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Oceanian Society

Oceanian Society



Ethnography of Australia

Ethnography of island Oceania

History of European contact

Social science research in Oceania


Oceania refers to Australia and to those Pacific islands situated between (and including) the Hawaiian archipelago and the Marianas Islands in the north, Easter Island in the east, New Zealand in the south, and New Guinea in the west. These boundaries are essentially ethnological and, in some respects, arbitrary. Although only a few scholars think that there have been significant human interchanges—biological or cultural—between this region and the Americas, the western boundary is anything but sharp. Prior to the colonial era people of the Marianas and West Carolines seem to have had little or nothing in common with the Ryukyuans to the north, but their past relations with the Philippines are clearly demonstrable in language, culture, and physique. Links between New Guinea and islands west of it are even more evident; in fact, the Moluccas constitute something of a transition zone.


Our concern with the physical environment of Oceania is twofold. First of all, we are interested in those environmental features which have had some relevance to the social behavior of peoples with nonmetallic technologies, nonurban settlement patterns, and largely nonscientific ideologies. For such peoples the presence or absence of mineral deposits, deep harbors, or natural grazing pastures was largely irrelevant, but these very factors did become relevant to native behavior through the intermediacy of alien whites and Asians.

For the native Oceanians the region provided a wide range of natural assets as well as a formidable array of liabilities (Oliver 1951). In Australia, the climate nowhere reached such extremes as to render any large zone entirely uninhabitable. In fact, the populace tended to concentrate, regardless of climate, in places where natural foods were most abundant, i.e., in the humid and tropical north as well as in the temperate southeast. The natural foods relied upon by the hunting and gathering peoples included kangaroos, cassowaries, snakes, lizards, turtles, fish, grubs, fruits, roots, seeds—in fact, almost everything the land and water produced that was even conceivably edible. The Australians’ direct and, one might say, indiscriminately total reliance upon the continent’s given resources for their subsistence may help to explain many of the similarities among aboriginal cultures noted by most students. But by the same token, local differences in the kinds and quantities of those resources also resulted in the development of some regional differences in other domains of cultural life.

Unlike the Australians, other islanders were primarily gardeners; hence the factors of rainfall, topography, and soil were of more immediate importance than direct availability of wild plants and animals. The islands of Oceania may be divided into several more or less distinctive types in regard to these features.

The “continental” islands are New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, Bougainville, and the mountainous archipelagoes which culminate in Fiji in the east and New Zealand in the south. These islands rise from a vast submarine platform which extends outward from Asia. The bold relief and wide,diversity of soil types, coupled with local differences in climate, have produced numerous sharply distinctive natural areas: bleak mountain summits, fern-forested uplands, grassy plateaus and high valleys, magnificent rain forests, scrubby jungles, riverine swamps, foothills, sandy coastal shelves, flat offshore reef islets, etc. This geographic diversity has contributed to the cultural diversity which is a hallmark of this portion of Oceania.

The remaining islands of Oceania are much smaller, more dispersed, and consist of just three basic landforms: high volcanic peaks, low coralline atolls, and raised-coral “pancakes”—or combinations of these, each affected by differences in age, weathering, and climate. In addition, the proximity to supplies of marine food has served, in some places, to reduce the direct dependence upon soil.

Opportunities for formulating and testing hypotheses about human behavior are enhanced by the insular nature of the region, which provides the researcher with laboratorylike controls found in few other regions of the world. In island Oceania wide stretches of ocean or hazardous natural barriers helped to isolate human communities from one another for years or even centuries at a stretch; and the Australians, although in contact with each other, were themselves more or less isolated from the rest of humanity for many thousands of years. But before describing the uses that social scientists have made of data obtained in Oceania, we shall sketch the outline of mankind’s history in the area, as reconstructed by archeologists, linguists, and ethnologists. This reconstruction is, of course, immensely interesting in itself as a chronicle of some fascinating chapters of human history; but its relevance in this article consists of the light it can shed about some of the events whose sequels provide social science with such varied and amenable resources for research.


Skeletal fragments and crude stone artifacts found on Java demonstrate that tool-making hominids inhabited at least the Greater Sunda Islands as early as the first interglacial period, but the oldest human remains yet found in Oceania (i.e., in Australia) go back no further than ten to fourteen millennia. Since archeology is just beginning in Australia and New Guinea, it is reasonable to anticipate some deepening of their chronologies in due course. But it is interesting and probably indicative that no excavations carried out elsewhere in Oceania have revealed traces of humanity dating back beyond 3,500 years ago. It is simply unlikely that much earlier than that there were any boats in the western Pacific capable of reaching such places as Hawaii, New Zealand, or even Fiji. And as for movements from the east, I stated at the outset my firm belief that Oceania’s populations and cultures derived ultimately from the southern and eastern shores of Asia. There may well have been added a few genes and a few culture traits from the Americas, but if such were the case they were relatively late and comparatively insignificant.

There is no demonstrable basis for linking race with intellectual potential, but race—or at least its visible criteria—has some relevance to the student of social behavior in Oceania. It has figured, for example, in natives’ estimates of each other; and it has greatly influenced whites’ attitudes towards natives (e.g., the light-skinned, straight-haired peoples of Polynesia have by and large been treated with less contempt than their darker-skinned neighbors of Australia and the western islands). But knowledge of the genetic composition of Oceania’s population could conceivably also provide helpful clues concerning culture history.

