January 20, 2011

Zomia and the rivers of SE Asia

Zomia
I just discovered the concept of Zomia, proposed in 2002 to describe the rather unruly highland areas of SE Asia running from Tibet to the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea. 

This area has come to the debates in this blog about the Great Eurasian colonization, as it is pivotal between South, Southeast and Mid-East Asia, the main regions of Eurasia where H. sapiens settled early on most likely. But until now I was unaware that it had a name.

The proposed name, Zomia, derives from Tibeto-Burman Zomi (also Mizo), meaning highlander or more strictly remote people

The borders do not exist. As member of a highlander (and yet coastal) people, I reckon that nearby lowlands are typically incorporated into the highlands and vice-versa. Yet the lowlands are also more open to foreign influences, more cosmopolitan and easy to conquer, while the highlands are the backbone of the people. 

So that's why I titled this article Zomia and the rivers... and not just Zomia: the mountains.  Because I do not think they can be detached from each other, at least not easily. 

For the reference: some blogs and media mentioning Zomia: Geocurrents, Loudcanary, Perspectives on Pan-Asianism, Freedom, Understanding Society.


I'm finding difficult to find a good map of the rivers of the area but the satellite map above can give a basic idea. Essentially the Zomia highlands enclose the following rivers:
  • Brahmaputra (by the West)
  • Irrawady
  • Chao Praya
  • Mekong
  • Red River
  • Pearl River (by the NE)
The northernmost implicated river is the Yangtze but this one is a region on its own, alone or with the Yellow and Pearl river basins. 

The main river is the Mekong, which, along the Chao Praya make up the largest lowland area of the whole region and what can be the heartland of Indochina (mainland SEA). But the other river areas also have their own personality. 

Following the premise of "coastal" (tropical) migration model, upon arrival to this area people must have formed several different populations, probably following the river-basins' logic to some extent. Burma (or Myanmar) appears here as a crossroads, allowing people to head northwards into Yunnan, southwards into Andaman and in SE direction into Sundaland (along the coast) and the Chao Praya and Mekong basin (not necessarily by the coast). 

So we can hypothesize at least four different populations resulting from this split after crossing into SE Asia. This is my best-guess reconstruction of the main population flows implied in East Eurasian (and partly All-Eurasian) genesis.


Now feel free to place the major lineages (mtDNA M derivates and all N, Y-DNA D, C and MNOPS) in each of those arrows as you think best. While not indicated there was also at some point a backflow in Westward direction (mtDNA N, R, Y-DNA P). 

I would say that the Irrawady basin (because of its crossroads characteristic) and the Chao Praya/Mekong basin (because of it greater size) must have been areas of certain relevance. However Sundaland and South China (Yangtze, Pearl River and coasts) also look like having played major roles.

14 comments:

  1. "I just discovered the concept of Zomia, proposed in 2002 to describe the rather unruly highland areas of SE Asia running from Tibet to the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea".

    Thanks. I'd never heard the name, but it sums up the non-Indian borderland region quite well.

    "This area has come to the debates in this blog about the Great Eurasian colonization, as it is pivotal between South, Southeast and Mid-East Asia"

    At least I've convinced you of that.

    "As member of a highlander (and yet coastal) people, I reckon that nearby lowlands are typically incorporated into the highlands and vice-versa".

    Certainly in Burma the hill people are considered distinct from the lowland people.

    "I'm finding difficult to find a good map of the rivers of the area but the satellite map above can give a basic idea".

    The Salween comes between the Irrawady and the Chao Praya. It flows through Burma. all the rivers basically flow south from the Tibetan highlands, although the Chinese ones flow east from there.

    "upon arrival to this area people must have formed several different populations, probably following the river-basins' logic to some extent".

    I am almost certain that the entry was via the hill country and then down the rivers, rather than the other way round as you propose. So your arrows in SE Asia should point in the other direction as they fanned out from Zomia.

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  2. "I am almost certain"...

    I am almost certain that the Great Spaghetti Monster created the universe on my birth day, not a minute earlier.

    For instance...

    I'm almost certain... almost rather than certain, but almost so in any case...

    Evidence? What for?! Reasoning? Why bother?! I am almost certain... almost...

