ASPECTS OF OCEANIA
I call this my Aspects of Oceania Page in recognition of the complexity of the lifestyle of the different people who live on the myriad of islands that go to make up Oceania. Each of these islands has its own culture and social values that preclude talking in detail about Oceania within the confines of a single Web Page.
Instead, I will talk about some aspects that are common to many of the people of Oceania. These include the relationship between the people and the ocean and the effects of a devastating war upon the lifestyle of these people. Indeed, the effects of the war left no family untouched and the physical and emotional scars still remain today.
I like the word Oceania. To me it encapsulates the spirit of the people living on the far-flung atolls and islands of this part of the Pacific Ocean. It embodies the complex culture of these remarkable people who live as one with the ocean.
I use it on this Web Page to discuss in more detail the islands and people of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. These are the main regions in which I grew up and it is to these people of Oceania that I have dedicated this Web Page.
The Pacific Ocean is huge. From the west coast of North America, one can travel outward for 9,000 miles across the water without seeing land until one reaches Asia. alternatively, one can sail from the North Pole to the South Pole for 8,000 miles and that also would be in the Pacific Ocean. The sheer size of the Pacific Ocean is hard to grasp for it covers one-third of the world's surface and it is wide and deep enough for all the continents to be immersed under its waves. The term Oceania is normally used to designate all the islands of the Central and the South Pacific including Australia (continent, New Zealand and sometimes the Malay Archipelago.
The following few paragraphs give a short introduction to the indigenous people of the Pacific Islands and, in particular, to the three primary ethnic groups of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia. These are introduced in terms of their origins, population spread and mythology.
Modern discoveries, including genetic research, have confirmed the view that modern man in the form of Homo sapiens first evolved out of Africa. This is based on continuing widespread evidence, including genetic research and that derived from fossils, artifacts, archaeological sits and, more recently from the use of genetic surveys that indicate a remarkable similarity between all human beings. In summary, the evidence still suggests that all modern humans have descended from East African ancestors who first emerged some 100,000 years ago.
Indeed, all humans outside Africa - from Australian Aborigines to Icelanders - are descended from just one small group of modern humans that made their exodus from Africa less than 100,000 years ago. it is now possible to show that any two people from around the globe share a common ancestry by comparing their DNA. It is also now possible to show where those ancestors live and when they left their homeland.
In migrating out of Africa, it is apparent that Homo sapiens displaced their predecessors in western Asia about 45,000 years ago then moving north and west as they did in Europe. One group moved east across Asia while another moved south-east down through the Indo-Malaysian archipelago, island-hopping to Australia, and eventually out across the Pacific Islands possibly displacing relic populations of a much earlier human ancestor, Homo erectus.
The time scales suggested to this migration agree reasonably well with evidence from hundreds of archaeological sites across Australia. Unpublished research on the early inhabitants of Borneo and Timor indicates that humans first reached the Australian continent at least 45,000 years ago. Many researchers are also of the view that Homo sapiens possibly reached Australia as early as 75,000 years ago.
The human beings who reached both Papua and the Australian continent must have been accomplished seafarers. They must likely came from the north in boats, possibly outrigger canoes that were capable of being steered safely across at least a hundred kilometers of open sea. That was the shortest possible voyage from the nearest point of land in Timor. At that time, New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania were still joined in a single land mass. All the coastal sites that may have contained direct traces of this migration were inundated by a 120-meter rise in sea level at the end of the most recent Ice Age.
In recognizing the fact that the eastern islands of the Indo-Malaysian archipelago, which formed the migration path from Asia, have never been linked to either Papua New Guinea or Australia suggests that the first inhabitants of these regions came from a seafaring coastal culture.
The research certainly indicates that human occupation of Oceania - those vast reaches of the Pacific encompassing Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia - began on New Guinea (Papua and Papua New Guinea). The first settlers brought with them a language that was fundamentally African. They moved along the Melanesian archipelago from Papua and Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and eventually to Fiji. During this time, the language evolved and became fragmented until it developed into the present day languages of Melanesia. What is apparent also is that these early Melanesians came from a seafaring culture and were capable of making voyages of at least 100 kilometers of open sea.