Few systematic studies of race have been carried out in Oceania, save in Australia and southeastern Polynesia, and the specialists differ in their interpretations of the findings. Although there is nearly universal agreement upon Asia’s having been the source of Oceania’s populations, there is no consensus concerning the identity or the sequence of the several genetic strains that are evidently present in these populations.

There is a difference of opinion even with respect to the make-up of Australia’s quite distinctive aboriginal population—the dark-skinned, curly-(not frizzly) haired individuals with massive browridges and low, broad noses. On the basis of some marked regional differences in physical features, some specialists posit three separate racial components: a short-statured negroid type; a larger-bodied, lighter-pigmented, more hirsute type reminiscent of the Ainu of northern Japan; and a more slender, dark-skinned, curly-haired type similar to the Veddas of Ceylon. According to this view, these three types arrived in separate waves —or trickles—and have interbred somewhat, but not homogeneously, during the succeeding millennia. According to another view, the aborigines were of the same race to begin with and have developed their regional differences since arrival on the subcontinent. For the social scientist these contrary views are not without relevance: if the population can be shown to be tri-hybrid in origin, researches will logically focus on explaining the many cultural similarities found throughout the continent and vice versa.

For the rest of Oceania the racial composition is even more complex and variously interpreted. The archipelagoes containing the so-called “continental” islands, from New Guinea to New Caledonia and Fiji (but not New Zealand), are inhabited mainly by populations with frizzier hair and somewhat darker skin colors than possessed by their neighbors to the north, east, and south. This circumstance has led to the area being labeled “Melanesia” (“black islands”), a term which is rather inaccurate and has proved to be mischievously misleading. In the first place, although there are many dark brown and even coal black populations within Melanesia, there are also many others no more heavily pigmented than, say, natives of Tahiti or Tonga. Second, this regional division based on somatic criteria has been arbitrarily perpetuated by ethnologists in the cultural sphere.

Within Melanesia the range of racial types (or subtypes) is very wide. Stature ranges from pygmoid to tall, pigmentation from light copper to jet black, prognathism from absent to pronounced, etc., and there are no obvious correlations, direct or inverse, between these attributes. Some populations look remarkably Australian (except for hair forms), others like frizzly-haired Mongoloids, and still others (with light pigmentation and high, beaklike noses) resemble no other physical types anywhere.

Elsewhere in Oceania—in the far-flung archipelagoes of Micronesia and Polynesia—physical types tend to be more uniform: the population becomes more “Mongoloid” and less “Negroid”; but the similarities (and differences) are not distributed in clear enough patterns to provide the specialists with unambiguous historical clues.

In fact, there is enough ambiguity in the racial data available for Oceania to permit any number of different historical reconstructions (including one that posits an American Indian component: Asia, after all, is the ultimate source of Oceanians and Amerindians). One reconstruction, derived from the tri-hybrid Australian scheme, proposes a succession of racial immigrations of the following order: Ainoid, Pygmy Negritoid, Veddoid, and Mongoloid. Another scheme includes Australoids (undifferentiated), both pygmy and full-statured Negroids, and Mongoloids. Still others (for somewhat gratuitous reasons) believe a so-called “Caucasoid” element to be present, especially in the populations of Polynesia.

Weighing all these alternatives, it seems least uncertain, and geographically most logical, that Australia and Melanesia were the first to be peopled, and by some combination of Negroids (short, or short and tall) and Australoids (or Ainoids-Veddoids); and that these separate strains interbred in varying degrees in different places. Nor is it unreasonable to believe that Mongoloid strains were the last to appear, leaving their genetic traces along the route, or routes.

It is unlikely that archeologists will ever turn up enough skeletal remains to permit a detailed reconstruction of Oceania’s whole racial history, and social scientists searching for precise and longrange historical guidelines cannot expect much help from this direction. However, the small sizes and relatively great isolation of so many of Oceania’s populations render them ideal “laboratories” for studying microevolutionary phenomena —e.g., the relationship between physical variance, on the one hand, and social structure, ecology, or epidemiology, on the other. Here, indeed, are to be found ideal opportunities for anthropologists to practice what they preach about their concern with both cultural and biological aspects of mankind.

The languages spoken by the Oceanians comprise three great categories: Australian, Austronesian, and non-Austronesian (Capell 1962; Klieneberger 1957). Quite apart from the intrinsic interest of the subject matter, the study of these languages, both descriptively and historically, is relevant to social science inquiry. Not only is knowledge of the local vernacular indispensable for all but the most superficial field research in any Oceanic society, but ethnographers—and especially those who have worked in Oceania—would probably agree that a society’s language is a very important part of its cultural inventory. And on the historical side, findings about language relationships, genetic and acculturational, provide the best evidence we have for culture-historical reconstruction in general—and hence for comparative studies of social behavior.

The native languages of Australia (including Tasmania) differ markedly among themselves in structure and vocabulary, but their outstanding student, Arthur Capell, considers them members of the same family (1956). Numerous attempts have been made to trace their relationships outside Australia; so far these efforts have proved unconvincing, but it would not be surprising if future research were to turn up some links with non-Austronesian languages of neighboring New Guinea.

Prior to the spread of English, Spanish, and French in recent centuries, Austronesian was the most far-flung family of languages in the world: its speakers were spread from Formosa and Malaya to Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand (one of its western languages even became established on Madagascar). Outside Australia and certain parts of the “continental” islands, all the languages of Oceania are to be classified within this great family.

