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Polynesian

Information about the Polynesian

Polynesian culture refers to the aboriginal culture of the Polynesian-speaking peoples of Polynesia and the Polynesian outliers. Chronologically, the development of Polynesian culture can be divided into four different historical eras:
  • Exploration and Settlement (c. 1800 B.C. - c. 700 A.D.)
  • Pre-European Growth (c. 700 - 1595)
  • European Discovery and Colonization until World War II (1595 - 1945)
  • Modern times (After World War II) (1945 - present)
Exploration and settlement (c.1800 B.C. to 700 A.D.)

Archaeological and linguistic evidence suggests that the first Polynesians entered the Tongan islands sometime around 1800 B.C., bringing with them the Lapita culture which originated in the Santa Cruz Islands.

The early Polynesians were skillful navigators, capable, by careful observations of cloud reflections and bird flight patterns, to determine the existence and location of islands. Archaeological evidence indicates that by about 700 A.D., every inhabitable island in the vast triangle of Polynesia had been colonized. By comparison, Viking navigators first settled Iceland around 175 years later.

The discovery of new islands and island groups was by means of entire small villages of people setting sail on great Polynesian catamarans.

Pre-European growth: (c. 700 to 1595)

While the early Polynesians were skilled navigators, most evidence indicates that their primary exploratory motivation was to ease the demands of burgeoning populations. Polynesian mythology does not speak of explorers bent on conquest of new territories, but rather of heroic discoverers of new lands for the benefit of those who voyaged with them.

While further influxes of immigrants from other Polynesian islands sometimes augmented the growth and development of the local population, for the most part, each island or island group's culture developed in isolation. There was no widespread inter-island group communication, nor is there much indication during this period of any interest in such communications, at least not for economic reasons. This fact makes all the more astounding the limited linguistic entropy of the Polynesian languages.

During the period following complete settlement of Polynesia, each local population developed politically in diverse ways, from fully-developed kingdoms in some islands and island groups, to constantly-warring tribes or extended family groups between various sections of islands, or in some cases, even within the same valleys on various islands.

While it is likely that population pressures caused tensions between various groups, the primary force that seems to have driven unity or division among tribes and family groups is geophysical: on low islands, where communications are essentially unimpeded, there does not appear to have developed any widely-observable incidence of conflict. At the same time, there were often warring groups inhabiting such low islands, even those on various islands in the same atoll. Meanwhile, on most high islands, there were, historically, warring groups inhabiting various districts, usually delimited primarily by mountain ridges, with carefully drawn lowland boundaries. Early on, however, many such islands developed a united social and political structure, usually under the leadership of a strong monarch. The most glaring exception to this high-island theme is in the Marquesas Islands, where warring groups continued to massacre members of enemy tribes well into the 19th century. The interesting thing about the Marquesas Islands exception is that, unlike other high-island groups in Polynesia, the Marquesas are not surrounded by fringing coral reefs, and consequently, have no low coastal plains. Every valley in the Marquesas is accessible to other valleys only via boat, or by travelling over steep mountain ridges. Rather than undermining the thesis then, that political unity was a direct outgrowth of geophysical conditions, the example of the Marquesas in fact confirms it.

European discovery and colonization, until World War II (1595 to 1945)

The first Polynesian islands visited by European explorers were the Marquesas Islands, first discovered by Europeans when the Spanish navigator, Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, found the islands in 1595.

Because of the paucity of mineral or gemological resources, the exploration of Polynesia by European navigators (whose primary interest was economic), was of little more than passing interest. The great navigator Captain James Cook was the first to attempt to explore as much of Polynesia as possible.

Following the initial European contacts with Polynesia, a great number of changes occurred within Polynesian culture, mostly as a result of colonization by European powers, the introduction of a large number of alien diseases to which the Polynesians had no immunity, slaving ventures to supply plantations in South America, and an influx of Christian missionaries, many of whom regarded the Polynesians as descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. In many cases, colonizing powers, usually under pressure from missionary elements, forcibly suppressed native cultural expression, including the use of the native Polynesian languages.

By the early 1900s, all of Polynesia was colonized or occupied to various degrees by Western colonial powers, as follows:

  • Chile
    • Easter Island
  • France
    • Wallis and Futuna
    • French Polynesia
  • Germany
    • Western Samoa
  • the United Kingdom
    • Tonga (as the "Friendly Islands")
    • Niue
    • the Cook Islands
    • New Zealand
    • Niue
    • Tokelau
    • Tuvalu (as the "Ellice Islands")
    • Pitcairn and its associated islands
  • United States
    • American Samoa
    • Hawaii
    • most of the Line Islands
    • most of the Phoenix Islands
    Meanwhile, all of the Polynesian outliers were subsumed into the sometimes-overlapping territorial claims of Japan, the United Kingdom and France.

    During World War II, a number of Polynesian islands played critical roles. The critical attack which brought the United States into the war, was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, in south-central Oahu, Hawaii.

    A number of islands were developed by the Allies as military bases, especially by the American forces, including as far east as Bora Bora.

    Modern times/After World War II (1945 to present)

    Following World War II, political change came more slowly to the islands of Polynesia than to the other parts of overseas colonies of European powers. Although sovereignty was granted by royal proclamation to New Zealand as early as 1907, this did not go into full effect until 1947.

    Following in independence were the nations (and the sovereign powers from which they obtained complete political independence) of:
    • Samoa, as "Western Samoa" (from New Zealand) in 1962
    • Tonga (from the United Kingdom) in 1970
    • Tuvalu (from the United Kingdom) in 1978
    • the Phoenix Islands and most of the Line Islands as part of the republic of Kiribati (from the United Kingdom) in 1979
    The remaining islands are still under official sovereignty of the following nations:
    • American Samoa (United States)
    • Cook Islands (New Zealand)
    • French Polynesia (France)
    • Niue (New Zealand)
    • Pitcairn (United Kingdom)
    • Tokelau (New Zealand)
    • Wallis and Futuna (France)
    • Howland, Baker, Jarvis, and Palmyra Islands (United States)
    The various outliers lie within the sovereign territory of the nations of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the French territory of New Caledonia.

    Independence and/or increasing autonomy is not the only influence affecting modern Polynesian society. The primary driving forces are, in fact, the ever-increasing accessibility of the islands to outside influences, through improved air communications as well as through vastly improved telecommunications capabilities. The economic importance of tourism has also had a tremendous impact on the direction of the development of the various island societies. Accessibility of outside sources, as well as the tourism viability of individual islands has played an important role to which the modern culture has adapted itself to accommodating the interests of outsiders, as opposed to the influences of those intent upon promoting the retention of native traditions. Because of this, Polynesia is today an area in varying degrees of extreme cultural flux.

    The above includes excerpts from Wikipedia.org, the free encyclopedia:






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