What Is Oceania?

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The location of Oceania on the map.

Where Is Oceania?

The region of Oceania consists of many islands in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Oceania is further divided into the three subregions of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. The term Oceania is often used to denote a continent which comprises of Australia and the nearby islands or as a synonym for Australasian ecozone or the Pacific ecozone. As an ecological zone, it includes Micronesia, Polynesia (excluding New Zealand), and Fiji. New Zealand along with other islands constitutes the separate Australasian ecozone. The term Oceania was coined by Conrad Malte-Brun in 1812 with the inhabitants of the region known as the Oceanians.

The Geography Of Oceania

Oceania initially consisted of land in the Pacific Ocean which stretched from the Strait of Malacca to the coast of the America. The area is made up of four regions including Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, and Malaysia. Parts of the three geological subregions are today part of the term Oceania. Oceania extends to Sumatra, Bonin Island, Hawaiian Island, Rupa Nui Island, and Macquarie Island. The islands at the geographical ends of the area include Bonin, a territory of Japan, Hawaii, a territory of the US, and Easter Island which belongs to Chile. Also, a relatively smaller geographic area includes Indonesian Papua Guinea on the Australian continent but excludes the land on the Sunda Plate. Biogeographically, the region is another name for either the Australasian ecozone or the Pacific ecozone. The region of Oceania is one of the 8 terrestrial ecological zones which form the major ecoregions of the earth. The ecozone covers Micronesia, Fiji, and Polynesia (except New Zealand). Geopolitically, the term Oceania is used by the UN, the International Olympic Committee, and several atlases to include Australia and other Pacific nations such as Papua New Guinea. A wide definition of the region includes the region between Asia and the Americas.

Sub-regions Of Oceania

Oceania is divided into the three sub-regions of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. Melanesia extends from New Guinea Island to the Arafura Sea and Fiji. Melanesia region includes four countries: Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Island, and Vanuatu. It also includes New Caledonia which is a collective of France and the Western New Guinea regions of Indonesia. The islands of Melanesia often have both European and Indigenous names, which results in confusion.

Micronesia consists of several small islands located on the western part of the Pacific Ocean who are shared culturally by Polynesia and Melanesia. Micronesia is politically divided among independent states including three US territories. The islands of Micronesia are estimated to number 2,100, covering a total area of about 1,000 square miles. The largest island, Guam, covers about 225 square miles. Micronesia has four major island groups: Caroline, Gilbert, Mariana, and Marshall.

Polynesia constitutes over 1,000 islands distributed over the central and Southern parts of the Pacific Ocean. The majority of the islands are composed of volcanic islands built by hotspots. Polynesia consists of a largely sank continent of Zealandia which covers a total area of approximately 118,000 square miles with the largest island, New Zealand, Covering approximately 103,000 square miles. Polynesia is defined by the Polynesian Triangle which is drawn by connecting of three islands of Easter Island, Hawaiian Island, and New Zealand.

History Of Oceania

The history of Oceania is built on that of Australia and other Pacific Islands. The history is also built on the history of the three sub-regions of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. The region was explored for the first time by the Europeans in the 16th century. Portuguese explorers reached Moluccas, Timor, Tanimbar Island and some parts of the Carolina Island and New Papua Guinea between 1512 and 1525. Between 1527 and 1595, several large Spanish expeditions explored the Pacific Ocean resulting in the discovery of the Marshall Island and Palau on the northern Pacific. The Spanish explorers discovered the Pitcairn and Vanuatu archipelagos in the 17th century. A colony of Guam was then discovered by the Spanish in 1668 and used as a harbor and stop-over for the west-bound vessels. Abel Tasman was the first to reach Tasmania and New Zealand and mapped a substantial portion of Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, and Fiji. James Cook became the second European explorer to visit New Zealand 125 years after Tasman and in 1778 he became the first European first to visit the island of Hawaii.

The Colonization Of Oceania

Oceania was colonized by Europeans and the Americans. Between 1788 and 1872, the British established several colonies including Australia, New Zealand, and Fuji with much of Oceania becoming a British territory. In the 19th century, Kiribati and Tuvalu Islands also came under the British sphere. Tahiti and Tahuata were declared French protectorates in 1842. The French also took over the Tuamotu Archipelago belonging to the Pomare Dynasty in the 1980s. The Netherlands claimed mainly the western half of Oceania. The Dutch government established its first posts in 1898 and 1902 to the South of the border with British New Guinea. Germany established its colony and a trading station on Jaluit and Ebon islands to promote the copra trade. The US expanded into the Pacific in 1857 by taking over Baker and Howland Islands. Hawaii became part of the US in 1898. The Japanese took control of the Marshall Island at the beginning of the World War I. Japan also colonized several Oceanic colonies.

The Demographics Of Oceania

The idea of what constitutes Oceania varies from time to time. The region is defined in several geopolitical and geographic ways. The geopolitical concept used by bodies such as the United Nations, Olympic Committee, and other atlases includes Australia and other Pacific Nations such as Papua New Guinea in their definition of Oceania. The Oceania region has a population 34.7 million people including the population of Australia and 13.4 million people excluding the mainland Australia. Papua New Guinea is the most populated island followed by New Zealand and Hawaii with a population of 5.9 million, 4.2 million, and 1.4 million respectively. Pitcairn Island is the least populated island with only 48 people. Christianity is the major religion within Oceania although there are some other religions including Hindu, Islam, Buddhism, and Indigenous beliefs.

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