Human settlement of Polynesia was a major event in world prehistory. Despite the vastness of the distances covered, research suggests that prehistoric Polynesian populations maintained spheres of continuing interaction for at least some period of time in some regions. A low level of genetic variation in ancestral Polynesian populations, genetic admixture (both prehistoric and post-European contact), and severe population crashes resulting from introduction of European diseases make it difficult to trace prehistoric human mobility in the region by using only human genetic and morphological markers. We focus instead on an animal that accompanied the ancestral Polynesians on their voyages. DNA phylogenies derived from mitochondrial control-region sequences of Pacific rats (Rattus exulans) from east Polynesia are presented. A range of specific hypotheses regarding the degree of interaction within Polynesia are tested. These include the issues of multiple contacts between central east Polynesia and the geographically distinct archipelagos of New Zealand and Hawaii. Results are inconsistent with models of Pacific settlement involving substantial isolation after colonization and confirm the value of genetic studies on commensal species for elucidating the history of human settlement.