For many decades it was the conventional practice of linguists to subdivide this family into four major (and implicitly more or less coordinate) branches:Indonesian (including Malay and all the Austronesian languages of the Philippines, the Sunda Islands, the Moluccas, etc., along with Malagasy (Madagascar), Cham (Cambodia), Li (Hainan),Jarai (Vietnam), Lati (southwest China), etc.;Micronesian (all the languages of Palau, the Marianas Islands, Caroline Islands, Marshall Islands, and Gilbert Islands); Polynesian (all the languages of Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand, Tahiti, Easter Island, etc.); and Melanesian (all Austronesian languages of New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Fiji—except for certain Polynesian language “outliers”within the geographic zone of Melanesia). Thus the practice of subdividing Oceania according to so-called racial (Melanesia, “black islands”) or geographic criteria (Micronesia, “small islands”Polynesia, “many islands”) was somewhat arbitrarily carried over into linguistic classification and, as will be seen, into general cultural classification as well.

Recent developments in linguistic science, including lexicostatistics and new methods of data processing, have stimulated a reappraisal of this conventional scheme (Capell 1962; Grace 1964).There is anything but consensus among the many linguists now studying Austronesian—some depend almost wholly on lexical data for their results;others insist that grammatical considerations must also be taken into account—but the older fourclass scheme has been generally abandoned. It is now acknowledged that the languages of the Marianas Islands, Palau, and Yap are closer to those of the Philippines than to any in Oceania itself. There is also common agreement that the several Polynesian languages (or dialects) are far too alike to justify placing them in a genetic position coordinate with the many widely varying languages of Melanesia. It is in connection with the latter that the specialists are in least agreement. According to one view they remain something of a genetically separate unit more or less coordinate with a comparable unit of “Indonesian “while in another scheme they are classified into a dozen or more units of the subfamily order of branching. Also—and this has a direct bearing on long-range perspectives of social change—some writers view the Austronesian languages of Melanesia as fusions of the area’s numerous aboriginal(and non-Austronesian) languages with immigrant (and, implicitly, quite uniform) Austronesian tongues: this is the “pidginization” theory, so called by analogy with present-day Melanesian pidgin, the “contact” language between Oceanians and whites throughout most of Melanesia. This view has been sharply challenged, both on linguistic and culture-historical grounds.

In fact, among the Austronesian languages of Oceania it is only with respect to the closely interrelated Polynesian subgroup that historical relationships have been sufficiently established to provide the social scientist with bases for some controlled comparisons of social and cultural systems. One can better appreciate the attractive possibilities for this kind of research by taking note of the likelihood, suggested by lexicostatistics, that all the known Polynesian languages derive from a single language which began branching not much more than two thousand years ago, and that during their subsequent histories many of them had no contact with non-Polynesian speech.

The label non-Austronesian has been given to those languages of island Oceania not classifiable as Austronesian; they are to be found on New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, and the northwest Solomon Islands, as well as on Halmahera and other islands of eastern Indonesia. From their distribution—mainly in the interiors of the large west Melanesian Islands—it has generally been assumed that they are survivors of the tongues spoken in this region before the spread of Austronesian. Unlike the Austronesian family and the languages of Australia, the non-Austronesian languages have so far resisted the efforts of linguists to link them into a single genetically interrelated unit, although they do not appear to be quite so fragmented as was once believed. In New Guinea, for example, linguists have discovered in the eastern highlands a very extensive “stock” comprising some 750,000 speakers (Capell 1962); other such unities are likely to emerge as more professional linguists turn their attention to parts of Oceania where the native languages have not even been recorded, much less studied.

Ethnography of Australia

Australian aborigines (Elkin 1938; Berndt 1965) got their food by hunting, fishing, and collecting;despite occasional contacts with Macassarese and Papuans they appear never to have adopted agriculture. And although they kept more or less tame dogs that helped them hunt larger game, they raised no animals for food. Men hunted (and fought) with spears, clubs, throwing sticks, or, in some areas, bows and arrows; women grubbed up roots and insects with digging sticks. Life was nomadic, in pursuit of widely scattered and seasonally variable food supplies; shelters were temporary, makeshift affairs. Some of the artifacts were fashioned out of stone, bone, and shell, but plants provided the materials for most objects of daily life.

It has been estimated that at the time of initial European colonization some two hundred years ago, there were no more than about 300,000 people inhabiting Australia—probably a fairly stable figure in view of their seemingly unchanging technology and their millennia-long residence. It is not unlikely that the distribution of the population had also reached a point of stability in adjustment to the continent’s several geographic zones, with the heaviest concentrations in the temperate southeast and tropical north and the lightest in the arid interior. Some three hundred languages are said to have been spoken in Australia, but these were not necessarily contiguous with cultural or political distinctions.

The nuclear family, modally if not normatively monogamous, was the basic residential unit of society. In some areas, and during certain parts of the natural seasonal cycle, individual families traveled separately, and although males and females contributed differently, food was usually shared. When the availability of food permitted, but also for social and ritual purposes, several families congregated into bands (or “hordes”)of various sizes and degrees of integration.

In addition to families and bands, Australian societies were divided into various other kinds of social units based on locality, kinship, age, and sex —or combinations of these factors. One relatively simple and fairly widespread kinship structure consisted of unilinear and exogamous moieties. Societies were sometimes divided into four or eight such parts. In the view of some analysts these arrangements functioned mainly to regulate marriages, while other writers consider them to be classificacation devices for the convenient ordering of one’s numerous kinfolk—i.e., all other members of one’s community.

