Scientists unravel genetic ancestry of Indonesian people


A recent study which combined a historical approach with genetics research concluded that the dichotomy between “native” and “migrant” should never have become a subject of debate in the first place.

The research, conducted in collaboration between magazine and the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology, tried to unravel the ancestral roots of Indonesian people.

“It turns out that no one is truly native, as Indonesians are a mix of different genetic groups of people who migrated from Africa,” Herawati Sudoyo, the deputy director of the institute, told Anadolu Agency.

Herawati Sudoyo, deputy director of Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology

[Herawati Sudoyo, deputy director of Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology]

Indonesia is made up of more than 500 tribes who speak over 700 ethnic languages and are spread over more than 17,000 islands.

Sudoyo said the conclusion is based on the results of DNA samples that have been collected and analyzed from 70 ethnic populations from 12 islands in Indonesia. The DNA mapping has allowed scientists to decode the origins of their ancestors.

She also explained that early human migrations are believed to have begun approximately 1.8 million years ago.

It started with the first early human Homo Erectus who migrated from Africa all the way to Central Asia in the direction of the rising sun.

The traces of their survival were identified from artifacts that have been found across Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and China.

“Humans may have evolved, but DNA has not changed over time,” she added.

Bonnie Triyana, the editor-in-chief of, said that over the past two decades, identity politics has sought to divide Indonesian people.

He said identity politics comes in the form of an anti-ethnic Chinese sentiment that emerged during the “New Order” — the term coined by Indonesia’s second President Suharto, to characterize his regime as he came to power in a 1966 transition — which is still observed today.

According to Triyana, identity politics is also manifested in a sentiment towards Papuans — an ethnic group that inhabits the eastern regions of the country — on the grounds that they are of a different skin color and culture.

“The identity issue is also deliberately used in general and local elections for short-term electoral interests,” he said.

Triyana said historical arguments had not been strong enough to oppose the politics of identity that had taken place.

“In fact, the exact scientific approach, through DNA testing, can prove that we are actually diverse,” he said.

With the knowledge of the origin of Indonesians based on the DNA evidence, he conveyed his hopes that it can build tolerance and help maintain national integrity.

The research also examined the DNA of 16 Indonesian public figures, and unveiled shocking results.

Based on the DNA test results, Najwa Shihab, a well-known TV host of Arab descent, is only 3.48% Middle Eastern.

The results revealed that she is 48.54% South Asian and 26.81% North African.

The results also showed that the Papua-born Melanesian jazz singer Edo Kondologit had ancestors from China, where most of the ethnicities are known for having light skin. Melanesians are predominant inhabitants of the Melanesia Islands in the Pacific area including the countries of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea.

Historian from Indonesian Institute of Sciences Asvi Warman said Indonesia was established as a nation when the Youth Pledge — a declaration by young Indonesian nationalists, proclaiming the ideals of one motherland, one nation and one language — was declared on Oct. 27, 1928 and strengthened by the declaration of independence on Aug. 17, 1945.

“Indonesia is a new nation formed by the collaboration of various elements of historical experience, not [only] from natives or non-natives,” said Warman.

He said Indonesia has experienced too many horrific incidents stemming from identity politics of indigenous versus non-indigenous.

“Therefore, the results of this research should be able to maintain nationalism while raising a [new] conception of Indonesian nationality,” he added.

Indonesia has tried to eradicate identity conflicts by amending the 1945 Constitution in 2001.

The amendment changed the criteria for presidential candidates, who were originally “native Indonesian” to “Indonesian citizen since birth”.

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