Since modern man began to leave the continent of Africa nearly 70,000 years ago, practically every inch of the inhabitable earth has been reached by human settlers. Today, we base so much of our identity on our nationality; where we think we come from, and where our ancestors originated.
The far-flung islands of Polynesia were the last places to be populated and current inhabitants are thought to have come from South East Asia. On their long-stretching trade voyages, Malaysian seafarers judged the distance they had travelled using charts, creating early forms of maps such as this one from the Marshall Islands.
The sticks recorded ocean swells and the sea shells represent islands strung throughout the North Pacific. The skilled seamen used ‘way-finding’ navigation based on their observations of the sea, sky and monsoon winds.
According to the International Organization for Migration, “No universally accepted definition for ‘migrant’ exists.” However, the term is generally applied to groups of people moving from one area to another in order to settle and improve their way of life.
In man’s earlier days this meant conquering unknown lands and seas that had never been seen before, but in present society, asking ‘How did you get here?’ may be ever more relevant as populations become more and more ethnically diverse for so many reasons.
Imagine your local area experiences a natural disaster like a flood. Where would you go? Nowadays it is easy for some of us to travel around, but for people in developing countries and indeed for many of our predecessors, it wasn’t as simple as getting into a vehicle or following a map.
Ask someone where they’re from and most will answer without hesitation, with the country of their birth, their upbringing or their parents’ home country. Science can now tell us, using techniques such as DNA testing, how our genes decide who we are but also from whom exactly we have come.
Should the National DNA Database be used to help people find out about their personal ancestry?
What does your nationality mean to you?
The Sailing chart of the Marshall islands is in the Who Am I gallery, on the first floor in the Wellcome Wing
-Ruby O’ Shea