Cultural Patterns of Australia & the Pacific Islands

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  • 0:02 Customs & Culture
  • 3:04 Language & Ethnicity
  • 5:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to describe the culture of Australia, New Zealand, and the the other areas of the Pacific islands. A short quiz will follow.

Customs & Culture

The customs and culture of Australia and the Pacific Islands are ones of amalgamation. They're a mix of traditional Polynesian island cultures and Western influences. Religions, like Christianity, were brought to the Pacific Islands, but many people practice religions that combine native animistic beliefs with more recent, Christian ones. And Western settlers have had huge influences on cultures and populations in many places.

Australia and New Zealand, while they have their differences, have their Western influences in common. Both have large populations that originate in the United Kingdom, and although they have been independent long enough to have cultures quite distinct from the UK, those influences remain to this day. Their governmental systems draw heavily on the parliamentary system of the UK, and they are officially constitutional monarchies - Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom remains on their currency. Their emphasis on sporting achievements comes from British culture - they share many of their most popular sports, like cricket, football (soccer) and rugby. Even their style of humor, with its focus on dry wit, irreverence, and irony is very similar to British humor.

But their cultures are also influenced by the native people from their lands: Australian Aborigines and New Zealand's Maori. Australian art shows a fascination and romanticism about the outback. And New Zealand incorporates Maori languages and ceremonies in their national anthems and greetings for foreign dignitaries. Since Australia and New Zealand also have a large number of animal and plant species not found anywhere in the world, these can produce a sense of pride and individualism in their own countries: animals like kangaroos, koalas, and dingos are symbols of Australia, just as kiwis and wetas are symbols of New Zealand. Hawai'i is similar to Australia and New Zealand in that it's heavily Western-influenced. But in the case of Hawai'i, the influence is from the United States, being admitted to the United States in 1959. Culturally, Hawai'i is a mix of American and native Hawaiian culture.

The other islands of the Pacific are much less influenced by the West and in most cases contain majority native populations even to this day. Each of the islands has their own distinct culture, but in general, people tend to be fairly relaxed and live slow-paced lives, especially compared to Australia. Religion is one area where the West has greatly influenced the islands - Christianity was brought there long ago by missionaries. And the Western influence of Australia and New Zealand has certainly spread to the islands in other ways over time. This can be seen by the fact that rugby is an extremely popular sport across the islands, more popular than soccer or cricket, and is a way the people of the Pacific are brought together. The arts are another way that Australia and the Pacific Islands are brought together. The Festival of Pacific Arts is held every four years, rotating between countries. It focuses on traditional culture, song, and dance and has participants from 27 countries.

Language & Ethnicity

Australian ethnicity is largely European at 60% of population, according to the 2011 census. A full 55% of the 60% is British: English, Irish, or Scottish. Though much of the Australian population simply consider themselves of 'Australian' ancestry (34%), only 3% of Australia's population are actually indigenous. These indigenous people come from a total of 500 tribes and spoke 250-300 languages in 600 dialects. Only 200 languages remain today. The majority of the population are English speakers, and 66% don't speak a second language. But while the country is predominantly English, their slang is distinct after a long time as an isolated and then independent country. Words like bonzer (great), strewth (an exclamation), g'day (hello/good day), barbie (barbeque), sook (sulk) and others are chiefly Australian. While others like ta (thanks), whinge (whine), bloody (very), heaps (a lot) and iffy (dodgy) are used regularly in the UK.

New Zealand originally belonged to the Maori people and has a larger native population than Australia at 15%. The remainder is mostly European (67.6%), followed by Asians (12%) and Pacific Islanders (7.4%). Like Australia, New Zealand has its own slang too, but the overlap with British slang is even stronger.

The Polynesian triangle is home to two main cultural groups: West Polynesia and East Polynesia. The Polynesian triangle is the islands inside a triangle with New Zealand, Hawai'i, and Easter Island at the corners. The culture of the Western group is one of dense populations, strong importance placed on marriages, and strong legal and trading systems. Eastern Polynesian cultures are more accustomed to smaller populations and islands. The Maori originate in Eastern Polynesian cultures. However, the modern ethnic backgrounds of islanders are mixed due to the influx of foreigners. Polynesia contains 30 original languages and are distinctive for their similar vowel sounds and using apostrophes for glottal stops (like in Hawai'i). But English is the most spoken and official language of most Pacific islands.

Micronesia has five ethnic groups, all of which originate from a larger Micronesian ethnicity. This ethnicity is, in turn, related to Filipinos, Polynesians, and Melanesians. Melanesia contains mostly natives of the area. They speak various Papuan languages (languages originating in Papua New Guinea).

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