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This week we dive headfirst into the Pacific/Oceanic island group known as Melanesia. What is Melanesia? Good question. The answer…? Depends. If you’re prone to think geographically, Melanesia consists of a group of about 2,000 islands that covers about 400,000 square miles, stretching from the easternmost points of Indonesia halfway across the Pacific to Fiji. (Look at this geographic map of the Pacific from Jane’s Oceania page to get a sense of where Melanesia fits. Then, just look at Jane’s Melanesia page.) In this definition, cultural, linguistic and other non-physical distinctions aren’t particularly important.
If you look at Melanesia culturally or ethnographically you might focus on the fact that “Melanesia” comes from Greek, meaning, “black islands,” with “black” referring most likely to the relatively dark skin color of the people who live there. In this view, Melanesia is a group of islands inhabited by “Melanesians”–people who share similar ancestral origins (having traveled a similar path from their origins in East Africa, and likely sharing similar genetics) and now speak related languages and share a similar “Melanesian” culture.
In any definition, Melanesia includes a number of our very favorite island nations, or at least island nations that will become our favorite once we learn about them. We focused last week on Papua New Guinea. This week we’ll look at two Melanesian nations that have a British colonial history–Fiji and The Solomon Islands. Next time we’ll key on two island groups that have long aligned with France–New Caledonia and Vanuatu. That sounds grand, doesn’t it? So what’s the wait?
— HISTORY: Fijian history intertwines indigenous Melanesians, the British and a whole lot of people from India.
— MUSIC: Fijian folk, string bands and Indo-Fijian fusion.
— WHEN YOU GO THERE: When you go to Fiji you’ll have the time of your life. What’s stopping you?
— A FIJIAN MEKE: In class we try a “sitting down meke,” using our hands to tell a tale.