Expansion of Melanesian, Polynesian & Micronesian Cultures

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  • 0:02 The Lapita
  • 1:24 Oceania
  • 1:57 Division
  • 2:33 Increased Trade
  • 3:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the emergence and expansion of several of Oceania's earliest cultures. In doing so, it will highlight the Lapita people and their earliest dealings with Asia and Europe.

The Lapita

Being extremely unscientific, if you asked ten Americans living in the often snow-drenched North where they'd love to go if they had a chance, I'm guessing at least two of them would say 'Hawaii'. After all, it's paradise with sun!

However, if you handed them a ticket marked as an all-expense paid trip to the home of the ancient Lapita, I'm theorizing you'd just get a blank look and a shoulder shrug as the person would have no clue you just gave them their ticket to dreams come true. In other words, although so many of us love the idea of Hawaii, we have very little knowledge of its history. Today, we'll work to remedy this as we discuss the Lapita culture and its history in Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia.

For starters, the Lapita are the early inhabitants of Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia. It's believed they migrated from East Asia, specifically Taiwan, thousands of years ago.

Now, notice that I said 'believed' instead of using more concrete, definitive wording. As you might guess, this is simply because we don't have a whole lot of solid historical facts about the Lapita people. Instead, most of what we know of them has been pieced together through the artifacts, specifically the pottery and ceramics, they left behind.

Oceania

In fact, the Lapita are named after an archaeological site in Lapita, New Caledonia, at which some of their artifacts were found. Along with its history as part of Lapita culture, this area is often referred to under the blanket name of Oceania, the islands of Central and South Pacific.

Not very surprising due to their location, the early Lapita seemed to have been excellent navigators and sailors. Going along with this, it's believed they survived mainly as fishermen but they also dabbled in some agriculture.

Division

Working to nail down some dating, it's asserted that around 1000 BC, the Lapita people began to spread throughout the Pacific area. During this spreading of sorts, they also began to divide or consolidate themselves into groups. For instance, around 1000 BC, a group of Lapita settled in Samoa and Tonga, eventually becoming known as Polynesian. A short while later, another group of Lapita settled in Fiji, and later became known as Melanesian. In the same manner, those who settled in the Caroline or Marshall Islands would eventually become Micronesian.

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