World Facts

What Is Polynesia?

More than 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean constitutes Polynesia, a subregion of Oceania.

What Is Polynesia?

The Oceania region constitutes three subregions who combine to form the entire insular region between Southeast Asia and the Americas. The three subregions making up the Oceania are Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. Polynesia is made up of several islands distributed over the Pacific Ocean. The islands are inhabited by Indigenous people who are known as Polynesians.

Polynesia is a term that was first used in 1756 by Charles de Brosses, French explore, to refer to all the islands of the Pacific. A restriction on the use of the word was proposed in 1831 by Jules Dumont d’Urville. The islands in the South Pacific, which number over 1,000, were historically called South Sea Islands.

The Geography Of Polynesia

The Polynesian region covers a small land extended over a large area of the central and southern portion of the massive Pacific Ocean. Most of the islands are composed of volcanic islands built by hotspot. The region also consists of unsubmerged portions including New Zealand, Norfolk Island, and Ouvea which are parts of the microcontinent of Zealandia. The continent is estimated to have sunk over 23 million years ago and re-emerged only recently due to the movement of Pacific Plate which uplifted the New Zealand portion.

Polynesia is characterized by islands within the Polynesian triangle, although some islands are inhabited by Polynesians but are not located within the triangle. The Polynesian Triangle has three island groups at its corners including Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand. Geographically, the Triangle is established by connecting the points of the three islands. Other island groups included within the Triangle are Samoa, Tong, Cooks Island, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Niue, and French Polynesia. The Polynesian region also includes some other small settlements in Papua Guinea, Solomon Island, and Vanuatu. Rotuma Island is an island group with strong Polynesian cultural similarities. However, it is located outside the great triangle. Although the island has several similar cultural traits with the Polynesians, they speak a non-Polynesian language.

Population Development In Polynesia

The Polynesian population is considered to be influenced by the sea migration of the Austronesia people. By tracing the origin of the Polynesian language, the prehistoric origin of the population is placed in the Malay Archipelago and in Taiwan. The Austronesia speaking people began to spread from Taiwan into the Island of South East Asia between 3000 and 1000 BC. However, there are three suggestions relating to the movement of people throughout the Pacific to the Polynesia. First is the Expression Train Model which includes the movement out of Taiwan through the Philippines and Indonesia from New Guinea before reaching the Western Polynesian islands in around 900 BC. Secondly, the Entangled Bank Model stresses the history of the Austronesians and their beliefs and linguistic interaction with the indigenous people of South East Asia along their way to being the first Polynesians. Finally, the Slow Boat Model is a similar expression to the Expression Train Model but with a further stay in Melanesia. The Express Train theory is supported by most current linguistics and by archaeological data.

The Culture And Practices Of The Polynesians

There are over 2 million ethnic Polynesian people living worldwide. The majority of Polynesians live in Polynesia, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The language, culture, and social practices were distinct between the Western and Eastern Polynesians. The culture of Western Polynesia is linked to its high population and has a strong institution of marriage, judicial, and traditional trading. The Polynesian leaders were chosen based on the hereditary bloodline (with the exception of Samoa). Farming and fishing were major economic activities and were advanced because the lives of the islanders depended on them.

Political History Of Polynesia

The political history of Polynesia depends on the history of the individual islands which make up the region. In Tonga, the political power fell under the Tu’I Kanokupolu dynasty after a bloody civil war in the 16th century. Tonga was united into a Western-styled kingdom by Taufaahau in 1845 and declared the island a monarch. In 1900, Tonga became a British protectorate under the Treaty of Friendship. The Kingdom of Tonga received its independence on June 4, 1970 from the British Protectorate. New Zealand was annexed as part of New South Wales by the UK in 1840. Fiji was ruled by numerous chieftains until the landmass was unified by Cakobau. The Lapita culture existed in Fuji from around 3500 BC for about 1,000 years until they were displaced by Melanesians.

Polynesian Navigation

Polynesian Islands are diffused throughout the Polynesian Triangle with sides of 4,000 miles. The Hawaiian Island, Easter Island, and the New Zealand are inhabited by the Polynesians. The navigators accessed the inhabited islands by depending entirely on their own senses and knowledge learnt through the oral tradition. Navigators memorized important events to locate direction at different times of the day and the year. Stars were an important tool that was used for navigation. Other techniques included movement of wildlife species, the direction of the swell on the ocean, and the sea color. Navigation technique of the Polynesians was lost during their contact with the European making it difficult to account for the existance of the Polynesians in the isolated parts of the Pacific.

More in World Facts