Melanesia is one of the three large cultural areas which exist and largely spread in the Pacific Ocean. The inhabitants of Melanesia, which are called Melanesian, also occupy the eastern areas in the archipelago of Indonesia. Regardless the differences compared to dominant inhabitants in Indonesia, Melanesian people derive and develop the same historical and cultural background in the last thousand years.
The Origin of the Term “Melanesia”
The term “Melanesia” originally derives from the Greek language that can be translated as “the islands of black”, referring to the inhabitants who occupy the islands near the Pacific Ocean. It was firstly used in 1832 when European explorers arrived at the islands. Through their exploration, they became conscious of the islanders’ noticeable characteristics and appearances that are distinctive from Polynesian and Micronesian.
In later times, Melanesia is used to describe the racial group—a part of Mongoloid race—who was living on the islands. However, the perception of Melanesia as the area of certain racial groups gradually changes throughout the time. Melanesia is no longer perceived as a distinctive race compared to those who referred Polynesian or Micronesian. Instead, Melanesia is discovered by anthropologies as an ethnic group in which the populations own and develop certain cultural characteristics as well as speak a particular language.
A Geographical View of Melanesia
As a part of Oceania region, Melanesia refers to the areas which lie around the Pacific Ocean, including the New Guinea Island, Fiji, and the Arafura Sea. Those areas belong to several different countries. New Guinea and Fiji are both the countries whose dominant inhabitants are Melanesian. New Caledonia, a special shared country of French, also becomes the area that is inhabited by Melanesians. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, Melanesians live in the eastern part of the country.
Despite the fact about Melanesia’s geographical history which is related to the islands surrounding the ocean, Melanesia’s region border only deals with the areas in the western and northern hemisphere of the Pacific Ocean. At the beginning of its development, Melanesian occupies three major regions: the archipelago of the Pacific Ocean, west Melanesia (including Papua New Guinea and the Island of Papua), and Australia. However, because of the small numbers of Melanesian population in the continent, Australia is later excluded from the Melanesia region.
The Ancestors of Melanesia Cultural Tribe
It is believed that the ancestors of Melanesians were in line with the Australian aborigine tribe ancestry, that is, the Proto-Australoids. Described as the hunter and gatherer ancient people who originally came from Africa, Proto-Australoids have the characteristics of dark skin color, curly or wavy black hair, and slender-built body types. The same characteristics are also owned by the inhabitants who live in the Oceania region and most parts of Africa at present.
The Emigration of Melanesian
Between fifty to hundred thousand years ago, the ancestors of Melanesians, Proto-Australoids, left their origin countries in the continent of Africa. They moved away to the southern and eastern part of Asia as well as continued to spread across Australia. The low sea level at that time which is caused by the Ice Age effect formed a land bridge between Australia and New Guinea region. This allowed the early populations of Melanesian to emigrate from one continent to the other.
In their new settlement, the Melanesians started to develop agricultural process and acquire skills of ocean voyaging. While inhabiting the eastern areas of the Indonesian archipelago, the groups also interacted with the Mongoloid races that lived around the Melanesia region.
Melanesians in the Eastern Part of Indonesia
It is generally known that Indonesia is mostly inhabited by people who belong to the Mongoloid racial group, and Melanesian is a part of it. As a matter of fact, according to the discovery of the anthropologist and archeologist from the National Research Center, 80% of total population of Melanesian race is found in Indonesia, especially in the eastern part of the country.
Melanesians have been a part of Indonesian region since a very long time ago, following the emigration from the groups’ origin countries. It is proven by the archaeological remains and relics found in the area of Papua. The relics proved an important point that for thousand years, Melanesians who currently inhabit most parts in Papua and West Papua, have formed an interaction with other areas in eastern Indonesia, including Maluku and North Maluku.
Two racial groups that inhabit the Indonesian archipelago, Mongoloid and Melanesian, are then united in the republic. There is an undeniable fact that the later race is slightly different from most inhabitants in Indonesia. However, regardless that fact, both races have similarities in terms of biological, historical, and cultural connections which have existed since centuries ago. The connection remains at the present time and will continue to exist in the future under the umbrella of the Indonesian Republic.