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Oceania South Pacific -Overview
Oceania is a name used for varying groups of islands of the Pacific Ocean. In its narrow usage it refers to Polynesia (including New Zealand), Melanesia (including New Guinea) and Micronesia. In a wider usage it includes Australia. It may also include the Malay archipelago. Uncommonly usage includes islands such as Japan and the Aleutian Islands. Although the islands of Oceania do not form part of a true continent, Oceania is sometimes associated with the continent of Australia for the purposes of dividing the whole world into continental groupings. As such, it is the smallest "continent" in area and the second smallest, after Antarctica, in population. This article primarily refers to the grouping of Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Australia.
In ecology, Oceania is one of eight terrestrial ecozones, which constitute the major ecological regions of the planet. The Oceania ecozone includes all of Micronesia, Fiji, and all of Polynesia except New Zealand. New Zealand, along with New Guinea and nearby islands, Australia, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia, constitute the separate Australasia ecozone.
Every country but one in Oceania is borderless. The exception is Papua New Guinea which borders Indonesia.
Oceania South Pacific-History
The Pacific Ocean is huge. From the west coast of North America, one can travel outward for 9,000 miles across the water without seeing land until one reaches Asia. Alternatively, one can sail from the North Pole to the South Pole for 8,000 miles and that also would be in the Pacific Ocean. The sheer size of the Pacific Ocean is hard to grasp for it covers one-third of the world's surface and it is wide and deep enough for all the continents to be immersed under its waves. ( Central Pacific Islands )
The first European to see the Pacific was Balboa who was later executed by his political enemies. In 1517, a Portuguese nobleman named Magellan (Magalhaes) proposed a route to the Pacific by way of America instead of the recognized course from South Africa on the path of the trade winds. On 28th November 1520, Magellan passed through the southern tip of America which is now called the Strait of Magellan and sailed into the Pacific Ocean. Magellan gave the order for the ships to turn north-east. After incredible hardship, the first land they saw was right across the Pacific at Guam in Micronesia. They went on and Magellan was killed in a battle in the Philippines. It was not until the 17th century that Dutch merchants discovered parts of Polynesia. Tasman reached New Zealand and Roggeveen landed on Easter Island.
The leaders of the early expeditions kept logs in which they recorded their impressions of those things they had seen in Oceania. These accounts are interesting in terms of the descriptions of what they actually saw, but their interpretations of native culture were not always accurate. Many of the whalers and traders who came afterwards did not fully appreciate and understand the oral literature of our people. Also, many of the missionaries who followed in their wake were too busy substituting their own mythology to take an immediate interest in the exact details of the mythology they sought to destroy. Island people were given new standards of value in which their myths and traditions were given no commercial or spiritual recognition. The continuity of their teaching was broken.
So much of the old world created by our island ancestors has passed away. The stone temples are now in ruins and the temple drums and shell trumpets have long been silent. Tane, Rongo, Tagaloa, Nareau and other members of the divine family of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother are still with us even though so much of the regalia and symbols of our spiritualism have been scattered among museums around the world.
Oceania South Pacific-Culture
Western Oceania is composed of three ethnographic areas: Micronesia in the north, Melanesia to the south and Australia in the far south. The general scholarly consensus is that these areas were populated as a result of migration from Asia rather than from the Americas. The historical origins of the earliest settlement of the region are uncertain; there were certainly human settlements in Melanesia and Australia as early as 40,000 years ago. Micronesia was probably settled about 3,500 years ago by peoples from Indonesia, the Philippines and eastern Melanesia. Micronesia consists of more than 600 islands and islets. Pre-European religion was polytheistic. A myriad of deities personified different aspects of nature or functioned as guardians of cultural activities.
Micronesian religion is characterized by a vertical worldview; that is to say, a belief in sky gods responsible for creating the world and associated with the forces of nature.
Melanesian religion by contrast is informed by a horizontal rather than vertical cosmology. There are relatively few sky gods; instead, deities tend to dwell in inaccessible regions beyond the horizon. Various rites and sacrifices were performed to placate the deities and to ensure the protection and prosperity of the group. Also significant for the religious practices of the Melanesians were the spirits of the dead and 'ghost people'. These were believed to dwell among the living; the dead had to be treated with caution and respect since they had the power to cause trouble for the community if offended.
Australian Aboriginal religion is different still. At the heart of Australian Aboriginal religion is the concept of the Dreaming. The Dreaming is a sacred time before living memory when ancestors (in the form of humans or animals) wandered the earth, gave it shape and created all the living things out of their own essence. Once this act of creation had taken place the ancestors merged into the sites they had created. The life spirit of human beings derives from the ancestors, and, therefore, each human being is a form of incarnation of the original ancestors. At death, the spirit returns to be with the ancestors.
Oceania South Pacific-Religion
More than a quarter of the world's religions are to be found in the regions of Australia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, together called Oceania. The Religions of Oceania is the first book to bring together up-to-date information on the great and changing variety of traditional religions in the Pacific zone. The book also deals with indigenous Christianity and its wide influence across the region, and includes new religious movements generated by the responses of indigenous peoples to colonists and missionaries, the best known of these being the `Cargo Cults' of Melanesia. The authors present a thorough and accessible examination of the fascinating diversity of religious practices in the area, analysing new religious developments, and provideing clear interpretative tools and a mine of information to help the student better understand the world's most complex ethnologic tapestry.
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