Pacific Islands Culture

Pacific Islands Culture Introduction The Pacific Ocean, covering one-thirds of the world’s surface has over 25,000 islands, but the term PacificIslands refers to the 7,500 islands in tropical and sub-tropical areas away from the Pacific Rim. Only a little more than 10% of these islands are populated. Lal amp. Fortune (2000, p.xv) state that the islands have a great diversity of cultures, and are of varying sizes and shapes, with complex histories of geological and natural evolution. The three main culturally differentiated groups of Pacific islands are: Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. These groups of islands have both differences as well as commonalities based on culture, social structure, and historical experience.
Thesis Statement: The purpose of this paper is to investigate the heritage and cultural differences among various natives of the Pacific Islands.
Populations migrating from other regions such as Africa and Asia began colonizing the islands over 35,000 years ago. Over the millennia, there were numerous encounters of the settlers with the outside world. Of over 6.3 million currently living in the Pacific Islands, the majority of the population of around 84% live in Melanesia, only around 9% live in Polynesia and approximately 7% live in Micronesia (Eccleston et al, 1998).
Melanesia is related to the Greek words melas which means black and nesos (islands). it refers to the physical appearance of the indigenous inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji and Solomon Islands (Eccleston et al, 1998, p.249). Polynesia is related to the Greek word poly (many). It forms a triangular group of islands including Hawaii in the north, Aotearoa/ New Zealand in the south-west to Rapanul/ Easter Island in the south-east. The single culture in this unique triangle is reduced by the intrusion of colonialism. Indigenous Polynesians maintain effective sovereignty to some extent only in the inner islands, excluding the peripheral ones. Micronesia from micros (small) encompass the Northern Marianas in the north, Palau in the west, and Kiribati in the south-east. The smaller islands of Micronesia have societies similar to those in Polynesia. they are ruled by indigenous hereditary aristocracies both before and after contact with colonial powers (Eccleston et al, 1998, p.249). In comparison with Polynesia and Micronesia, in most of Melanesia with some exceptions like Fiji which is on the boundary, the societies are more egalitarian with equality among men. contrastingly however, gender inequalities are greater.
Originating from the Fujian province of southern China, seafaring people who spoke the Austronesian language, settled in the distant parts of Melanesia, all of Polynesia and all of Micronesia. Their influence is still evident in Micronesia, Polynesia, and coastal areas of Melanesia, where in past centuries Austronesians formed a relatively homogenous political economy, society, culture and linguistic community on these previously uninhabited islands (Eccleston et al, 1998, p.249). The languages of the Pacific Islands belong to two distinct families: Austronesian and Papuan. The former are genetically related being of a common origin, while not all of the 750 Papuan languages are genetically related. The Papuan languages belong to 60 different language families each with its common ancestral language (Lal amp. Fortune, 2000, p.64).
The first Christian missionaries to arrive from 1521 were the first to develop written systems for the languages of the Pacific Islands. Nearly 20% of the world’s languages are spoken in the Pacific Islands, with 1000 indigenous languages for a total population of under 10 million. Additionally, English is the predominant language. and both English and French are widely used as national languages and as the medium of education. Local vernaculars are also used as the language of education, especially in Polynesia which is unlike Melanesia in that it has only one vernacular per island state. While Easter Island has Spanish, various pidgin languages are used in the islands. specifically in Melanesia there are numerous vernacular languages. It is also noteworthy that there is extensive multilingualism in local vernacular languages throughout the region (Lal amp. Fortune, 2000, p.63). In the Micronesian states, alongside English are taught Micronesian languages for which practical orthographies were developed.
Among some traits common to all Pacific Islanders were household-based subsistence economies (Oliver, 1989, p.154), and ownership of land by kinsmen. Additionally, some unique multidimensional cultural features common to the islanders was their maritime accomplishments. Particulary Micronesia and Polynesia were highly skilled in building and operating boats, and devised information systems for navigating those boats hundreds of miles at sea. However, none of the populations of the Pacific Islands had successfully invented metallurgy, wheeled transport or written language.
Polynesia consisted of 20 or more societies of people speaking closely-related languages, had common cosmological beliefs and religious practices, and had similar social relationships, due to their relatively recent derivation from a single cultural source (Oliver, 1989, p.26). However, Polynesians had diverse modes of working for their subsistence, from fishing, dependence on one or two tree crops to cultivation of a wide variety of crops. In Micronesia, though several societies had similar cosmologies, social institutions and subsistence technologies, there were cultural differences in the western and southeastern ends. At the same time, in Melanesia, the hundreds of societies had great cultural diversity, but had large homogeneous groups in the huge scale of the group of islands.
This paper has highlighted the heritage and the cultural differences among various populations of the Pacific Islands. It is found that numerous cultural features are similar such as land ownership by kin-groups, skills in boat making and sailing, and social relationships to a great extent. However, the diversity of languages is unique. and there was a wide variety of subsistence technologies. Thus, the evidence indicates that the immense number of islands in Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia have great diversity as well as some similarities in their cultural aspects.
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