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Melanesian culture, the beliefs and also practices that the indigenous peoples that the ethnogeographic team of Pacific Islands well-known as Melanesia. Indigenous northwest to southeast, the islands type an arc that starts with brand-new Guinea (the western half of i beg your pardon is called Papua and also is part of Indonesia, and also the eastern half of i m sorry comprises the independent nation of Papua new Guinea) and continues v the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (formerly new Hebrides), new Caledonia, Fiji, and numerous smaller islands. The Andesite Line, a geological attribute of excessive volcanic and earthquake activity, separates Melanesia native Polynesia in the east and from Micronesia in the north, follow me the Equator; in the south, Melanesia is bounded by the Tropic the Capricorn and Australia. Melanesia’s name was obtained from the Greek melas ‘black’ and also nesoi ‘islands’ due to the fact that of the dark skin that its inhabitants. In the at an early stage 21st century the population of Melanesia was about 10 million.

Although the prehistory of many of island Melanesia has not been completely documented, evidence argues that the cultural, linguistic, and also political fragmentation that prevailed at the time of europe arrival, through a half-dozen languages and also cultures regularly represented ~ above a single island, was partially a product of transformation that had developed during the vault 2,000 years. Ordered political systems and also associated trade networks seem come have broken down throughout this duration and appear to have been attach by the enhancing separation of language or dialect groups. The reasons of these transformations, perhaps consisting of internecine warfare and the spread out of diseases (malaria in particular), stay unclear. These changes were increased by european arrival, which more disrupted profession systems, intensified intercommunity warfare by giving firearms, thinned populations by introducing diseases and also indentured labour, and also eroded classic authority systems.


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Europeans first exerted colonial influence in Melanesia in 1660, once the netherlands announced sovereignty over new Guinea in an initiative to keep other nations from encroaching top top the eastern finish of the rewarding Dutch eastern Indies (now Indonesia). End the next several century Britain, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, and also Japan each established colonial insurance claims to miscellaneous parts of Melanesia. Colonial disruptions continued throughout the 20th century and also into the 21st.

Contemporary Melanesia

The early american processes that resulted in the native peoples the Melanesia come become part of the human being economic system contained the pressures of Christianization and Westernization. In some locations these pressures have operated for an ext than a century. In other areas, however, specifically the interior highlands of new Guinea, western penetration came as late together the 1930s or, in part places, the 1950s. By the at an early stage 21st century, even the most remote regions had end up being accessible, and also they have been transformed. Squatter negotiations on urban peripheries abound, and also migration into towns is progressively common, with both phenomena offer to link village and city life.


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New Caledonia: open-pit nickel mine
Open-pit nickel mine top top mainland brand-new Caledonia.
Bob and Ira Spring

These develops of economic development have brought about the formerly classless Melanesian cultures to become class-stratified, through politicians, public servants, and entrepreneurs constituting an arising elite. Moreover, at the very least in the English-speaking areas, the elites progressively share a usual (Westernized and consumerist) society and common political and also economic interests the cut throughout cultural, linguistic, and also national boundaries.

Among the new elite, social nationalist ideologies have actually tended to emphasis on classic customs (kastom) and also “the Melanesian way.” social revivalism has become a prominent theme. Arts festivals, cultural centres, and also ideologies that kastom have actors in a an ext positive irradiate the traditional social elements, such together ceremonial exchange, dance and also music, and also oral traditions, that had actually long been suppressed by the more conservative and evangelistic develops of Christianity. The emphasis on traditional society as a resource of identity finds expression in the perpetuation or rebirth of old solution of exchange. In Papua new Guinea, the kula exchange of covering armbands and also necklaces continues in the Massim an ar (in southeastern Papua new Guinea), carried on through air take trip and among politicians, professionals, and public servants, and by villagers in canoes. Members that the brand-new elite quiet conspicuously pay bridewealth in shell valuables.


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dance of spirit impersonation
Dance of spirit impersonation, Ambrym Island, Vanuatu.
Karl Muller/Woodfin Camp and Associates

Traditional Melanesia

In the past, Melanesia to be a meeting ground that two cultural traditions and populations: Papuans and Austronesians. The earliest, or Papuan, tradition is ancient. Papuans inhabited the Sahul continent (now partly submerged) at least 40,000 years ago. Together hunting and gathering peoples whose methods of life were adjusted to the tropic rainforest, they populated the equatorial zone the the continent, which ended up being the large island of brand-new Guinea ~ sea levels increased at the finish of the Pleistocene.


