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The Melanesian Dwarf Tribe of Aiome, New Guinea

  • R. Ruggles Gates


The Aiome dwarf tribe in the mountains near the Ramu river and its southern tributaries was studied. Observations, measurements and photographs were made of 15 men and five women who came in a party to the Aiome airstrip. The measurements are embodied in Table 1 (p. 280). They include eye and skin colour; head length and breadth; ear length and breadth and the presence of a lobe; stature; development of brow ridges and relative depression of the nasal root. Other observations are in the text. The mean male stature was 147.9 cm which is roughly the same as that of the Congo Pygmies. The shortest woman was only 125.5 cm. high. The C.I. of the men was 78.51 and the ears are smaller than in most races.

The head-dress, decorations and “dances” are illustrated in Figs. 1-18.

The skin colour of Papuans is a shade lighter than in the Australian aborigines. In a study of skin colour of Papuans, Macintosh (1960) finds that the natives recognize and have names for three shades of colour. These appear to be due to (1) the homozygous (2) the heterozygous condition, and (3) the absence, of a minor gene for skin colour.

The fact that the blood group genes A, B, M, S, R1 and R2 of the Aiome dwarfs are closely similar to those of the tails in the Mount Hagen area justifies the conclusion that a single gene dwarf mutation is involved. The Aiome and Wissel Lake dwarfs (400 miles apart) differ greatly in the frequency of the A, M, S and R2 (cDE) genes, but agree in the B and R1 (CDe) frequencies. The blood groups of the Congo Pygmies similarly agree with those of the Bantu, from whose ancestors they may have been derived.

The early literature regarding dwarf races is reviewed and the question of a Negrito race in southeast Asia is discussed. It is concluded that the term Negrito should probably be confined to the dwarf race in the Philippines. They perhaps reached the Philippines from Borneo when the sea-level was down during the last ice age.

On the basis particularly of skull form, the Andamanese were probably derived from the tall population of adjacent Malaya or Burma. The significance of their steatopygy and peppercorn hair is not clear, as these characters are found in the South African Bushmen.

The Semang of Malaya are mixed and of doubtful origin. The dwarf nature and relationships of the Kadar in South India remains uncertain. The incised designs on their wooden combs suggests a possible very ancient cultural connection with the Malayan dwarfs and the Philippine Negritos. A Negrito-like remnant in Queensland may represent in part the source from which the Tasmanian aborigines developed. The Veddas are outside the Negrito grouping. They are probably Australoids of reduced dimensions who migrated to Ceylon during the last ice age.

The various dwarf groups in New Guinea are of local (and probably relatively recent) origin, having no connection with Negritos, who appear to be of much earlier origin, probably before the last ice age. Various localities with populations of different mean stature are listed in Table 3, and others are mentioned in the text.

A statistical treatment of Bijlmer's measurements of stature, nasal and cephalic index, with the aid of Dr. Fraser Roberts, shows that many of the groups in Dutch New Guinea are significantly different. A fuller statistical investigation dealing with both stature and blood groups, is required to elucidate this situation. A tentative hypothesis is put forward, involving the fractionation of the original dwarf gene in the process of back-crossing between tails and dwarfs.

In New Guinea the coastal people are the tallest, those in the higher mountain areas are conspicous dwarfs, populations in intermediate areas being shorter in different degrees than the coastal tribes. That crossing takes place is shown by the occurrence of occasional men who are much taller than the rest of their group or tribe. Further studies of Papuan statures should also throw light on the origin of multiple genes for stature.

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The Melanesian Dwarf Tribe of Aiome, New Guinea

  • R. Ruggles Gates


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