The migration, thousands of years later of the ancestors of the present day
Polynesian out of Asia, brought with it languages and dialects that were
essentially Asian in origin and which developed into the present day
languages of Polynesia. Until recently, archaeologists had believed that
Polynesian people came from Taiwan. Interestingly,
recent studies of DNA in Taiwan has provided some interesting conclusions
about the origins of the Polynesian and Melanesian people.
Certainly, linguistic studies have pointed to the fact that the Polynesians, undoubtedly the greatest seafarers in history, have their origins in Taiwan.
Of the 23 million people in Taiwan, only 400,000 are descendants from the original inhabitants. These people originally spoke a language belonging to the Austronesian group which is unrelated to Chinese but includes the Polynesian tongues.
DNA studies of the original group found three mutations shared by Taiwanese, Polynesians and Melanesians, who also speak Austronesian. These mutations are not found in other Asians and hence suggest that the Polynesians and Melanesians have their origins in the original inhabitants of Taiwan. Indeed, genetic studies have now suggested that the ancestors of the sailors of the great canoes started out further along the trail in eastern Indonesia.
These seafarers moved eastward in small groups around the top of the Melanesian archipelago until they reached Fiji. Using Fiji as a staging area, some eventually sailed on to uninhabited Tonga and Samoa. To have developed the physical types, language and culture that the Polynesians share in common, these Polynesian forebears must have been isolated for a time in a home group of islands. A chain of archaeological discoveries leads us to believe that this isolation started in the islands of Tonga and Samoa roughly 3,000 years ago.
Beginning in 1909 in New Britain, archaeologists have found a type of pre-historic decorated pottery at various Melanesian sites. In 1947, samples were also excavated in Fiji, Melanesia's easternmost extension. Five years later the same pottery was uncovered at Lapita in New Caledonia. Now called Lapita-style pottery, these artifacts clearly trace the visits and attempted settlements of a maritime people moving along a Melanesian route towards Polynesia.
Lapita pottery was excavated in Tonga in 1963, and has recently been found in Samoa as well - both in western Polynesia. Tonga is the longest inhabited island group in Polynesia, with radiocarbon dates as early as 1140 B.C. Thus we conclude that Tonga's first settlers, the people who made Lapita ware, were the first true Polynesians.
Language ties indicate that this migration continued via Samoa eastward to the Marquesas where the oldest sites in Eastern Polynesia have been found.
Far to the southeast of the Marquesas lies evidence of a truly remarkable feat - a voyage to Easter Island (Rapa Nui), some 2,400 miles away, in the face of prevailing winds and currents. Polynesia's easternmost outpost, Easter Island is not only the most isolated inhabited island in the Pacific, but it is also only 15 miles long. Assessing its chances of being discovered by early Polynesians, we can conclude only that their sailing canoes were already capable of traversing the breadth of the Pacific, and that on one such voyage, Easter Island as fortuitously sighted. Radiocarbon dating in 1955-56 indicates its discovery and settlement as early as A.D. 400.
The sites on Easter Island show clear evidence when considered in conjunction with the archaeology and languages of the Society and Marquesas Islands indicate strongly that the pre-historic culture of Easter Island could have evolved from a single landing of Polynesians from a Marquesan Island. These Polynesians would have been fully equipped to colonize an uninhabited volcanic island. Their success in making this windswept sixty-four square miles, without an edible native plant, not only habitable but also the seat of remarkable cultural achievements, is testimony to the genius of these Polynesian settlers.
A study of excavated adzes, fishhooks, ornaments and other artifacts indicates that Tahiti and the other Society Islands must have been settled soon after the Marquesas. Present information indicates that Hawaii and New Zealand were settled after A.D. 500. radiocarbon techniques permit us to assign tentative dates to this entire Pacific migration: entry into West Polynesia about 1000 B.C., reaching East Polynesia about the time of Christ, completing the occupation by A.D. 1000.