Modern progeny of these at an early stage populations speak languages that belong come a number of different family members that together are categorized together Papuan languages. Papuan peoples domesticated root crops and also sugarcane and also may have kept residential pigs as beforehand as 9,000 years ago, contemporaneous v the dawn of farming in the middle East. By 5,000 years back agricultural manufacturing in components of the new Guinea highlands had incorporated systems of water control and swine husbandry, both of which to be intensified over succeeding millennia.

About 4,000 years ago, Austronesian peoples moved right into the area, arriving by sea indigenous Southeast Asia. Through 3,500 years back they had occupied parts of the islands of the Bismarck Archipelago. Their visibility is significant by the figure of the distinctive pottery, tools, and also shell accessories that define the Lapita culture. They speak an Austronesian language related to languages that the Philippines and Indonesia and ancestral to plenty of of the language of coastal eastern new Guinea; much of the Bismarck Archipelago; the Solomons, Vanuatu, and brand-new Caledonia; and also those of main and east Micronesia and Polynesia.

Evidence the long-distance trade, specifically of covering ornaments and also obsidian, suggests that the widely spread communities characterized by the Lapita tradition had become linked politics by 3,000–3,500 years ago. The negotiation of eastern Micronesia by Austronesian speakers, possibly from the Solomons, apparently took place during this period. Fiji was initially colonized by Lapita peoples and became a springboard to the negotiation of west Polynesia. The Austronesian speakers, who had a maritime orientation and sophisticated seagoing technology, probably had a device of hereditary chiefs v political-religious authority. They additionally had sophisticated cosmologies and complex religious equipment that were similar to those tape-recorded in western Polynesia.

The Bismarck Archipelago east of brand-new Guinea was currently occupied by speakers of Papuan languages as soon as the Austronesians arrived. The populaces that now occupy the archipelago and the arcs the islands expanding to the southeast represent the mixing of Papuan and Austronesian peoples and also cultures. The mix may have taken place mostly within the Bismarcks before the archipelago to the southeast to be settled, return the precise processes involved and the relative contributions the these historic populations room debated. A an excellent deal of economic interchange take it place between the Austronesian peoples, whose economies were based upon root- and tree-crop cultivation and on marine technology, and the Papuans, who additionally had well-developed agricultural and technical systems. The is probable the an interchange that other cultural traditions, native social organization to religion, took location as well. However, part Austronesian-speaking communities—perhaps those that preserved their maritime orientation—appear to have remained relatively isolated from intermarriage and cultural interchange.

Although the mix that Austronesian and also Papuan cultural elements varies across Melanesia, in plenty of ways the joint group of both Austronesian peoples and also Papuan peoples as Melanesians—in contrast to Micronesians and Polynesians—does a disservice to the ethnological, linguistic, and also archaeological evidence. The Austronesians of northern Vanuatu and also the southeastern Solomons speak languages very closely concerned those the Polynesia and eastern Micronesia. Culturally, Austronesians room in plenty of ways more closely regarded these other Austronesian-speaking peoples than come the Papuans the interior new Guinea. Their religious systems space also similar to those in Polynesia and, for example, incorporate such ideas as mana (“potency”) and, in the Solomons, tapu (“sacred”; see taboo).

Settlement patterns

In many areas of Melanesia, local groups lived in scattered homesteads and hamlets fairly than villages. Frequently these settlements were occupied for brief periods till the teams moved on come follow growing cycles. In general, larger, an ext permanent settlements were properties of seaside environments, and smaller, moving ones to be characteristic of interior areas. Where communities were in danger of surprise attack, they had tendency to cluster more closely. In interior locations they were commonly sited top top ridges and also peaks.

In components of the Sepik river area that Papua new Guinea, large villages—some with populaces of much more than 1,000 people—represented the aggregation of descent-based regional groups. In the Trobriand archipelago (in the Massim area the southeastern Papua brand-new Guinea), villages of as much as 200 world were arrayed approximately a main dance ground. Villages at the very least as large were packed with each other on coral communication in the lagoons of northern Malaita, in the Solomon Islands.

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Residential separation of men and also women to be common. Women and also children commonly occupied domestic dwellings, when men stayed in clubhouses or cult houses, a emphasis of ritual and also military solidarity usual in many locations of Melanesia. The substantial cult houses of the Sepik flow basin and the southerly Papuan shore are examples. In the mountainous internal of brand-new Guinea, men’s longhouses were developed as defenses against the danger of raiding and also as centres that cult activities.