Most scientists support the theory that the Pacific Islands were populated from the west, that is, from Southeast Asia. This migration, which lasted thousands of years, began around 5000 BC and lasted until around 1100 AD. During the migration, three large cultural groups were formed: Micronesia in the northwest Pacific, Melanesia in west Pacific and Polynesia in central and east Pacific. Obviously, these different cultural groups are not clearly geographically separated, instead there is quite some cultural overlapping from island to island.
Polynesia was the last cultural entity formed in the Pacific and is, in terms of ocean area, the largest. The so-called Polynesian triangle is defined by Hawaii in the north, Easter Island in the southeast and New Zealand in the southwest. Polynesia derives from the Greek, meaning ‘a lot of islands’. Apart from Hawaii and New Zealand, all of the island groups of French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau and Tuvalu belong to Polynesia.
Melanesia means ‘black islands’ because of its dark-skinned inhabitants. This cultural group is situated to the west of Polynesia and stretches from Fiji over New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands to Papua New Guinea. Fiji is on the borderline to Polynesia.
Micronesia means ‘little islands’ and contains the island groups in the north-west Pacific and east of the Philippines: the Caroline Islands, Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Phoenix Islands. Some are under American administration and some are independent. Micronesians have fair skin and more Asian blood than Melanesians. Their origin is thought to be from the region around Taiwan.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, European seafarers explored the Pacific, then the Spanish and Portuguese, then Dutch, French and Englishmen. They were followed by whalers, planters, missionaries and finally colonisers from England, France, Germany and the USA. After World War II, which turned the Pacific into the scene of bitter and bloody island battles between Americans and Japanese, many of the former colonies became independent.
- University of Hawaii, Dept. of History
- Captain Cook Society
- Charting the Pacific
- Museums with Pacific collection
- South Pacific Commission (SPC)
- The Polynesian Society
- Thor Heyerdahl Webpage
- Universities with strong Pacific focus
- Pacific Studies WWW Monitor
- Bishop Museum, Hawaii
- Fiji Museum, Suva/Fiji