Having reached the Pacific's farthest outpost, the early Polynesians possessed the skills to return. It is doubtful that one-way voyages could account for the early presence in the Hawaiian Islands, for example, of twenty odd cultivated plants of Tahiti and the Marquesas. Thus we conclude that the early Hawaiians repeatedly negotiated the longest sea route in Polynesia returning to Tahiti and then again to Hawaii, known as "Child of Tahiti".
It has been over a millennium since the Polynesians sailed their open canoes across the Pacific, using stars, signposts of the sea, and the strange, perilous liquid paths of currents to move from one island to the next. Most were fifty-five to sixty-foot V-sectioned craft, built of wide planks lashed to the frames with sennit and caulked with breadfruit sap. Hoisting their mat sails, they could cover one hundred to a hundred-and-fifty miles a day in open sea conditions. In Polynesia, the double canoe was the preferred style; in Micronesia, the single outrigger was preferred. Both were constructed with adzes of basalt or clamshell, with drills fashioned from shark's teeth or shell.
The navigation techniques used by the early Polynesian voyages are basically as follows:
The early navigators used some simple techniques as an aid to their navigation. The first of these was the occurrence of trade wind clouds over invisible islands over the horizon. What the navigator could see was the reflection of the island in the under surface of the cloud - an obvious sign to the navigator that there was land ahead.
The second, the movement of the birds could be followed. Such birds as the frigate bird and the tern roost ashore and then feed at sea. Dawn and dusk flight paths pointed the way to land.
When travelling greater distances, the early navigators steered by the stars. They directed their canoes towards a particular star in the constellation Leo and when that star moved too high and too far to the left, they followed the next star that rose from the same point on the horizon. Then the next and after that the next and so on until dawn broke.
The star-compass technique is still practised over much of the Pacific. What is more impressive, however, is the island navigator's uncanny skill to steer by wave motion - swells reflected from islands beyond the horizons. The skilled navigator comes to recognise the profile and characteristic of particular ocean swells as he would the faces of his friends, but he judges their direction more by feel than by sight. The complex patterns produced by swell reflected and refracted among the islands are recognised by navigators throughout Oceania.
In these vessels the Pacific Islanders made their great voyages of discovery and colonisation. They date from the advent of the New Stone Age, when newly developed heavy woodworking tools made it possible to adze planks and join them to the frames of boats, just as bark or skin had been sewn in earlier times. The swift and capacious vessels of the Lapita navigators were probably little changed by Captain James Cook's day . In 1779, Cook recorded canoes much faster than his Endeavour.
With Polynesian ability to preserve food for long period, a range of 5000 miles in winds that were not too unfavourable, would have been possible for these great canoes - ample for exploratory probes eastwards. The Polynesians generally sailed into the wind by tacking, coming about and changing the side of the sail presented to the wind, as modern sailors do. The Micronesians (and the Polynesians of the Tuamotus and some western island groups) changed the course by shifting the sail from end of the canoe to the other, with the same side always to the wind. Thus the vessels were "double ended", with bow and stern having the same design. both outriggers and the method of tacking by changing ends seem to have originated in Indonesia.
The Polynesians in the Pacific generally occupy an area referred to as the Polynesian triangle. The Polynesian triangle has Hawaii in the north, New Zealand in the south, and Easter Island in the east. The lines drawn from Hawaii to New Zealand bends westward to include the Ellice Islands (Tuvalu) and passing between Fiji and Tonga. The north to south line forms the base with its apex on the path of the rising sun, located 4000 miles to the east. The Marquesas lie almost to the center of the eastern line, from Easter in the south to Hawaii in the north, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti and Cook Islands are surrounded by the triangle. New Zealand, the farthest south group of Polynesian islands is home to the Maori people.
One of the first indications of the sheer size of the Polynesian triangle was recorded by James King, second lieutenant of Captain James Cook's ship the Resolution. As Captain James Cook's ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, sailed along the coast of Kauai, on the afternoon of January 19, 1778, the first canoe loads of Hawaiians paddled out from the shore to visit the strange vessels. To the Europeans the appearance, the clothing and the canoes of these natives indicated clearly that they were close kin to the people of the Society Island, more than 3200 km to the south. But, in the words of James King, second lieutenant of the Resolution, "what more than all surprised us, was our catching the sound of Otaheite words in their speech; and on asking them for hogs, breadfruit and yams in that dialect, we found we were understood."
