Melanesia

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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.

Contents

Definition

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.

People

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]

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