Thursday, November 12, 2015


Not so much an afterthought as a parenthesis, an add-on anyway, by whatever name. I hadn't intended to include it, but early readers of the blog have complained that I have included Micronesia (which I had to do; it's a member of the United Nations), and Polynesia, as well as the Caribbean, and all of the world's major oceans, and so it would be discriminatory at worst, remiss at best, to leave out Melanesia. The argument in my defense is that Melanesia is merely a sub-region of Oceania, the part that extends from the western end of the Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea, and then eastward to Fiji, all of it due north, and for a part north-east, of Australia; but I have included other sub-regions, and I have not actually included Oceania, and so the argument falls. 

At a second attempt, I have put the case that the region consists of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, all of which have their own entries; but this is true of the Caribbean countries, and the major oceans, so this argument too falls flat. As a third case, I could have pointed to Oceania, of which Melanesia forms a part, but so do most of Polynesia (Fiji is not part) and Micronesia; but then I would find myself needing to create a page for Oceania as well, and then point out that New Zealand is not part of Oceania because it is part of Australasia, while the Malay Archipelago is treated differently again, being included in the Indomalaya ecozone, which of course would require yet another page; all of which would simply make the atlas of the world incoherently confusing, which of course it is, once you get beyond countries and into zones and alliances and confederations...enough said.

Melanesia, incidentally, means "black islands", and this too is odd, given that the indigenous people do not fit into any of our normal racial stereotypes, being neither black-skinned nor white-skinned nor red-skinned nor brown-skinned, though generally tending to the dark, in everything except their hair, which is quite remarkably, quite Swedishly blond, and the number of albinos among them goes far beyond the median anywhere else on planet Earth.

The term "black islands" was first coined by the French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1832, and he was quite specifically distinguishing this ethnic group from the Poly- and the Micro-nesians, though he was also failing to distinguish within the category the Austronesians from the Papuans, who for some reason are not called the Papuanesians. The Austronesians came from Taiwan tens of thousands of years ago; the Papuans from New Guinea, but only fives of thousands of years ago, which makes them newcomers, and so they cannot be counted as natives yet and one absolutely cannot let one's daughters marry their sons, or one's sons their daughters.

Melanesia consists of around two thousand islands in total, covering a combined land and sea area of about 386,000 square miles, and is inhabited by around twelve million people. The two thousand, however, also fall into national clusters, so that we are speaking of Bismarck Archipelago (200 islands off the northeastern coast of New Guinea which belong to Papua New Guinea), Fiji (322 islands, of which 110 are inhabited, and 522 smaller islets), Maluku Islands (which we tend to call the Moluccas; only one island, and it isn't even an island really, but an archipelago inside Indonesia), New Caledonia (Grande Terre with several smaller islands, the Belep archipelago to the north, the Loyalty Islands to the east, Île des Pins to the south, the Chesterfield Islands and Bellona Reefs further west), New Guinea (the world's second largest island, but still only one island, even if it is two countries: Papua and West Irian Jaya which belong to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea which stands alone), Solomon Islands (more than a thousand), Torres Strait Islands (two hundred and seventy-four of these), Vanuatu (eighty-three, of which two, surprise, surprise, are claimed by France: Matthew Island and Hunter Island).

Politically Melanesia counts in the world because there is the "Melanesian Spearhead Group Preferential Trade Agreement", an economic arrangement that parallels the European Union and ASEAN (the Association of South-East Asian Nations) and ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), among others.
Marks For: In Melanesia all marks are tatoo marks, which every male is expected to acquire as proof of manhood, usually in combination with the ceremony of head-hunting; however "scarification", which involves raising keloids - extremely large scars - as marks of age and social status, is a custom found only among the Papuans, but not other Melanesians. I am not going to post any photographs of keloids here; they are simply too revolting; however I am going to recommend that you click here, to learn how keloids are being used around the world as a form of torture.

Marks Against: 2 (the number of tribes - the Korowai and the Kombai of southeastern Western New Guinea to be precise - who were still practicing cannibalism the last time any anthropologists went to check.

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