A History of the Pacific Islands

A History of the Pacific Islands

A History of the Pacific Islands

A History of the Pacific Islands

Excerpt

The Pacific Ocean, approximately one third of the earth's surface, is the setting for a world of islands which were originally occupied by people who achieved the greatest feats of maritime navigation in all human history. Their colonization of this vast expanse was spread over several thousand years, during which time their cultures developed and diversified into a collection of intricate patterns. Their cultures were not only pragmatic systems of survival, but were also rich in imaginative power and beauty, representing achievements of the human mind, tongue and hand as inspiring as any others in the world.

These diverse peoples, broadly classified as Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian, had only desultory contact with Europeans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with regular systems of contact not becoming established until late in the eighteenth century. Over the next two hundred years, a succession of Europeans representing different facets of European civilization came to the islands, and left an indelible imprint of such objects and ideas as metals, Christianity, disease, medicine, literacy, individualism, money, the state, democracy, and justice.

The islands, their peoples and cultures were changed by their contacts with Europe, and although all relations between islanders and outsiders involved two-way traffic, cultural change has mostly been in one direction only.

By the beginning of the twentieth century all Pacific islanders had come at least nominally under the rule of western powers. Some of them (New Zealand Maoris and Hawai'ians) had become citizens of the colonizing power. The history of colonialism in the Pacific islands shared some of the abuses of human rights common to colonialism elsewhere, but the comparative poverty of exploitable resources liberated colonial regimes from the temptation or necessity to be oppressive. Although there were ugly features of the colonial period of Pacific history, there were also cases of pragmatic . . .

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