The islands of the Pacific are divided into three main groups - Melanesia which lies mostly to the south of the Equator, Micronesia which lies mainly to the north of the Equator and Polynesia which covers a huge area to the east.
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Melanesia is taken from the Greek words melas which means black and nesos which means island. Melanesia includes Papua, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji. The people are very dark skinned with Afro hair and are thought to have their origins in East Africa migrating by ways of Indonesia.
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Welcome to Melanesia! Melanesia is that special place in the Pacific that has something for everyone. Rich in resources and with a multiplicity of people with rich and diverse cultures, customs, rituals, myths and legends, the countries of Melanesia are well worth a visit.
Outline map of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia
Please join me on a journey through the fascinating and enchanting islands of Melanesia.
The Pacific Islands
The islands of the Pacific, with their beauty and romance, have always gripped man's imagination. Raised above the sea, in wondrous and spectacular splendour, they shimmer like an oasis. For those of us in need of solitude and adventure, these beautiful tropical islands also offer an escape - a place of refuge, serenity and excitement. In their greenness and freshness, the islands conjure up visions of unending youth and a heavenly paradise - crystal sea, sparkling white sand and surf, golden yellow rays of sunshine - a dawn to night sky of superb colours - from sapphire-blue to topaz and turquoise, garnet and ruby to amethyst, citrine and peridot to the unique mystique of a theatrical curtain of exquisite Tahitian black pearl and onyx, gloriously enhanced by a galaxy of brilliant starlight diamonds - illuminated and moonlit by a majestic mother-of-pearl - encapsulated by the jubilant embrace of delightfully cool prevailing trade winds. Of these wonderful dream-worlds, it is Oceania that offers the most beautiful, enchanting and magnificent chains of pure and natural multicoloured gem-clustered islands.
The term Oceania is normally used to designate all the islands of the Central and the South Pacific including Australia (continent), New Zealand, and sometimes the Malay Archipelago. On this Web site, the focus is primarily directed towards the Pacific Islands of Melanesia (including Papua - formerly Irian Jaya), Micronesia and Polynesia (including the Polynesian nation of Hawai'i), as well as both Australia and New Zealand.
migration, thousands of years later, of the ancestors of the present day
Polynesian out of Asia, brought with it languages and dialects that were
essentially Asian in origin and which developed into the present day languages
of Polynesia. Until recently, archaeologists had believed that Polynesian
people came from Taiwan. Interestingly, recent studies of DNA in Taiwan has
provided some interesting conclusions about the origins of the Polynesian and
Certainly, linguistic studies have pointed to the fact that the Polynesians, undoubtedly the greatest seafarers in history, have their origins in Taiwan. Of the 23 million people in Taiwan, only 400,000 are descendants from the original inhabitants. These people originally spoke a language belonging to the Austronesian group which is unrelated to Chinese but includes the Polynesian tongues.
DNA studies of the original group found three mutations shared by Taiwanese, Polynesians and Melanesians, who also speak Austronesian. These mutations are not found in other Asians and hence suggest that the Polynesians and Melanesians have their origins in the original inhabitants of Taiwan. Indeed, genetic studies have now suggested that the ancestors of the sailors of the great canoes started out further along the trail in eastern Indonesia.
These seafarers moved eastward in small groups around the top of the Melanesian archipelago until they reached Fiji. Using Fiji as a staging area, some eventually sailed on to uninhabited Tonga and Samoa. To have developed the physical types, language and culture that the Polynesians share in common, these Polynesian forebears must have been isolated for a time in a home group of islands. A chain of archaeological discoveries leads us to believe that this isolation started in the islands of Tonga and Samoa roughly 3,000 years ago.
Beginning in 1909 in New Britain, archaeologists have found a type of pre-historic decorated pottery at various Melanesian sites. In 1947, samples were also excavated in Fiji, Melanesia's easternmost extension. Five years later the same pottery was uncovered at Lapita in New Caledonia. Now called Lapita-style pottery, these artifacts clearly trace the visits and attempted settlements of a maritime people moving along a Melanesian route towards Polynesia.
Lapita pottery was excavated in Tonga in 1963, and has recently been found in Samoa as well - both in western Polynesia. Tonga is the longest inhabited island group in Polynesia, with radiocarbon dates as early as 1140 B.C. Thus we conclude that Tonga's first settlers, the people who made Lapita ware, were the first true Polynesians. Language ties indicate that this migration continued via Samoa eastward to the Marquesas where the oldest sites in Eastern Polynesia have been found.
Far to the southeast of the Marquesas lies evidence of a truly remarkable feat - a voyage to Easter Island (Rapa Nui), some 2,400 miles away, in the face of prevailing winds and currents. Polynesia's easternmost outpost, Easter Island is not only the most isolated inhabited island in the Pacific, but it is also only 15 miles long. Assessing its chances of being discovered by early Polynesians, we can conclude only that their sailing canoes were already capable of traversing the breadth of the Pacific, and that on one such voyage, Easter Island was fortuitously sighted. Radiocarbon dating in 1955-56 indicates its discovery and settlement as early as A.D. 400.
