived from it. Of the sources of this Papuan type little or nothing can be said. As the Negrito and Tasmanian strata are followed by the Papuan in Melanesia and Australia, in Indonesia the Negrito is succeeded by the Indonesian layer. Unlike the Papuan, this has wide affiliations which extend, on the one hand, well into south-eastern Asia (i. e. to Assam, Burma, and Indo-China), and on the other, to Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. It is at least a plausible hypothesis that the characteristic myths of this type were spread by a wave or series of waves of people who, moving from the Asiatic mainland into
Indonesia, passed thence, on the one hand, to Micronesia and Hawaii, and on the other, through northern Melanesia to Polynesia. In the course of its passage along the northern shores of New Guinea and through the eastern archipelagos this latter stream became profoundly modified and carried with it to Polynesia, and especially to New Zealand, a considerable number of elements which were either directly borrowed from the Papuan population or, more probably, were locally developed there as a result of Papuan contact and mixture. Linguistic and cultural evidences seem to indicate a long halt of the migratory stream in eastern Melanesia, and it is possible that the Melanesians, in the strict sense of the term, are in origin a blend of the Indonesian migrants with the earlier Papuan type. In some such way as this, at any rate, mythological elements which were widely spread in Melanesia reached western Polynesia and New Zealand at an early date, but did not extend to eastern Polynesia and Hawaii. That a minor current of this great mythological stream may have reached the north-eastern shores of Australia is suggested by the presence there of several of its characteristic features; but historically this movement may have been much later. Another such minor branch of the main drift may well have passed northward from eastern Melanesia to Micronesia, bringing to that area its unmistakable Melanesian elements.
Long subsequent, probably, to this first great drift of Indonesian peoples eastward into the Pacific came a second period of movement probably including both Indonesians proper and Malays. This time there seems to have been no migration into Micronesia, the whole stream passing eastward along the northern coast of New Guinea and the edge of the eastern archipelagos, directly into Polynesia. This immigrant wave, although incorporating certain Melanesian features in transit, seems to have become less modified than the earlier one. After some time had elapsed, during which there was a blending of the mythology of the earlier and later types, a
branch of the now complex Polynesian peoples passed from central Polynesia northward to Hawaii, bringing thither the Melanesian elements which had previously been lacking; and another branch passed south-west from Tahiti and the Cook Group into New Zealand, constituting the traditional immigration into that island in the fourteenth century.
Coincident with, or perhaps preceding, the departure of the second main wave of peoples from Indonesia, Hindu elements penetrated to Sumatra and Java. It is as yet difficult to say whether this invasion of Indian culture and peoples was a cause of the emigration of the later Polynesian ancestors, but it seems probable that some of these latter were slightly influenced by Indian contact; and we must also bear in mind the possibility that these Hindu and South Indian elements may have been transmitted later by trade and other factors. Although the influence of Indian beliefs was slight in Melanesia, and perhaps negligible in Polynesia, it was strong in Indonesia, especially in the west; and while it is still uncertain how far the spread of these Asiatic elements was due to early Malay movements northward into the Philippines, these Malay migrations seem to have been factors. Last of all comes the Muhammadan influence, which has made itself felt everywhere in Indonesia except among the wilder interior tribes, and whose effects farther eastward appear to be limited to the extreme western parts of New Guinea.
Such, in its broad outlines, seems to be the history of the development of Oceanic mythology. It is by no means impossible that some of the similarities in incident which have been cited as evidence of relationships may, after all, be found to be of independent origin. Yet where there is so much smoke, there must be some fire; and the drift of myth elements here suggested finds so much to corroborate it in other fields of Oceanic culture that we may accept the facts as complying with the fundamental rule that similarities, to be really significant, must be shown to conform to historically possible movements
or contacts. We do not, of course, intend for a moment to imply that such drifts and transmission of myth elements can explain all the mythology of the Oceanic area; for a large proportion, perhaps the majority, of myths have originated and developed within the several sections of the region in which they now occur, or are the outgrowth of imported elements which have been so profoundly modified that the original sources are wholly obscured. Into the question of the several curious resemblances between Oceanic and American mythology it is impossible to enter here. In large measure they contravene the rule just emphasized, since there is as yet no unimpeachable evidence for migrations between Oceania and America or vice versa, or even for definite contact; and such data as there are involve us in little more than a series of paradoxes. Until such contact or migration has been clearly established, Oceanic mythology must be regarded as essentially of Oceanic growth, although considerable elements of Asiatic origin have entered into the complex. Its history rests on that of the series of ethnic waves which, proceeding from southeastern Asia and its adjacent archipelagos, swept in intricate currents to the utmost verge of Oceania, bringing to each group and islet in the whole vast area its own peculiar heritage of tradition and belief.