Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology


Names ending in nesia (Greek nesos, an island) have been used, appropriately enough, to designate large groupings of islands in the Pacific. To the west, the Malay Archipelago received the alternative name of Indonesia, the prefix Indo indicating its comparative nearness to India. Eastward above the equator, the islands extending from Palau to the Gilberts and including the Marianas have been grouped together as Micronesia, because the islands are relatively small (micros). South of the equator, the chain of island groups extending from the east of New Guinea to Fiji in the southeast have been termed Melanesia because the skins of the inhabitants are black (melas). The remaining part of the Pacific east of Micronesia and Melanesia is studded with islands, which, because there are many (poli), have been included under the name of Polynesia.

With a few exceptions, the Polynesian islands lie south of the equator. The northern limit across the equator is formed by the Hawaiian Islands, and the easternmost limit by Easter Island. Though New Zealand, because of its size and situation in the south temperate zone, does not qualify for inclusion in the geographic area of tropical Polynesia, it is included in the ethnographic area of Polynesia because New Zealand was inhabited from central Polynesia by people of the same racial stock. If a base line is drawn from Hawaii to New Zealand and side lines from the ends to meet at Easter Island as the apex, a vast triangle is defined in which practically all the islands of Polynesia are situated. Within the Polynesian triangle, the greatest distance from north to south is roughly 5,000 miles, from west to east about 4,000 miles. The base line separates Samoa and Tonga in Polynesia from Fiji in Melanesia and the Gilbert Islands in Micronesia. The few Polynesian islands not included in the triangle are the Ellice Islands, Uvea, Futuna, and Alofi, which lie a little to the west of the base line. This division omits a number of islands situated in the Melanesian area but inhabited by Polynesian-speaking people.