For the first time the extraordinary geographical spread of the Polynesian peoples was fully apparent to Europeans, and it was the similarity of language that must strikingly marked their kinship.
What Lieutenant King of the Resolution described has now become known as Polynesia in the geographical sense - a roughly triangular area with vertices at Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island. He correctly surmised that the few islands within the area that remained to be discovered would also turned out to be linguistically Polynesian. These include the best-known and most thoroughly studied members of the family: Maori, Hawaiian, Tahitian, Samoan, and Tongan. It was already known in King's time, however, that Polynesian languages were not confined to the triangle. On his second voyage, Cook had heard the language of Futuna in the Southern New Hebrides (new Caledonia) and found that it was exactly the same as that spoken at the Friendly Islands (Tonga). By the end of the 19th century a whole series of small Polynesian speaking community had been discovered in Melanesia and Micronesia, from the Loyalty Islands to the Central Carolines. They are now referred to as the Polynesian outliers.
One of the earliest records of the evidence of Polynesian languages deriving from Asia was that of the missionary, John Williams, who, in 1840, published a range of Polynesian words along with their Asian origins. In his book, Missionary Enterprises In The South Sea Islands published in London by John Snow in 1840, William ponders in Chapter XXIX on the origins of the South Sea Islands. He drew the distinction between the characteristics of the Melanesian and those of the Polynesians which he considered had Malay characteristics and Indian social structure. These he took as clear indications of the Asiatic origin of the Polynesian people. He said, however, that the language spoken by the Malays and the Polynesians was clear evidence of the origins of the Polynesians.
Across a distance of nearly 2000 miles, the archipelago of Micronesia encompasses a land area of only 271 square miles. It is believed that the original inhabitant of Micronesia came from the Philippines and Indonesia about 1500 years before Christ. The islands of Micronesia (and Polynesia) collectively comprise the last major region of the globe to be settled by humans. Both of these groups of islands were colonized within the last 5,000 years by Austronesian-speaking agriculturists. In the past, linguistic studies have been a major factor in suggesting the origins of both the Micronesian and Polynesian people who, in the main, are of medium stature with straight hair and brown skin.
In 1521, Magellan first visited Guam, and the Chamorro, who were the indigenous population of the Mariana Islands had the doubtful honor of being the first people of Oceania to receive European callers. It was not until 1668, however, that the Jesuits and soldiery set about converting and subduing the islanders. Several great typhoons at the end of the 17th century were nature's footnote to the carnage wrought by the Spaniards. By 1710 an estimated population of 100,000 had been reduced to little more than 3500. A few Chamorro escaped to the neighboring Caroline Islands where they kept their identity as a people.
In the years that followed, the Mariana Islands, north of Guam, became completely depopulated. by the late 19th century, although the population of Guam had increased again, it had become a mixture of Chamorro, Filipino and Spanish stock. The Indigenous language had survived but the oral tradition had been swamped by introduced elements with only fragments of recognizable oceanic themes remaining.
Micronesia means 'small islands' and is derived from the Greek words mikros which means small and nesos which means island. This is a perfect way to describe these over two thousand tropical islands scattered across the heart of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines. They are spread over a great distance, yet each has its own culture, history, customs, rituals, myths and legends, lifestyle and topographical personality. The islands of Micronesia include the Federated States of Micronesia (Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk and Yap), Guam, Palau, Saipan, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Kiribati. Almost lost in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean are the tiny islands, the remarkable people and the ancient architecture of Micronesia. The methods used to construct three historic monuments, as well as their materials, sizes, functions, and designs vary widely from one island group to the next. Prismatic basalt and coral native to Pohnpei and Kosrae were used by resourceful builders to created the dramatic stone city of Nan Madol and Leluh, respectively. Beautifully, terraced hills with sculptured earthen crowns abound on 26-mile long Babeldaob Island in the Palau archipelago. Carefully fitted stone platforms with hexagonal plans form the basis of meetinghouses, residences, and other ornamental structures of wood in the Yap Islands. The enigmatic latte stone columns of the Marianas apparently once served as the foundations for wood houses raised above the ground, sometimes as high as sixteen feet.
