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REGION

POLYNESIA

Polynesia means 'many islands'.

It refers to the complex of islands and atolls within the vast geographical triangle of Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand.

The main archipelagos are Samoa, Cook Islands, Tonga, French Polynesia and Hawaiian Islands.

The larger islands are volcanic, the smaller ones generally coral formations.

For Digital Resources on French Polynesia click here
For Digital Resources on Tonga click here
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MELANESIA

Melanesia means 'black islands' and refers to islands lying south of the equator. It is the collective name for the islands and archipelagos northeast of Australia: Papua/Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji, which is considered part of Melanesia because of its location, despite its culture being more like that of Polynesia.

The word Melanesia is derived from the word melanin, which is the blackish or brownish pigment naturally present to varying degrees in living creatures.

The Melanesian people have large amounts of melanin in their skin, which makes their skin very dark.

For Digital Resources on Vanuatu click here
For Digital Resources on Bougainville click here
For Digital Resources on Papua New Guinea click here
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MICRONESIA

Micronesia means 'small islands' and is derived from the Greek words mikros which means small and nesos which means island and that is exactly what they are.

The Federated States of Micronesia are made up of four island groups - Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae - located in the eastern half of the Pacific Ocean and mainly north of the equator.

Micronesia includes Guam, the Caroline Islands, the Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Gilbert Islands and the single island of Nauru.

Although they cover an ocean expanse five times the size of France, the total landmass of the 607 islands is less than the size of an average Australian city, and many world maps don't even bother marking them. The only land mammals native to the Federated States of Micronesia are bats.

For Digital Resources on Marshall Islands click here
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OCEANIA

In a broad sense the term Oceania is sometimes used to describe all Pacific islands between Asia and the Americas.

However, the more common use omits island countries such as Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines, whose cultures are primarily Asian.

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PEACEFUL PACIFIC

The name Pacific was given to this ocean by the Portuguese navigator and explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520.

The name means peaceful (from the Latin name Mare Pacificum, 'peaceful sea') and Magellan chose this name because of the ocean's apparent calmness and absence of storms.

The winds and climate of the region were considered more gentle that those of other oceans. The Pacific Ocean makes up half the water surface of the Earth.

The largest and deepest of the world's five oceans, its area is greater than that of all the world's landmasses combined.

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WORLD'S FIRST SUNRISE

Tonga can claim the world's first sunrise because it crosses the International Date Line. The Date Line is an imaginary line extending from the North Pole to the South Pole that separates one calendar day from the next. Along most of its length, the International Date Line corresponds to the 180th meridian of longitude. If you cross the line heading east you need to set your calendar back one day; if you cross travelling west you need to set your calendar forward one day. However the first sunrise claim has been contested by Kiribati and Fiji who vied to be the first country to see the dawn of the new millennium on the first of January 2001.

There is no international law that prohibits countries from changing their time lines or introducing daylight saving which will give them claim to a first sunrise.

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FIRST MAPS

The people of the Pacific Islands first made maps of the seas around them with small shells fastened to strings of palm fibre representing the islands.

A leading geographical scholar named Martin Waldseemuller published a European world map in 1507 in Strasbourg. It is the first world map that claims to map the entire world by covering 360 degrees of longitude. It is the first European map to claim the existence of the Pacific Ocean. Surprisingly this map was created a full 15 years before Magellan returned to Europe with an accurate report as to the vastness of the Pacific. (See Region fact).

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GENDER EQUAL SOCIETY?

Contradicting scholars who consider sexual inequality a universal condition, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Maria Lepowsky has published research on Vanatinai society, a matrilineal, decentralised society. Lepowsky lived for 2 years with the people of Sudest Island (Vanatinai) - approx 500 kilometres south of Papua New Guinea - and concluded that men and women live and work as equals on the island. The island is small (2300 people) and isolated, and people make important decisions by everybody getting together rather than delegating the job to a few leaders. The island has no chief and clan membership and inheritance is traditionally matrilineal (follows the women's side of the family). Others argue that this is not proof of a gender equal society.

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PARADISE NOW?

In Hollywood films from the 1920s onwards, the Pacific Islands were a common backdrop for tales of exotic romance and escape.

The islands always featured sun-drenched beaches lined with coconut trees. More recently Lost and the Survivor television series portrayed the Pacific region as pristine, under developed, exotic and full of danger and strange possibilities.

However the unspoilt beauty of the region is under threat from the pressures of mining, over-fishing, logging and the effects of rising sea levels.

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BANANA BANDAGES

Traditionally in the Pacific Islands when people get burns a banana leaf is used as treatment. Banana leaves are obviously a very convenient shape for wrapping around a limb, but what is very interesting is that bananas contain a marvellous substance, a surfactant that reduces the surface tension of liquids so that the liquid spreads out rather than collecting in droplets.

This substance has a particularly beneficial affect when it comes to healing burns.

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