The South Pacific Islands are areas that are often forgotten when discussing the African diaspora, when we do discuss the South Pacific we mostly talk about the continent of Australia, the Hawaiian Islands, Fiji, and New Zealand. These areas are mostly known as vacation locations for those seeking a tropical adventure; unbeknownst to many people, these areas have become home to members of the African diaspora for tens of thousands of years. The South Pacific has three major groups of islands Polynesia, Micronesia, and our focus Melanesia. The name Melanesia is Greek in origin and it means “black islands” because the indigenous inhabitants of the islands are black people; the French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville gave the name Melanesia to the islands. The name Melanesian is not the most accurate term used to describe the people and the cultures of the islands, but I will use the term only because of familiarity. Melanesia is made up of 2,000 islands which house around twelve million people, islands that were first inhabited around 70,000 years ago. The Solomon Island, Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, several archipelagos, countries, and smaller islands are what makeup what is considered Melanesia.
As people began migrating out of Africa populating the world, South Asia and the South Pacific became home to many people bringing their different cultures and ways of living. Two distinct cultural groups are credited with being the first inhabitants of the Melanesian Islands, the Papuans, and the Austronesians, the Papuans inhabited the islands first followed by the Austronesians 3,000 years ago. According to a genetic study by Temple University in 2008, the inhabitants of Melanesia have a very distinct genetic make-up that differs from the inhabitants of Micronesia and Polynesia. Not all, but a number of the people of Melanesia have a distinct look of black skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. This phenotype is due to a genetic mutation that as far as we know can only be found in Melanesian people. Due to European and Indonesian colonization some of the indigenous names and cultural practices of Melanesia were either replaced completely or the indigenous people infused their culture with European and Indonesian cultures. European colonization began in the 1500s with the arrival of the Spanish and the Portuguese in the Maulku and Solomon Islands as well as Papua New Guinea. During the 1800s European colonization reached its apex as the practice of “blackbirding” became more and more popular. Blackbirding is the practice of enslaving the Melanesians and forcing them to work for their enslavers in Australia. Britain eventually became the main colonizers of Melanesia during the 1800s before they came under the colonization of Indonesia in the 1900s.
The people of Melanesia speak Austronesian and Papuan languages, the Austronesian languages originated from Southeast Asia, as opposed to the Papuan languages that originated in Papua New Guinea and New Guinea. Of the two main language groups mentioned previously they consist of close to 1,319 sub-languages that include a Melanesian creole and pidgin languages, French and English are also languages spoken by the people. Melanesia is rich in natural resources yet the economy and the people are poor. Like the African continent, Melanesia is constantly mined and robbed of its natural resources by colonizers as the people are subjugated and used to work the mines. Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam have largely replaced the indigenous spiritual practices of Melanesia. Family structures are both matrilineal and paternal; both monogamy and polygyny are practiced by the Melanesians, who place a large emphasis on family structures. Extended families are welcomed and treated as the nuclear family with reverence for their elders and ancestors. I first became aware of the Melanesian Islands as a middle school student but didn’t learn much about the people or their cultures, like me millions of other people either have little knowledge of or no knowledge at all of the people of Melanesia. African people have given the world so much but are greatly oppressed and enslaved around the world. One of the missions of On the Shoulders of Giants is to not only bring attention to African people that exist around the world but expose the plight we experience. To the millions of Melanesian ancestors and Melanesian people who exist today, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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