The favourite bogeymen of Micronesian mythology are cannibal spirits of ogres who are characterized by their brute strength and stupidity. They tend to come in families often; ten brothers, each one had-span taller than the next or the first with one head and the second with two heads and so on. They can sometimes be driven away by blowing on a conch trumpet or simply by making lots of noise. Sometimes, the ogres who dwell in the woods so terrorize a district that has to be abandoned. This calls for the birth of an ogre-slaying child who is a special hero in Melanesia but is also well known in Micronesia.
A popular theme in Micronesia is that of a girl who comes either from the sea or the sky to watch men dance or to steal something. She is prevented from returning home because a man hides either her wings or her tail. This simple tale conveys perfectly the islanders' delight in the narrative art. yet is more than an idle tale for almost always the story is used to explain the origin of certain food taboos or social customs. It is also significant in another way, for some mythologists consider that it belongs to the tale-type defined as "swan maiden"; the basis of which is that a supernatural girl loses her wings and is forced to remain on earth as the wife of her captor. One day she recovers them and makes her escape. Her husband follows her and attempts to win her back. Sometimes he succeeds. This is a theme of tremendous antiquity; elements of which are to be found in a story from the Indian Rig Veda, recorded 3000 years ago. its widespread distribution in Oceania points to its early arrival in the area.
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As the sun rises over the vast expanse of Oceania, the daily lives of many of the people of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia (including the Polynesian nation of Hawai'i) go on as they have for thousands of years. The fishermen are already at sea; the toddy cutters are already at work and the men and women are working in their gardens. The singing of traditional and contemporary songs can be heard all around from the early morning, until the evenings come alive right through until late at night. It is this love of traditional singing passed from generation to generation that binds many islanders together and forms the basis of much of island cultural heritage and in particular dancing. Both the songs and the dance are unique and their performance tells the stories of life and love in a manner that consumes both the dancers and the audience.
Music is an integral part of life in the islands of the Pacific. Indeed, the songs and dances are woven into the very fabric of everyday life. Life, love, work, play, the ocean, the gods, the earth itself; they all flow through the music of the Pacific Islands, as surely as the sand erodes into the sea. Pacific Island music is truly the music of the world and is proudly featured on our Pacific Islands Radio stations! - www.pacificislandsradio.com
The traditional life of the people of Oceania is basically uncomplicated. They are normally happy, highly intelligent, kind, generous and loving people who have inherited a culture that is ancient, complex, diverse, very functional and beautiful. Let us hope that through these Web pages, visitors will be able to enjoy our relaxed and happy lifestyle as well as our rich and complex cultural heritage.
Island life may seem on the surface to be very idyllic but, in fact, our very existence is often very precarious. So many island communities live on small coral outcrops, often only a little above sea level. These outcrops can be very easily overtaken by the sea, however, despite all this, these atolls are our home and are inhabited by people with a great love for life. We are affectionate and friendly people who love laughing.
Certainly, it was common
for anthropologists to base past studies on linguistics. A study of grammar
and word lists allowed researchers to establish degrees of correlation
between various Pacific Islanders. For example, the Chamorro language is
most closely related to Bareic in Sulawesi based on a comparison of
standardized word lists. Linguists have formulated theories of Pacific
Island colonization based on the similarity of languages including P.S.
Bellwood, who wrote the definitive work on the peopling of the Pacific,
on linguistic evidence.
Recent research has suggested, however, that DNA offers a better way to study the relationships between Pacific Island people. There is a problem in using language to predict relations among people in that language is a culturally transmitted and not a biological trait, whereas DNA is the genetic material that determines biological inheritance.
In a DNA study undertaken in 1994, Koji Lum from The Institute of Statistical Mathematics, Tokyo, Japan, collected head hair in Micronesia. He used the head hair to obtain DNA samples. The study was undertaken in order to compare the genetic relationships of various Micronesian groups to other Pacific Islanders and Asians and their languages. The study examined DNA that is found within mitochondria (mtDNA), small cellular bodies that function as the energy factories and storehouses of our cells. Mitochondria are inherited from the body of the mother's fertilized egg, and are transmitted maternally to the next generation. Consequently, this analysis ignores inheritance from a father.