The factor of age also received emphasis in almost all aboriginal societies. Particularly for males, the cycle of growing up and aging was associated with a series of ritual events. These were carried out within the context of localized all-male sodality that was stratified into more or less agegraded subgroups. Some of these rituals included extreme forms of body mutilation (e.g., subincision of the penis) along with ceremonial dances and recitations of great religious depth and drama. The form and content of these rituals, along with their theological connotations and their social functions, varied considerably from place to place; but they were widespread enough and similar enough to be considered a very characteristic—but of course, not distinctive—feature of aboriginal Australian culture.

Another characteristic feature of Australian life was the absence of anything approaching occupational specialization. Individual differences in skill and knowledge and stamina were recognized, but expert hunters, warriors, artists, magicians, flintknappers, etc., were not relieved of the ordinary chores of subsistence, and they received few material rewards for their specialties. Some individuals undoubtedly produced goods that were surplus to their own families’ subsistence needs—such things as stone spear points, cordage, mineral pigments—or benefited from occasional windfalls of meat or fish. The limited local exchange and long-distance trade of these goods were usually carried out within the context of kinship and with some ceremonial elaboration. However, there were probably no bands capable of producing enough over-all surplus to sustain full-time specialists of any kind.

Perhaps the most prestigious of skills was the ability to chant from memory the interminable myths, prayers, and formulas which formed indispensable parts of various rituals. Individuals possessing this skill who had also moved up through the ranks of the age-graded men’s sodalities achieved a status that commanded some measure of authority in community affairs. Compared, however, with most other societies in Oceania, the institution alization of authority in aboriginal societies was not very developed.

No aspect of Australian life has attracted more “scientific” attention than the so-called religious beliefs and practices. Living, as the aborigines do, in symbiosis with their physical environment, they have animated it so anthropomorphically and so comprehensively that their perceptions of the universe appear to contain no boundaries between mankind and the actual or imagined populace of nature. One of their most widespread beliefs, for example, consists of linking certain animals and plants—generically or individually—with each of their enduring social units or categories. Such linkages are usually conceived of in terms of kinship and not infrequently involve restrictions against eating or rituals aimed at magical increase of the species involved. In some places even mountains, pools, stars, thunder, rain, and sneezing are either individually or generically assimilated into the social structure. The myths and rituals embodying these beliefs are as diverse and bizarre as they are long and dramatic. Fertility—of nature and of humanity—is a theme which runs through many of them; and they are enacted through songlike recitation, dance, and instrumental music.

Finally, this brief inventory of institutions would be incomplete without mention of the graphic art of aboriginal Australia. Students have only recently begun to study the rich domain of painting, carving, and engraving—naturalistic and abstract, public and esoteric. Although these deserve serious enough attention on artistic grounds alone, their apparent associations with myth and ritual make them intriguing subjects for social science as well.

Ethnography of island Oceania

Technology and material culture

As noted earlier, agriculture was the basis of subsistence throughout all of island Oceania (Oliver 1951).Even on certain of those arid atoll islets where soil is lacking, natives laboriously imported soil for gardens (Barrau 1958). In places dependent mainly on self-propagating tree crops some effort was occasionally spent in protecting and tending the plants, and some supplementary gardening was usually practiced as well. The main “tree” crops of the islands were coconuts, sago, breadfruit, pandanus, and bananas. The first European visitors found coconut palms growing on nearly every inhabited island except Easter Island, New Zealand, and Chatham Island. These trees thrive best in lower altitudes near the coasts and provided islanders with food, drink, oil, containers, fibers, thatch, and construction wood. Sago palms grow semiwild in many swampy areas, particularly on the larger continental islands; the starch extracted from the palm’s pith was the staple food in many riverine and coastal communities. Breadfruit is most prolific in the volcanic soils of the central and eastern islands; although fruiting only seasonally, this tree produces bounteously and requires little care. Some varieties of the pandanus, or screw pine, produce a fruit which can be made partly edible and which serves only as a famine food on richer islands but is the main vegetable food on some of the arid atolls. Bananas (including plantains), which grow in most of the moist tropical areas, varied widely in culinary importance, from a staple food to an occasional supplementary one.

Of the root crops, both wet-land and dry-land varieties of taro were cultivated; yams were grown widely both for food and for purposes of display;and sweet potatoes were adapted to poorer soils and cooler climates.

The islanders supplemented these crops with wild roots, stems, shoots, fruit, and leaves. The only part of Oceania in which natives cultivated rice was in the Marianas, another trait linking these islands with the Philippines.

Each of the vegetable staples required different production techniques and resulted in a wide range of cultural variations. Sago, for example, could be collected at any time of the year and was preserved by a laborious process. In contrast, breadfruit required little processing but fruited only once or twice a year and remained edible only in a fermented state.

In comparison with the Australians, most Oceanian islanders spent little time hunting. A noteworthy exception occurred in New Zealand, where early inhabitants hunted to extinction the giant moa, a large, flightless, ostrichlike bird. On the other hand, fishing was a major activity wherever marine resources permitted. Streams, rivers, reefs, lagoons, and open seas were harvested by means of an extraordinary variety of tools, watercraft, and techniques. As in the case of agriculture, differences in emphasis on fishing together with differences in fishing techniques were reflected in other cultural domains—in religious beliefs and ritual as well as in the social structure of households and communities.

Canoes have played a central role in the lives of Oceanians, and they have been used for fishing, everyday transport, and, prehistoric ally, in the peopling of this world of islands. Some of the riverine and coastal peoples of New Guinea found shallow dugouts adequate for their purposes of moving about in calm waters, but most other islanders depended upon outrigger canoes or deep-hulled plankbuilt boats. Although some elements of this complex reflect the common southeast Asian origin of Oceania’s seagoing heritage, there has developed a rich variety of local specialties—in boat construction, ornamentation, and handling, as well as in navigational principles and skills.

