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Melanesia is a subregion of Oceania extending from the western end of the Pacific Oceanmarker to the Arafura Seamarker, and eastward to Fijimarker. The region comprises most of the islands immediately north and northeast of Australia. The name Melanesia (from Greek: μέλας black, νῆσος island) literally means "islands of the black-skinned people".

The term was first used by Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1832 to denote an ethnic and geographical grouping of islands distinct from Polynesia and Micronesia.


The term Melanesia can be used in either an anthropological or a geographical context. In the former, the term refers to one of the three regions of Oceania whose pre-colonial population generally belongs to one ethno-cultural family as a result of centuries of maritime migrations.

The geographic conception of Melanesia is used as a reference to the area where political, ethnic, and linguistic distinctions are not relevant.

The term is also present in geopolitics, where the Melanesian Spearhead Group Preferential Trade Agreement is a regional trade treaty involving the states of Vanuatumarker, Solomon Islandsmarker, Papua New Guineamarker and Fijimarker.


The original inhabitants of the group of islands now named Melanesia were likely the ancestors of the present-day Papuan-speaking people. They appear to have occupied these islands as far east as the main islands in the Solomon Islandsmarker, including Makiramarker and possibly the smaller islands farther to the east.

It was particularly along the north coast of New Guinea and in the islands north and east of New Guinea that the Austronesian people came into contact with these preexisting populations of Papuan-speaking peoples, probably around 4,000 years ago. There was probably a long period of interaction that resulted in many complex changes in genetics, languages, and culture. It is likely that from this area a very small group of people (speaking an Austronesian language) departed to the east to become the forebears of the Polynesian people. This finding is, however, contradicted by a study published by Temple Universitymarker finding that Polynesians and Micronesians have little genetic relation to Melanesians; instead, they found significant distinctions between groups living within the Melanesian islands. Genome scans show Polynesians have little genetic relationship to Melanesians.


Formerly, in most parts of the area, leaders were chosen not through inheritance, but based on their personality. Key qualities were the candidates' power of persuasion, choosing high-placed women as sexual partners, and other physical qualities such as combat skills.

Today, however, because of the Western influences of colonisation, the island countries of the southwest Pacific have similar, European-style governments, and leadership is thus taken up by democratically elected officials. Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea are constitutional monarchies. Parliaments in the region use English or French, a legacy of colonial rule. Traditional leaders in some islands still have considerable social power.

Associated Islands

The following islands and groups of islands since the 19th century have been considered part of Melanesia:

Norfolk Island, listed above, and Rotumamarker in Fiji are culturally and ethnologically considered to be outliers of Polynesia, and are only considered Melanesian in a geographical context.

Based on ethnological factors, some of the islands to the west of the Moluccas, such as Floresmarker, Sumbamarker, Timormarker, Halmaheramarker, Alor, and Pantar can also be considered to be part of Melanesia, although most people in this area do not make use of the term.

See also


  2. Tradional Peoples of the World by National Geographic

External links

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