The sites on Easter Island show clear evidence, when considered in conjunction with the archaeology and languages of the Society and Marquesas Islands, indicate strongly that the pre-historic culture of Easter Island could have evolved from a single landing of Polynesians from a Marquesan Island. These Polynesians would have been fully equipped to colonize an uninhabited volcanic island. Their success in making this windswept sixty-four square miles, without an edible native plant, not only habitable but also the seat of remarkable cultural achievements, is testimony to the genius of these Polynesian settlers.
A study of excavated adzes, fishhooks, ornaments and other artifacts indicates that Tahiti and the other Society Islands must have been settled soon after the Marquesas. Present information indicates that Hawaii and New Zealand were settled after A.D. 500. Radiocarbon techniques permit us to assign tentative dates to this entire Pacific migration: entry into West Polynesia about 1000 B.C., reaching East Polynesia about the time of Christ, completing the occupation by A.D. 1000.
Having reached the Pacific's farthest outpost, the early Polynesians possessed the skills to return. It is doubtful that one-way voyages could account for the early presence in the Hawaiian Islands, for example, of twenty odd cultivated plants of Tahiti and the Marquesas. Thus we conclude that the early Hawaiians repeatedly negotiated the longest sea route in Polynesia returning to Tahiti and then again to Hawaii, known as "Child of Tahiti".
The Polynesians in the Pacific generally occupy an area referred to as the Polynesian Triangle. The Polynesian Triangle has Hawaii in the north, New Zealand in the south, and Easter Island in the east. The lines drawn from Hawaii to New Zealand bends westward to include the Ellice Islands (Tuvalu) and passing between Fiji and Tonga. The north to south line forms the base with its apex on the path of the rising sun, located 4000 miles to the east. The Marquesas lie almost to the center of the eastern line, from Easter in the south to Hawaii in the north, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti and Cook Islands are surrounded by the triangle. New Zealand, the farthest south group of Polynesian islands is home to the Maori people.
Almost lost in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean are the tiny islands, the remarkable people and the ancient architecture of Micronesia. Across a distance of nearly 2000 miles, the archipelago of Micronesia encompasses a land area of only 271 square miles. It is believed that the original inhabitants of Micronesia came from the Philippines and Indonesia about 1500 years before Christ. The islands of Micronesia (and Polynesia) collectively comprise the last major region of the globe to be settled by humans. Both of these groups of islands were colonized within the last 5,000 years by Austronesian-speaking agriculturists. In the past, linguistic studies have been a major factor in suggesting the origins of both the Micronesian and Polynesian people who, in the main, are of medium stature with straight hair and brown skin.
Micronesia means 'small islands' and is derived from the Greek words mikros which means small and nesos which means island. This is a perfect way to describe these over two thousand tropical islands scattered across the heart of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines. They are spread over a great distance, yet each has its own culture, history, customs, rituals, myths and legends, lifestyle and topographical personality. The islands of Micronesia include the Federated States of Micronesia (Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk and Yap), Guam, Palau, Saipan, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Kiribati.
In a DNA study undertaken in 1994, head hair in Micronesia was used to obtain DNA samples. The study was undertaken in order to compare the genetic relationships of various Micronesian groups to other Pacific Islanders and Asians and their languages. The study examined DNA that is found within mitochondria (mtDNA), small cellular bodies that function as the energy factories and storehouses of our cells. Mitochondria are inherited from the body of the mother's fertilized egg, and are transmitted maternally to the next generation. Consequently, this analysis ignores inheritance from a father.
In general, this study found that the majority of mtDNA sequences from Micronesian and Polynesian populations are derived from Asia, whereas others are inferred to have originated in New Guinea. The data supported the concept of an Island Southeast Asian origin and a colonization route along the north coast of New Guinea. The Marianas and the main island of Yap appear to have been independently settled directly from Island Southeast Asia, and both have received migrants from Central-Eastern Micronesia since then. Palau clearly demonstrates a complex prehistory including a significant influx of lineages from New Guinea. In addition, Chamorro mtDNA is very distinctive when compared to other Micronesians and Polynesians. This suggests that the Marianas have a different settlement history than the rest of Micronesia. Thus genetic similarities among Micronesian and Polynesian populations result, in some cases, from a common origin and, in others, from extensive gene flow. As well as showing that Micronesians and Polynesians have a southeast Asian homeland, studies based on DNA contributed by both females and males to their offspring generally indicate a greater degree of Melanesian heritage for Polynesians and Micronesians.
Malaita lagoon, Solomon Islands
The happy faces of Melanesia!
A Solomon Islander
Papua New Guinea Highlander
Papua New Guinea Chief