Assessing Human Genome-wide Variation in the Massim Region of Papua New Guinea and Implications for the Kula Trading Tradition

Dang Liu, Benjamin M. Peter, Wulf Schiefenhövel, Manfred Kayser*, Mark Stoneking*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The Massim, a cultural region that includes the southeastern tip of mainland Papua New Guinea (PNG) and nearby PNG offshore islands, is renowned for a trading network called Kula, in which different valuable items circulate in different directions among some of the islands. Although the Massim has been a focus of anthropological investigation since the pioneering work of Malinowski in 1922, the genetic background of its inhabitants remains relatively unexplored. To characterize the Massim genomically, we generated genome-wide SNP data from 192 individuals from 15 groups spanning the entire region. Analyzing these together with comparative data, we found that all Massim individuals have variable Papuan-related (indigenous) and Austronesian-related (arriving ?3,000 years ago) ancestries. Individuals from Rossel Island in southern Massim, speaking an isolate Papuan language, have the highest amount of a distinct Papuan ancestry. We also investigated the recent contact via sharing of identical by descent (IBD) genomic segments and found that Austronesian-related IBD tracts are widely distributed geographically, but Papuan-related tracts are shared exclusively between the PNG mainland and Massim, and between the Bismarck and Solomon Archipelagoes. Moreover, the Kula-practicing groups of the Massim show higher IBD sharing among themselves than do groups that do not participate in Kula. This higher sharing predates the formation of Kula, suggesting that extensive contact between these groups since the Austronesian settlement may have facilitated the formation of Kula. Our study provides the first comprehensive genome-wide assessment of Massim inhabitants and new insights into the fascinating Kula system.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbermsac165
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
. This study was supported by the Max Planck Society

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.


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