In many places the building and handling of a big canoe was an event of social importance, being one of the few instances of large-scale coordinated activity. For the social scientist these occasions reveal otherwise unstated premises regarding division of labor, authority, and exchange. In fact, in seagoing societies such as Tahiti the nomenclature applied to the various parts of their larger canoes was a metaphoric summary of the natives’image of their political relations.

Like Australians, the Oceanian islanders kept dogs—for pets, hunting aids, and sometimes for food. Most households also kept a few fowl—if“kept” is appropriate for the rather aimless relationship in which the fowl were neither fed nor eaten with any regularity. It was only on remote Easter Island that fowl became important in native economy and in ritual. Wherever islanders managed to introduce and keep them alive, pigs became much more important than dogs or fowl. They were eaten at feasts and used in ceremonial exchanges. In fact, so highly were pigs valued that in some societies they became the prime means and measure of political ascendancy.

In societies like these, where food occupies such a dominant position—in productive energy, in social interaction, in hierarchies of value, in cult focus, in symbolic expression, and so forth—the cooking and eating of a meal may provide social science with some of its most rewarding data. In this connection, then, it should be noted that techniques of food preparation vary within societies and among societies. Cooking was everywhere important, although some fish and plant foods were occasionally eaten raw. Cooking itself varied from simple roasting and pot boiling to large-scale baking in community-size earth ovens. Even the most elaborate Hawaiian or Samoan menus and recipes did not compare with those of Asia, but in many places men (festal cooking was nearly everywhere done by males) knew how to prepare puddings combining many ingredients in various proportions.

Next to water the only beverage universally imbibed was the liquid of unripe coconuts—at least where coconut palms grew. On many islands in the central and eastern Pacific natives drank kava (or ’ava, etc.), a mildly narcotic liquid made from the root of a cultivated pepper plant. On some islands (e.g., Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa) kava drinking reached a point of high ceremonial elaboration.These ceremonials served to express and reinforce community integration and political status. West of the kava-drinking part of Oceania, and barely overlapping it, were areas of betel chewing extending on into the south Asian mainland. In these areas betel chewing did not become as ceremonialized as kava drinking did elsewhere, but its use throughout the populations was more widespread.

Plants were the source of nearly all the cordage and textiles made in island Oceania; loom weaving was restricted to the Marianas and West Carolines, but hand plaiting developed in some places to the level of a fine art.

Matwork and barkcloth were the chief materials out of which most clothing, floor covering, bedding, sails, and temporary shelters were made. In some places finely textured mats and barkcloths circulated as highly valued objects in networks of redistribution and intergroup exchange. Houses differed widely in shape and size; some were built to accommodate only a small family, while others were spacious enough for hundreds of people. Comparison of local differences can provide insights into human inventiveness and the processes of adaptation and also into historical relationships, but the nature of Oceanian housebuilding has even more direct relevance to the social scientist, inasmuch as most such enterprises involve the actions of large numbers of people contributing materials and services according to conventional social patterns. House architecture often provides valuable insights into the residents’ views about their social universe—views which might otherwise remain inexplicit. The residences, for example, very rarely contain inner partitions, but for the occupants internal space is divided into functionally and symbolically distinct “rooms”; in fact, in many places a house provides space for the living and for the dead, for spirits as well as mortals.

Public structures of many types and utilizing varied construction materials were built in island Oceania. They served a wide variety of uses: clan refuges, exclusive men’s clubhouses, secular meeting places, temples, forts, theaters, athletic arenas, lovers’ trysts, craftsmen’s workshops—in fact, nearly everything but market places for buying and selling.

Within recent years the graphic and plastic arts of Oceania have aroused keen interest among art historians and collectors. The skillfully executed masks, ceremonial implements, “idols,” and so on are also of interest to the social scientist because of their relevance to social behavior. Designs, for example, often express magical intent or supernaturally protect ownership or clan unity. Or, the roughly shaped, grotesque figure may in faith be the terrestrial resting place of a powerful and handsome god. We cannot begin to describe the great variety in materials, techniques, and designs found in Oceanic art objects, but the situation is not as chaotic as a rapid walk through a museum might lead one to believe. In fact, some surveys by anthropologically oriented experts have begun to delineate for all Oceania a manageably small number of distinctive artistic traditions, thereby providing social scientists with some new and stimulating possibilities for investigation (Linton &Wingert 1946; Guiart 1963a).

Ideology and social structure

In the foregoing discussion we have dwelt mainly on what islanders did and what they made in connection with daily living. However, it should at least be pointed out that islanders did not go about the business of making a living without reflection, in slavish response to “custom” On certain occasions islanders undoubtedly acted because of time-honored and sanctioned precedent, but their actions were more frequently pragmatic. Perhaps the many different and often difficult kinds of physical environments met with in the course of their histories in Oceania had something to do with this, by placing a premium on flexibility and adaptability. Many of their actions were based on premises that we would call magical, but this is not to deny the presence of a “scientific”attitude toward their environment.

As for the magical ingredient of their thinking, neither its logic (homeopathic, sympathetic) nor its content (animism, animatism) is distinctively Oceanian in any essential way.

