The aquatic continent of Oceania is divided into three cultural areas: Polynesia and Melanesia lie mostly below the equator while Micronesia is above it. The name Polynesia comes from the Greek words Poly, meaning many, and Nesos, meaning islands. The Polynesian Triangle has Hawaii at its northern apex and New Zealand 8,000 km to the southwest with Easter Island 8,000 km to the southeast. The term Polynesian was coined by Charles de Brosses in 1756, who then applied it to all the islands.
Melanesia gets its name from the Greek work Melas, meaning black, and Milkos, meaning small islands. This name came from the European navigators upon seeing the black natives for the first time. In 1831, Dumond d’Urville proposed the terms Melanesia and Micronesia for the other island chains. Melanesia was not an accurate name as the islands were not black, its inhabitants were.
The Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesians make up a group of 6 million people from a variety of cultures. Melanesians make up 80 percent; Polynesians make up 7 percent; Asians make up 6 percent; Micronesians make up 5 percent; and Europeans make up 2 percent. Of these, 90 percent of the people live on high islands, while the rest on low islands and atolls. One million reside in urban areas.
The high birth rate in Melanesian (over 3%) and rapid urbanization severely tax the best efforts of governments with limited resources. The average population density across the region is 22 persons per square km, though some atolls can have over 1,000 persons per square km. The most densely populated Pacific countries are the Polynesian islands of American Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, and Tuvalu.
Due to the absence of family planning, populations in Melanesia are doubling every 20 years, with half the population under 18 years of age. More developed countries like Fiji, New Caledonia, and Tahiti are highly urbanized, with more than half of the populations living in towns. Solomon Islands and Vanuatu remain the least urbanized with less than 85 percent of the populations still living in villages.
Cook Islanders, Niueans, Tongans, and Western Samoans immigrate to places like New Zealand, while American Samoans and Micronesians immigrate to the United States, and Fiji Islanders immigrate to Canada and Australia. In several cases more of these people live outside their home than on them, leaving behind idled lands and abandoned homes in search of better jobs and lives. About 125,000 Polynesians live in New Zealand while 65,000 live in the United States, and 25,000 Fiji islanders live in Canada.
Cite for September Posts: Stanley, D., South Pacific Handbook.