Ethno-cultural definition of Melanesia.
Melanesia is one of three major cultural areas in the Pacific Ocean.
Geographic definition of Melanesia, surrounded by a pink line.

Melanesia is a subregion of Oceania extending from the western end of the Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea, and eastward to Fiji. The region comprises most of the islands immediately north and northeast of Australia. The name Melanesia (from Greek: μέλας black; νῆσος, islands) 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.[1]

The term is also present in geopolitics, where the Melanesian Spearhead Group Preferential Trade Agreement is a regional trade treaty involving the states of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.


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 Islands, including Makira and possibly the smaller islands farther to the east.[2]

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.[3] It is possible 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.[4] This finding is, however, contradicted by a study published by Temple University finding that Polynesians and Micronesians have little genetic relation to Melanesians; instead, they found significant distinctions between groups living within the Melanesian islands.[5] Genome scans show Polynesians have little genetic relationship to Melanesians.[6]

Melanesians, together with Papuan people, are the only known modern humans whose prehistoric ancestors interbred with the Denisova hominin, sharing 4%–6% of their genome with this ancient human species.[7]


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.[8]

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, has archaeological evidence of East Polynesian rather than Melanesian settlement. Rotuma in Fiji has strong affinities culturally and ethnologically to Polynesia.

Based on ethnological factors, some of the islands to the west of the Moluccas, such as Flores, Sumba, Timor, Halmahera, 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


  1. ^ Diamond, Jared and Ernst Mayr (2001). The Birds of Northern Melanesia: Speciation, Ecology, and Biogeography. N.Y.: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514170-9. 
  2. ^ Dunn, Michael, Angela Terrill, Ger Reesink, Robert A. Foley, Stephen C. Levinson (2005). "Structural Phylogenetics and the Reconstruction of Ancient Language History". Science 309 (5743): 2072–2075. doi:10.1126/science.1114615. PMID 16179483. 
  3. ^ Spriggs, Matthew (1997). The Island Melanesians. Blackwell. ISBN 0631167277. 
  4. ^ Kayser, Manfred, Silke Brauer, Gunter Weiss, Peter A. Underhill, Lutz Rower, Wulf Schiefenhövel and Mark Stoneking (2000). "The Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y chromosomes". Current Biology 10 (20): 1237–1246. doi:10.1016/S0960-9822(00)00734-X. PMID 11069104. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Friedlaender, Jonathan, Friedlaender JS, Friedlaender FR, Reed FA, Kidd KK et al. (2008-01-18). "The Genetic Structure of Pacific Islanders". Public Library of Science (Philadelphia, PA 19122: Temple University) PLoS Genet (4(1): e19 doi=10.1371/journal.pgen.0040019). Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  7. ^ Carl Zimmer (22 December 2010). "Denisovans Were Neanderthals' Cousins, DNA Analysis Reveals". Retrieved 22 December 2010. 
  8. ^ Tradional Peoples of the World by National Geographic
  9. ^

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Melanesia — one of three large divisions of Pacific islands, 1840, from a continental language, from MELANO (Cf. melano ) + nesos island (see CHERSONESE (Cf. Chersonese)) + IA (Cf. ia). Modeled after POLYNESIA (Cf. Polynesia) and meant to signify the islands …   Etymology dictionary

  • Melanesia — [mel΄ə nē′zhə, mel΄ə nē′shə] [ModL < Gr melas, black (see MELANO ) + nēsos, island (see NATANT) + IA; in reference to the dark skin of the inhabitants] one of the three major divisions of the Pacific islands, south of the equator and including …   English World dictionary

  • Melanesia — Mapa de Melanesia. La Melanesia es una de las divisiones tradicionales de Oceanía creadas por el explorador francés Jules Dumont d Urville en 1832. Se extiende desde el occidente del océano Pacífico al mar de Arafura y tiene al sur a Australia,… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Melanesia — /mel euh nee zheuh, sheuh/, n. one of the three principal divisions of Oceania, comprising the island groups in the S Pacific NE of Australia. * * * Island group, South Pacific Ocean. A subdivision of Oceania, it lies northeast of Australia and… …   Universalium

  • Melanesia — geographical name the islands in the Pacific NE of Australia & S of Micronesia including Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomons, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, & the Fijis …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Melanesia — noun Part of Oceania, made up of New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji …   Wiktionary

  • Melanesia — ► Región geográfica del Pacífico que contiene Nueva Guinea y diversas islas: Bismarck, Salomón, Nueva Caledonia, Pinos, Lealtad, Nuevas Hébridas, Santa Cruz, Fidji y Rotuma. * * * Grupo insular del océano Pacífico sur. El grupo, una subdivisión… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Melanesia —    A subdivision of Oceania or the Pacific Islands (along with Polynesia and Micronesia), spreading from New Guinea in the west to Norfolk Island in the east. It does not always refer to clear cultural or geographical distinctions. Various… …   Historical dictionary of shamanism

  • MELANESIA —    eleven archipelagoes of crystalline, coralline, and volcanic islands in the W. of Polynesia, all S. of the equator, and inhabited by the Melanesian or dark oceanic race; includes the Fiji, Solomon, Bismarck, and New Hebrides islands …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Melanesia — Mel|a|ne|si|a a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, northeast of Australia, including Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and Fiji …   Dictionary of contemporary English

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