Turning now to the islanders’ pre-European social behavior, we begin by acknowledging our inability to generalize about the region as a whole or about large segments of it. A great deal is known about the social life of certain island peoples, but there are many more societies about which nothing, or next to nothing, is known—with no prospect of ever gaining such knowledge in many cases because the islanders’ native forms of society have completely disappeared under the impact of alien influences. And even with what is known—and among the studies of single island societies there are some of the world’s most complete ethnographies—scholars are just beginning to push beyond local description toward wider regional typologies of the kind formulated for Australia (e.g.,Hogbin & Wedgwood 1953; Sahlins 1958; Goldman 1960).

Settlement patterns. Although many excellent ethnographic descriptions treat patterns of residence, few attempts have been made at the comparative study of settlement patterns. Perhaps the most typical form of settlement pattern in the islands—this is an impression, not an established fact—is the small four-to-five household hamlet or neighborhood; but there are also numerous instances of dispersed homesteads, at one extreme, and of densely settled villages, at the other. In this connection it is an interesting fact that some of the largest and most tightly integrated political units —e.g., on Tonga—comprised widely scattered homesteads. Villages rarely contained more than a thousand inhabitants; the average number was probably more like two to three hundred. Some of the larger villages were to be found alongside rivers or lagoons, but they have been noted in other kinds of settings as well. In some instances residences were clustered near the public places—temples, council houses, dance grounds, men’s clubhouses, etc.; in others the public places and dwellings were kept far apart. Some settlements were surrounded by stockades; others lacked defensive constructions despite their involvement in periodic warfare.

Family. The nuclear family was certainly the most ubiquitous type of social group in island Oceania, although polygyny was permitted in most societies. Polygyny was practiced by only the most affluent—i.e., those men who could afford the bride price or other expenditures associated with marriage—but in some of the wealthiest societies even the most influential leaders had only one official wife at a time.

There is evidence that polyandry was formerly practiced in some Polynesian-speaking societies, but little or nothing is known about its wider social contexts.

With regard to matrimonial rules of residence, couples tended to reside near or with the husband’s male patrilineal kinsmen. The next most prevalent pattern among those societies surveyed (Murdock 1957) was residence near the wife’s female matrilineal kinsmen; but in several other societies these alternatives were about equally favored. Still other alternatives have been recorded for other societies, e.g., residing close to the husband’s matrilineal kinsmen.

Even in societies allegedly ignorant of the male’s biological role in reproduction (Malinowski 1922) social roles of “maternity” and “paternity” were institutionalized, although the nature of such roles, both in theory and practice, varied widely. At one extreme were those societies in which both mother and father shared the job of nurturing and socializing their children, with property being transmitted through both parents. In contrast, there were some other societies wherein the sociological father had little or nothing to do with his children’s specific upbringing or equipping beyond contributing generally to the domestic commissary. In between these extremes were numerous permutations, usually reflecting each society’s general conceptualization of kinship.

Two other fairly characteristic—but of course not distinctive—features of island life had to do with membership in the family group. In some societies, even when a child was recognized as the “biological” offspring of a man, the latter was called upon to validate the relationship before it could become socially operative. The other feature of widespread occurrence was the facility and the popularity of adoption, especially practiced in the eastern parts of the region.

It is our impression that nuclear families—plus one or two other dependent relatives—constituted the most typical residential units in the majority of island societies, but there were numerous variants. In some places households were much larger and consisted of composite families—either polygynous, stem, joint fraternal, joint sororal, or some other type. In other places a man spent most of his sleeping and waking hours in his community men’s house, visiting his wife and children in their household only on occasion. Variations in household composition were wide, as were variations in collective activity, in kinds and amounts of goods owned corporately, in symbols of unity, etc.; and all these facets of family and household life were surely related more or less directly to each society’s more general institutionalization of kinship.

Although ties of kinship were not the only kind of social bond recognized and institutionalized in island societies, they were by all odds the most important. In most island societies, every member could claim (if not actually trace) some kinship tie with every other member. These kinship categories each implied some normative pattern of behavior no matter how attenuated by the remoteness of the tie or the influence of extraneous factors such as locality and social stratification. Indeed, relations across tribal and societal boundaries were more often than not dominated by considerations of kinship.

Within the context of all-inclusive kinship, which characterized most island societies, there were, however, some wide differences in the actual groupings of kinfolk. In size such groups varied from small, sharply defined units to large ones with vague or overlapping boundaries. Some groups were bilateral in descent, others patrilineal or matrilineal. Some were stringently exogamous, while in others membership appears to have played no direct role in choice of mate. In some societies, like certain ones of highland New Guinea, groups formed by the male members of patrilineages were all-important—maritally, residentially, economically, politically, and ritually. In other places actual groups of kinsmen—qua kinsmen—were scarcely discernible, either interactionally or symbolically.

What little collation has been done in this domain of social structure indicates that patrilineally structured groups predominated in New Guinea and matrilineal ones in central Micronesia and in parts of western Melanesia. Throughout most of Polynesia and in the rest of Micronesia the aggregates of kinfolk defined by common ownership of land and other valuables were ideally more “nonunilinear” in membership, although in actuality patrilateral ties preponderated. Elsewhere, in central and eastern Melanesia, there existed in close juxtaposition all these variants of kinship structure (Murdock 1957).

Other social groups. In most island societies there were other kinds of associational ties which crosscut those of kinship—ties of coevality, of cult commitment, of occupation, and, most important, of coresidence.

Age itself was less influential in island Oceania than it was in Australia. Authority and privilege did derive from seniority in some societies—especially in some of those with patrilineal kin groups —but coevality as an organizing principle was only sporadically important (e.g., in parts of New Guinea and Melanesia, where painful male initiation rites served to usher boys into cult-focused men’s clubs).