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  3. "I am almost certain that the Great Spaghetti Monster created the universe on my birth day, not a minute earlier".

    Congratulations Maju. You've proved you're an idiot. Take a look at the evidence. There is no way that the expansion from Northeast India into SE Asia followed the coastline. The distribution of the haplogroups proves it was overland. Why don't you actually examine that distribution instead of sticking blindly to your 'great southern coastal migration theory'?

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  4. "The distribution of the haplogroups proves it was overland."

    This suggests it was overland, but there is a lot of history between then and now, so to figure out what it must have looked like then, you have to take the modern data and massage it heavily with judgment call laden analysis based on the history and hg distributions of neighboring areas.

    We know that there are several layers of migration probably from South China give or take (Hmong, Thai-Kendai, Austronesian and in some places Burmese) in the historic layer, plus probably at least one layer of pre-migration ancestral population (more likely at least two) whose linguistic traces have basically vanished in the lowlands of Southeast Asia.

    We can be almost certain that there are significant difference in the hg mix between 50,000 years ago and now.

    The highlands, as traditional refugia, probably have more layers in tact in the current population mix from the older time periods than the lowlands do -- providing more insight into the original population, but also making the analysis much more complicated and much less definitive. I also wouldn't be at all surprised to find that assumptions of uniformity throughout the region based on a few samples to date aren't any more valid than an assumption of uniformity in someplace like the Caucuses or the Nuba Mountains -- where there is massive locality to locality differentiation in compact geographic areas. Miss a valley or two in your sample and you could easily miss an entire layer of Paleolithic hgs -- it would be a bit like doing a Middle Eastern population genetic sampling and leaving out the Druze.

    This said, I do agree that if one wants to draw arrows in the right direction, one should be looking at the population genetic data that we do have.

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  5. " from South China give or take (. . . in some places Burmese)"

    Bad sentence structure there. Burmese is obviously not South Chinese in origin.

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  6. "We can be almost certain that there are significant difference in the hg mix between 50,000 years ago and now".

    Very true. As you say:

    "We know that there are several layers of migration probably from South China give or take (Hmong, Thai-Kendai, Austronesian and in some places Burmese) in the historic layer, plus probably at least one layer of pre-migration ancestral population (more likely at least two) whose linguistic traces have basically vanished in the lowlands of Southeast Asia".

    And as time goes by some of those migrations became more sea orientated. For example the Austro-Asiatic and later Austronesian westward and Indian Hindu and Muslim traders eastward. The westward migrations no doubt brought Eastern Haplogroups into India. For example Indian members of the M-derived haplogroups D, M8/CZ, M9, M10 and M12'G are almost certainly immigrants to India from the east. The Indian members of haplogroups M61, M31, M32, M40, M44 and M50 also possibly fit that scenario. But to me it's very unlikely that the early migrations were via the coast. Surely simply walking is a hole lot easier.

    "where there is massive locality to locality differentiation in compact geographic areas".

    Hence the diversity of haplogroups in the population that moved through the region.

    "I also wouldn't be at all surprised to find that assumptions of uniformity throughout the region based on a few samples to date aren't any more valid than an assumption of uniformity in someplace like the Caucuses or the Nuba Mountains"

    I doubt that there was ever uniformity in the region. The strife between Karens and the Burmese government is a continuation of that ancient diversity.

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  7. "... simply walking is a hole lot easier".

    You also walk along the coast. But a lot depends on your lifestyle and if you have a sea oriented lifestyle, even if it's strictly coastal, you will make and use boats and hence you'll use them at times to migrate. Similarly at rivers, lakes, swamps, etc.

    Depending on what you want, what you have, where you are and what you know you will or not use boats.

    "The strife between Karens and the Burmese government is a continuation of that ancient diversity".

    Blank slate claim sounding deeply wrong on first hearing.

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  8. "Blank slate claim sounding deeply wrong on first hearing".

    Do you know anything about Myanmar? The comment was in response to Andrew's idea of variety in the region. There certainly is plenty of variety, and the government seems to be doing their best to get rid of most of the minorities.

    "Depending on what you want, what you have, where you are and what you know you will or not use boats'.

    You will neither walk nor use a boat through a swamp. Very difficult, if not impossible, to get through.