In general, this study found that the majority of mtDNA sequences from Micronesian and Polynesian populations are derived from Asia,
whereas others are inferred to have originated in New Guinea. The data supported the concept of an Island Southeast Asian origin and a
colonization route along the north coast of New Guinea. The Marianas and the main island of Yap appear to have been independently settled directly from Island Southeast Asia, and both have received migrants from Central-Eastern Micronesia since then. Palau clearly demonstrates a complex prehistory including a significant influx of lineages from New Guinea. Thus genetic similarities among Micronesian and Polynesian populations result, in some cases, from a common origin and, in others, from extensive gene flow.
As well as showing that Micronesians and Polynesians have a southeast Asian homeland, studies based on DNA contributed by both females and males to their offspring generally indicate a greater degree of Melanesian heritage for Polynesians and Micronesians.
There are some exceptions, however, with the results for Palau and Yap showing that the mtDNA and linguistic relationships do not agree. This can be interpreted in a number of ways and suggests that Palau has been 'seeded' by people with ancestral roots in island Southeast Asia and Melanesia, as well as the more easterly parts of Micronesia.
In addition, Chamorro mtDNA is very distinctive when compared to other Micronesians and Polynesians. This suggests that the Marianas have a different settlement history than the rest of Micronesia. Chamorros have not mixed much with other Micronesians. The study suggests that Chamorros and Aboriginal Malays have common maternal ancestral origins in the distant past. This was a time being before the Chamorros were a distinctive group and before the colonization of the Marianas by people whose descendants would only later develop the way of living that defined them as Chamorros.
Music and dance in Micronesia, though certainly not the same as their Polynesian counterparts, are closely related to them. With the exception of Truk (Chuuk) in the central Carolines, which displays traits of Melanesian and possibly Indonesian influence, the music structure of all parts of Micronesia is predominantly word-determined, as is that of Polynesia. The songs of Micronesia tell of legendary histories, genealogies and navigational tales of the islands. Indeed, the music is based around the mythology and ancient Micronesian rituals which were handed down in a musical context from one generation to the next. Certainly, over generations, the traditional music of Micronesia was composed utilizing mythology, magic, rituals and closely guarded procedures. The music is very voice oriented with chanting, stamping and body percussion.
The musical instruments of Micronesia are few, mainly as a consequence of limited material being available throughout the small islands and atolls of Micronesia. The shell trumpet and nose flute are the most common, though standard flutes and Jews harps are also found. A common idiophone in Micronesia is a stick that is carried by men in certain dances. The performers strike each others sticks in the course of the choreography. Membranophones are not very common, though the hourglass single-headed drum like those played in Papua New Guinea is found as far north as the Marshall Islands. In keeping with the ecology of atoll life, the skins of these drums are made from a shark's belly or parts of the sting ray. Many atolls of the Micronesian Pacific are without any indigenous musical instruments whatsoever.
Dance movements are mainly of hands and arms in accompaniment to poetry. In some islands, such as Yap (in the western Carolines) and Kiribati, there is a similar concern for rank in the placement of dancers, as well as the emphasis on rehearsed execution of songs and movements. But, although movements and types of dance have a superficial similarity to those of Polynesia, there are differences.
In the Yap empire, for example, dancers from Ulithi, Woleai, and other islands performed and taught their choreography and texts to the Yapese as tribute, even though the dance texts were in languages unintelligible to the Yapese dancers; the function of movements was not to illustrate a story but to decorate it. Instead of acknowledging a chief's deed or genealogy, the Yapese dancers demonstrated the overlordship of Yap to the other islands. Even in Ifalik, where texts were in their own language, the movements did not interpret poetry but were apparently abstractly decorative. The same is true for Kiribati. Thus, Polynesian dance could be characterized as illustration of poetry, and Micronesian dance as decoration of poetry, while music in both areas serves as an elevated form of audible performance for poetry.