For the last blog in my series, I will discuss the Pacific Islands.
Melanesians are the ethnic groups that inhabitant the Pacific Islands around Papua-New Guinea. This would include the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji. Headhunting was practiced in Melanesia into the early twentieth century (as well as most other parts of the world from time to time), but it is no longer practiced today. Contrary to popular belief, headhunting was ritualistic and rarely an act of war, serving as a way to collectively mourn for the community’s dead.
Melanesia is one of the few areas outside Europe that has blonde hair among “dark-skinned” indigenous groups without a European genetic influence.
The current inhabitants of the Micronesia area have a syncretic culture that developed from the absorption of Filipino, Melanesian, and Polynesians cultures. For much of its existence, Micronesia has been controlled by outside forces, but at one time one of the larger Micronesian islands maintained a small empire with the island of Yap being the chief island. Spain conquered the area in the early 17th century and European powers controlled the island groups until the Japanese conquered them during WWII. After Japan’s defeat, the United States controlled most of the area until the 1980’s when the U.S. granted independence to most of the region while Guam remained a U.S. territory.
Polynesia is the largest of the Pacific Islanders groups and consists of a triangle that extends from New Zealand to Easter Island in the west and to Hawaii in the north. There are two distinctive cultures in Polynesia, the western culture which is adapted to travel between small islands, and the eastern groups that live on the larger islands with higher populations such as Tonga, New Zealand, Niue, and Samoa.
Modern tattooing can be traced to Polynesia especially among the Maori tribes of New Zealand and has its etymological origin from the Samoan word “tatau.” As sailors came into contact with the islanders, many returned home with tattoos. The tribal band may be the most common tattoo influence.
When people in the United States think of the south Pacific, however, they normally think about Hawaii and its culture. Although Hawaii is part of Polynesia, it has more influences from outside cultures than most of Polynesia, with immigrants from China, Japan, and the United States pouring into the islands since they were “discovered” in 1778. The Hawaiian Islands were originally called the “Sandwich Islands” by Westerners in honor of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.
Hawaii is one of four states that was an independent nation prior to joining the United States, along with the Vermont Republic (1791), the Republic of Texas (1845), and the California Republic (1846). The Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown by resident American and European businessmen in 1893. The businesses then established a republic that lasted from 1894 until 1898, when it was annexed by the United States as a territory. Hawaii became the fiftieth state in 1959.
So as I wrap up this series, what is the larger take away? It is that in a world that is consistently transient, whether we are talking about the movement of people or goods, understanding the larger world around us, how it’s inhabitants think, and how it has influenced us, will only make the world a better place. Understanding and appreciating global diversity allows us to make more informed choices and serves as the cornerstone of creating a better society.