    "if you have a sea oriented lifestyle, even if it's strictly coastal, you will make and use boats and hence you'll use them at times to migrate".

    You're making a huge assumption about ancient humans here. You seem to have a pathological need to place all human migrations along rivers or the coast. Why?

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  9. "Do you know anything about Myanmar? The comment was in response to Andrew's idea of variety in the region. There certainly is plenty of variety, and the government seems to be doing their best to get rid of most of the minorities".

    I know something and I know that extrapolating modern politics and ethnic reality to the Middle Paleolithic usually makes little sense, if at all.

    "You're making a huge assumption about ancient humans here. You seem to have a pathological need to place all human migrations along rivers or the coast. Why?"

    I do not know why that is pathological. Water means life, people live near water... nearly every form of life does.

    And there are rivers and lakes and marshes almost everywhere.

    So... I do not know how can you ignore all this.

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  10. "Water means life, people live near water... nearly every form of life does".

    But salt water isn't 'life'. It's not good for your health to drink it.

    "And there are rivers and lakes and marshes almost everywhere".

    Yes. Even in the mountains.

    Anyway if, in the first place, mtDNA M had entered India via the coast we should certainly expect to find basal M haplogroups in Gujarat. Several M4''64 haplogroups show promise. According to Chandrasekar M4 was found in two of the four Gujarat tribes and in the Rajasthan tribe he studied. With M30 we find an even better candidate, present in three of the four Gujarat tribes and the Rajasthan tribe. But M30 is found across Central North India and, according to Wikipedia, through the Middle East and into Africa. M37 is another possible candidate, found in Rajasthan and two of the Gujarat tribals. But these three haplogroups (M4, M30 and M37) are downstream mutations from M4''64, and the other M4''64 haplogroups tend to be Central Indian and, especially, East Indian. So we can dismiss M4''64 as being useful evidence supporting a coastal entry into India.

    The best possible useful basal haplogroup as a candidate is M57, also found in Rajasthan and two of the Gujarat samples. But it is part of M34'57 and M34 is South Indian and was not found in any of the five West Indian tribes. So M57 is probably an immigrant to Gujarat.

    M33a is another possible candidate for providing evidence of a coastal entry into India. But it was found in just one of the Gujarat tribes and in the Rajasthan, and M33b is Northeast Indian.

    So it looks very likely that Gujarat was settled only after much of India had already been occupied. And in support of this Chandrasekar discovered three M haplogroups from much further east, two East Asian haplogroups, D and G, and M44(usually associated with Austro-Asiatic speaking people), in the Gujarat tribals. So there has obviously been a movement west across India at some time. Perhaps that was the migration that was coastal.

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  11. There's a lot of life in salt water and you can eat it. But of course you need fresh water to drink (or lots of juicy fruit).

    "So it looks very likely that Gujarat was settled only after much of India had already been occupied".

    I do not think you have the data straight nor clear to make any such claim. I see no solid method in your exposition, no evidence anywhere in it.

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  12. "I do not think you have the data straight nor clear to make any such claim. I see no solid method in your exposition, no evidence anywhere in it".

    Do your own analysis of where the various M haplogroups are most likely to have coalesced then. And get back to me. I'll email you my updated list to help you on your way.

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  13. The art of not being govern is one of the most interesting books i've ever read in my whole life. however, i've got one problem with the term "Zomia". The term is coined by Dutch social scientist William Van Schendel after his field work in India's north-east. he actually borrow the term from the Mizo (some called themselves Zomi, Chin, Zo, Zhou etc) tribal of North East India. Since, i belong to this tribal group and i'm sure zomia is not a Mizo/Zomi term at all. Rather a corrupt form of Mizo/Zomi...to be precise, European mispronunciation of the Mizo language..

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  14. Hi there, Epistemology. I've checking your blog and photo-collection and looks interesting. Notably I observe you people still have room to practice the art of "goitibera" (Basque word meaning "from up downwards", and referring to those homemade cars children and young play with at sloped roads).

    Here it has become often too regulated: "dangerous" they say, not consumerist enough I'd think instead.

    Obviously Zomia is a western neologism, taken from the Mizo or other Tibeto-Burman languages. That is a no brainer. But how would you call it in Mizo or some other local language if at all?

    And, more important maybe, how real do you think the concept is regardless of the name?

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