When it comes to topics about races and cultures around the world, Melanesians are probably rarely discussed. Also known to be living in West Papua, they are originally from Melanesia. It is an Oceania’s subregion, stretching all the way from New Guinea to the Arafura sea and close to the east where Fiji is.
Jules Dumont d’Urville was the first one to have come up with the word “Melanesia” in 1832. Based on the ethnic and geographical grouping regarding the islands, d’Urville thought that this race was different from Micronesia and Polynesia. Still, how did they end up residing in West Papua as one of their places to stay?
Their historical background:
Since d’Urville came up with the name “Melanesia,” it had been the hot topic among European scholars and researchers at that time. In Greek, Melanesia means “islands of black,” which referred more to the people’s dark skin colour. To be exact, “Melanesia” is derived from two different Greek words, which are ‘melas’ and ‘nesos’. ‘Melas’ means “black” and ‘nesos’ means “island”.
A British missionary named Robert Codrington had lived for a long time in the region before producing a monographic series about the Melanesians in the nineteenth century. Codrington’s two other works, “The Melanesian Languages” and “The Melanesians: Studies in Their Anthropology and Folklore” were published in 1885 (the first one) and 1895 (the latter one). She included the New Guinea island as the place where most Melanesians resided. Still, many scholars had uncertainties regarding this race. Ann Chowning even stated about lack of general agreement between anthropologists regarding the Melanesians in her published book in 1977.
Another writer, Paul Sillitoe, wrote in 1998 about how hard it was to define precisely regarding where Melanesia ended, and the neighbouring regions began. Same like Chowning, Sillitoe also included New Guinea as the place where Melanesians resided. They both also put Australia in exclusion as one of Melanesians’ possible residencies.
Are Melanesians related to Polynesians and Micronesians?
Sometime nearing the end of the 20th century, some scholars had a theory regarding the long interaction between the Austronesian people with the Papuan-speaking residents when they moved to the New Guinea islands about 3,000 years ago.
However, that theory was later disproven by the existence of the Andesite Line. It is a geological feature which is also known as the “ring of fire”, because of its extremely volcanic and earthquake activity. This feature separates Melanesia from Polynesia (which is in the east) and Micronesia (which is in the north) along the Equator.
More traces of their past:
Although Australia had been excluded as the possible residency for Melanesians, this race actually has quite a distinctive ancestry. Many believe that they are actually still related to the Aborigines in Australia, an alias from Proto-Australoids. They moved from Africa around 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. They spreaded along the southern part of Asia, like South India, Srilanka, the Philippines, the Andaman islands, and many more.
There was also a continent formed between Australia and New Guinea named Sahul. Sahul was created when the sea levels were low back then, so the two islands were connected by a land bridge.
Sahul was also the limit of Melanesians’ ancient migration because they came to this continent more than 40,000 years ago. Many of them came into the eastern islands sometime later, which was around 4000 and 3000 B.C.
Pacific Islands…and around:
So, where do Melanesians actually reside these days?
Melanesia has been known as the indigenous people who are part of the ethnographic group in Pacific Islands. For starters, here are the countries considered to be part of Melanesia:
- Papua New Guinea.
- The Solomon Islands.
Other parts that are included in this category are:
- New Caledonia, which is France’s dependency.
- West Papua and Papua.
What is the difference between West Papua and Papua? Both are actually part of the New Guinea island. West Papua is in the western half of the island, obviously. Politically-speaking, it is part of Indonesia. This is also where the independence movement, “Free Papua Movement”, is active. The Free-Papua Movement was created by “Organisasi Papua Merdeka” in 1965.
The Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are part of the Commonwealth of Nations. The other parts in this category: Fiji, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu are part of this group called the Melanesian Spearhead Groups.The Melanesian Spearhead Group is an intergovernmental organization. The four Melanesian states involved in the making and running of this organization are Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. New Caledonia is also involved in this through their movement called “Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front”.
Maluku is also a part of Melanesians’ residency, especially since it is also in the eastern part of Indonesia. However, the New Guinea island (which includes West Papua) is the place where most Melanesians reside until today. Most of their languages are part of the Austronesian and Papua language families.