OCEANIA is a region of the earth centered on the islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean. Oceania was originally conceived as the lands of the Pacific Ocean, stretching from the Strait of Malacca to the coast of the Americas thus including all of the islands between Asia and the Americas, including Australasia and the Malay Archipelago. This broad definition extends to Sumatra in the west, the Bonin Islands in the northwest, the Hawaiian Islands in the northeast, Rapa Nui and Sala y Gómez Island in the east, and Macquarie Island in the south. For this website, I prefer to take a narrower view in line with the Pacific ecozone: the subregions Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia apart from either New Zealand or mainland New Guinea. This is still an enormous area, spanning nearly half the earth's surface on either side of the International Date Line. Arguably, the native populations of these islands have more in common with each other than with the natives of the bordering continents (Asia, Australia, North and South America) and island nations (Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and New Guinea). New Zealand is an exception to this as its indigenous Maori constitute one of the major cultures of Polynesia. The natives of Oceania, of course, originated somewhere in south Asia, but the Oceanic cultures have diverged significantly and developed independently from the cultures of south and south east Asia.

  Archaeology, linguistics, and existing genetic studies indicate that Oceania was settled by two major waves of migration. The first migration took place perhaps 40 thousand years ago and colonized New Guinea and the islands of Melanesia. This first wave is related to the indigenous peoples of Australia. Approximately 3.5 thousand years ago, a second wave of Austronesian speakers arrived in the same places and the descendants of these people spread to the far corners of the Pacific, colonizing Micronesia and Polynesia. This wave was led by the great open-ocean navigators that, over the centuries, arrived finally at the Hawaiian Islands and Easter Island (Rapa Nui); linguistic evidence seems to show that their origin was on Taiwan. The three groups of Oceania's island inhabitants—Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia—were invented by European explorers and anthropologists in the 18th and 19th centuries and were based on physical features and cultural traditions. While there is some overlap of these regions at their edges as well as a few anomalies, it is perhaps wise to look a little more closely at these three regions.


MELANESIA

is the southwestern region of Oceania extending from the Coral Sea to the Arafura Sea, and eastward to Fiji; it includes the island of New Guinea, the Admiralty Islands, the Bismark Archipelago, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands, New Hebrides, Norfolk Island, and the Fiji Islands. These old names reflect the nationalities of Europeans who ruled over the islands until after the Second World War; some of these names have since been replaced. The name Melanesia (in French "Mélanésie" from Greek: μέλας black; Greek: νῆσος islands) was first used by Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1832 to denote an ethnic and geographical grouping of islands whose inhabitants he thought were distinct from those of Polynesia and Micronesia in having darker skin.

  The first settlers of Australia, New Guinea, and the large islands just to the east arrived between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago, when Neanderthals still roamed Europe, and it is likely they were the ancestors of the present-day Papuan-speaking people of the Melanesia region. From Wikipedia: "Based on his genetic studies of the Denisova hominin, an ancient human species discovered in 2010, Svante Paabo claims that ancient human ancestors of the Melanesians interbred in Asia with these humans. He has found that people of New Guinea share 4%–6% of their genome with the Denisovans, indicating this exchange. The Denisovans are considered cousin to the Neanderthals. Both groups are now understood to have migrated out of Africa, with the Neanderthals going into Europe, and the Denisovans heading east about 400,000 years ago. This is based on genetic evidence from a fossil found in Siberia. The evidence from Melanesia suggests their territory extended into south Asia, where ancestors of the Melanesians developed."

  Currently, the Melanesian region includes four independent nations: Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and the Fiji Islands, and one dependency of France: New Caledonia. All of the other islands and island groups are part of the above-named political entities; Australia and Indonesia also rule a few areas of the region.


MICRONESIA

is a collection of about 2100 islands scattered across nearly 3 million square miles of the western Pacific Ocean, west of the international date line almost to the Philippines, and north of Melanesia. There are four main island groups: the Caroline Islands, the Gilbert Islands, the Mariana Islands, and the Marshall Islands, all of which are now part of one or another sovereign nations. Nearly all of the islands are coral islands or atolls surrounding ancient collapsed volcanoes, and most of them are very flat and low with gorgeous beaches backed by tropical forests.

  The prehistory of Micronesia is still vague due to lack of evidence and the ethnic mixing of the population, with traces of civilization dating to the early 2nd millennium BCE. A number of distinct cultures and languages can still be found; probably the most well-known (and sensationalized) is that of Pohnpei where the megalithic complex made from basalt lava logs known as Nan Madol has intrigued researchers for decades. The earliest contact with Europeans occurred in 1521, when Ferdinand Magellan reached the Mariana Islands; fifty years later, Spain colonized Guam, the Northern Marianas, and the Caroline Islands, creating the Spanish East Indies, which it ruled until 1899. After the Spanish-American War, the United States took the Philippines and Guam, and the rest of the islands were sold to Germany (which already controlled the Marshall Islands and the northern islands of Melanesia near New Guinea). After World War I, Germany's islands were given to Japan, and  following Japan's defeat in World War II, the islands became a United Nations Trusteeship controlled by the United States.

  Today, the area is divided politically into 5 sovereign countries: the Federated States of Micronesia (including Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap, and the eastern Carolines), Kiribati (comprised of Tarawa and the Gilbert, Phoenix, and Line Islands), the Marshall Islands, the single island of Nauru, and Palau (formed from the western Carolines); the Northern Mariana Islands (including Saipan and Tinian) and the single island of Guam are each separate U.S. Territories, and Wake Island is an unincorporated territory of the U.S.


POLYNESIA

is a large area of the Pacific with over 1000 islands straddling both the international date line and the equator east of both Micronesia and Melanesia. The Polynesian Triangle is inside lines connecting New Zealand, Hawaii, and Easter Island; and most of the islands are volcanic in origin.

  The indigenous population is descended from seafarers who migrated from Taiwan, stopped off in New Guinea, and continued eastward beginning some 4500 years ago. While in Melanesia, the migrants developed a distinct culture about 1400 BCE, the Lapita Peoples, centered in the Bismarck Archipelago, and rapidly colonized the rest of Polynesia south of the equator by about 900 BCE. The Hawaiian Islands, Easter Island, and New Zealand were settled much later, possibly by 1000 CE. Natives continued to travel by outrigger canoes between the islands, led by knowledgeable navigators who read the stars, winds, waves, and colors on the high seas. The first Europeans to sail across Polynesia were led by Ferdinand Magellan, 1519-1521, followed by many others, most notably Capt. James Cook, an Englishman who mapped much of the Pacific Ocean between 1768 and 1779. Most of the islands were colonized by various European nations and changed hands several times; finally, after World War II, the island nations of today gained independence.

  There are now six independent nations in Polynesia: Tuvalu, Tonga, Samoa, Niue, New Zealand, and the Cook Islands; two 'collectivities' of France: French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna; one dependency of Chile: Easter Island, one of New Zealand: Tokelau, and one of Fiji: Rotuma; one territory of Australia: Norfolk Island, one of Britain: Pitcairn Islands, and one of the United States: American Samoa; and one state of the United States: Hawaii.

Places I've visited are marked in red

Micronesia — 2011

South West Pacific Islands — 2013

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