In many island societies, as throughout Australia, the mythical charters which rationalized and legitimatized kin groupings were embodied in congregational ritual. But, in addition, many island societies incorporated cult groups whose members were only incidentally kinfolk. Examples of such were the masoniclike men’s clubs of New Hebrides and the intertribal “Dionysiac” Arioi sect of eastern Polynesia.

Occupational specialization was more marked in island Oceania than in Australia, but groupings of specialists were rare. In Samoa there were “guilds”of housebuilders, and in some other island societies one might discern the beginnings of other craft guilds or of “schools” of savant-priests, but that is about all.

Political organization. In most island societies neighbors were also kinfolk—in fact or by nationalization—but coresidence was often more influential than kinship as a basis for association. On the other hand, the size and degree of integration of such political units varied widely. At one extreme were numerous societies having no collective-action groups larger than localized extended families. At the other extreme were a few Polynesian societies containing highly organized, territorially based tribal units with many thousands of members. In between, and most typical, were societies whose political units were conterminous with small village or neighborhood communities, or with clusters of such communities, averaging perhaps a few hundred citizens and rarely exceeding fifteen hundred.

Island political units differed not only in size but also in domain. Units for waging war varied from tightly knit regiments to undependable confederacies of separate kin groups. Actions for the maintenance of internal order ranged from comprehensive, centralized policing to uneasy interkingroup feuding, wherein the over-all leaders did little more than protect their own kin groups’ interests. In some places a political unit’s members were all linked in redistributive networks involving frequent and copious flows of objects and services;in other places little or nothing was exchanged among the strata of social hierarchies. And finally, whereas in some societies the identities of the political units were symbolized and validated in influential myths and impressive ceremonies, in other places only the most discerning observer would have discovered clues to collective notions of unity.

Succession to political leadership was hereditary in some island societies, nonhereditary in others;and there were differences within each category. In instances of hereditary succession, the principle of patriliny predominated; and even in societies whose kinship groups were matrilineal political offices usually passed from male to male. However, there were a few recorded instances, mainly in Polynesia, of high political office devolving upon females.

Nonhereditary succession to political office characterized large portions of Melanesia. In what was perhaps its most distinctive variant, wealth was an important steppingstone to power. In such cases, however, the prestige upon which power was based derived not so much from accumulating valuables but rather from disposing of them—in potlatchlike feasting or in conspicuous waste.

But many island societies may not be so exclusively typed: in some, individuals born to high office had also to prove themselves capable of exercising it; in other cases they had to vie for office with low-born individuals of outstanding ability. And in some societies these contrasting principles of succession served to maintain situations of unresolved internal conflict.

Relations between political units were of many different kinds. Hostility colored most such relations over the long run, but it was usually tempered either by periods of general truce or by only individual kin-group feuding. Moreover, even between traditionally hostile tribes it was customary for women to be exchanged and goods to be bartered. Some of the intertribal circuits extended over hundreds of miles, and while some of the transactions were conducted without direct contact between the principals (i.e., “silent trade”), others—including the famous kula trade of southeast New Guinea—involved mass expeditions and elaborate ceremonies (Malinowski 1922). Another institution typical of many parts of island Oceania was that of the trade partnership—i.e., a pact between two friends or kinsmen from separate political units providing reciprocal visiting and bartering rights even in periods of intertribal conflict.

Many societies in island Oceania were to some degree stratified, but the phenomenon was most highly institutionalized in Polynesia, notably in Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, and Tonga, where three or even four strata were distinguishable. In these societies class status derived almost wholly from birth and birth order, and for higher-ranking individuals class endogamy was so prescriptive that there developed castelike common-interest upper classes which cut across political boundaries. Political and ceremonial leadership were closely linked with class status, but ability sometimes outweighed birth, resulting occasionally in the relegation of highest-ranking persons to positions of little more than ceremonial pre-eminence (Sahlins 1958;Goldman 1960).

In view of the wide variety of cultural traditions and social structures found throughout island Oceania, it becomes next to impossible to generalize comprehensively about the behaviors of individuals in these societies. Individual life cycles, for example, were institutionalized in many different ways. In some societies the onset of puberty was marked by physical mutilation and community-wide ritual, in others it was virtually ignored. In some places the aged were revered and deferred to, in others they were socially devalued. Females were perhaps nowhere treated as chattel, but their social and ritual roles ranged from that of a magically polluted minor to that of a semidivine chieftainess. Even innovation received widely differing valuations, not only from society to society but within the same society as well. In some communities, for example, the invention of new graphic designs was discouraged while the composing of new songs was honored. Or, craft techniques remained rigidly traditional, while the “discovery” of new religious doctrines or magical formulas was socially rewarded. In fact, perhaps the only generalization one can make about islanders as individuals (and this in a manner both imprecise and impressionistic) is that in nearly all available descriptions of them they stood out as individuals—as distinctive, at least partly autonomous persons, not as mere faceless units of this or that social aggregate.

History of European contact

Prior to the sixteenth century there may have been direct contacts between Oceania and Asian, or even American, high civilizations, although they were not enough to revolutionize native ways of life. But Magellan’s discovery of the Marianas Islands in 1521 ushered in a new era which is still going on and which is destined to transform most of the region’s native societies.

During the four and a half centuries since Magellan’s voyage tens of thousands of Westerners (also Japanese, Chinese, and Indians) have visited or resided in Oceania—not to mention the millions now established in Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii, and the additional hundreds of thousands who swept through the islands during World War II. Many Oceanians have also visited the outside world, but up to now their influences upon their own native communities have been minimal. With the exception of Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii, where the process of Westernization has proceeded at a faster tempo, the history of culture contact in Oceania can be described in terms of five distinctive but overlapping phases.

(1)The phase of exploration began with Magellan and is still going on in parts of New Guinea. By 1830 the consequences of these visitations from the West were well underway, in the shape of depopulation (mainly through introduced disease) and murderous warfare (with the help of firearms).

(2)Whalers, traders, and missionaries commenced their operations about 1780, continuing until about 1850. (Spanish Catholic missionaries were active long before 1780 but only in the Marianas.) Depopulation and political turmoil continued during this phase and were accompanied by widespread collapse of indigenous religious institutions and of religion-sanctioned political structures.

(3)Around 1860, planters, labor recruiters, and merchants initiated change consequent upon the removal or shifting about of large segments of the male population for long periods of virtually forced labor, the introduction of money and cashcrop economy, and the heightened desire for Western manufactured goods.

(4)Foreign governments began to assert administrative control over island populations over a hundred years ago, but interference with native political structures—including total replacement—was most direct during the half century before World War II. This phase also witnessed an increase in the native population, mainly because of improved medical services and an increased flow of Westerners into parts of the region where mineral deposits were located.

(5)The events of World War ii served not only to speed up kinds of change already in process, including urbanization and money-based economy, but to stimulate other changes as well. The postwar improvement in interisland communication and transport gave rise to several dramatic developments. Locally inspired movements to weaken political ties with the overseas ruling metropolitan powers and to advocate strengthened interregional cultural ties are among these new developments, although they are not necessarily fundamental to change.

Despite the homogenizing effects of these several but predominantly Western influences, the various Oceanian societies retain a large measure of local variation. None are at exactly the same stage of Westernization: for example, one can contrast industrialized Nauru with the New Guinea population, only now exchanging stone tools for those of steel. And no two native societies have experienced the same mixture of Western influence: even in New Guinea, for example, a community near a large coconut plantation has adjusted very differently from one near a mine;and the Polynesians in French Tahiti have become quite different from their ethnic cousins in British Samoa.

Social science research in Oceania

Although there are increasingly pressing political reasons why the rest of the world should begin to know something about Papuans or Fijians or Samoans, our present concern is with Oceania’s significance for social science in general—with the research opportunities it has provided for formulating and testing universally valid methods and theories, and with the uses that have been made of such opportunities. The reaction, for example, by the natives of Bikini to resettlement away from their radiation-polluted home island is of course poignantly interesting and of some relevance to international politics; but study of this situation would have had little value for social science if its procedures had not provided possibilities for testing social science methods and making innovations in these methods and if its findings were not widely applicable (Mason 1957).

Oceania has offered social scientists a very wide variety of social and cultural systems, many of them so strikingly exotic as to require major accommodations in some aspects of Western-based social scientific thinking. In addition, even as late as a few decades ago, when trained social scientists began their study of this region, they were observing the end products of centuries or millennia of isolation from the rest of the world and even largely from one another. And third, the relatively small sizes, sharp boundaries, and (perhaps consequently) internal cultural homogeneity of most of these societies made it possible and indeed inevitable for individual observers to investigate the functional relationships of many domains of behavior—not just technology or kinship or art, but all three in themselves and in relation to each other.

Research into Oceanian ways of life began nearly two centuries ago, when men like Banks, Bligh, and the Forsters went beyond the mere recording of personal experiences and of native bizarreness to carry out more or less pointed inquiries into native institutions. Moreover, the reports contributed by such men were empirically significant to the beginnings of comparative sociology in Europe. For the next century and a quarter, as more and better descriptions of Oceanians’ ways of life came to be produced by missionaries, administrators, and other island residents, the professors back home were able to use these data to support theories or to compile vast syntheses (for example, Morgan, Durkheim, Frazer, Freud). But it was not until 1898 that social scientists left their armchairs to confront their subjects in person.

In that year the Cambridge anthropological expedition to the Torres Strait islands (between northern Queensland and New Guinea) took place and included such men as Haddon, Rivers, and Seligman. It was during this expedition that Rivers developed his genealogical method for recording kinship data, which has subsequently been such an indispensable tool in social anthropological research everywhere. Between this expedition and the outbreak of World War I amateur and more or less competent observers residing in the region continued to produce ethnographic accounts which were used by scholars in their compilations, but field research by trained social scientists was carried out by only a handful, notably Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Thurnwald, Sarasin, Reche, Williamson, Poech, Haddon, and Rivers. It is probably fair to say that only the first three (and Rivers, to a lesser extent) produced publications from their Oceanian data that have been influential in the subsequent development of general social science theory and method.

Undoubtedly the outstanding landmark in social science research in Oceania was the work of Malinowski, whose monographs on the Trobriand Islanders have never been surpassed in ethnographic artistry. His studies ushered in a new world-wide approach to anthropological research that has come to be known as functionalism. Radcliffe-Brown drew upon his field experiences in Australia (and elsewhere) to produce essays that have led him to be identified as a cofounder of “functional” anthropology, although he himself disavowed the label. Through their teaching and writings these two men virtually dominated social anthropology throughout the interwar period; and their students, and students’ students, still hold most of the important teaching positions throughout the British Commonwealth.

In the interwar period more and more professionally trained social scientists went to Oceania to carry out sociologically and psychologically oriented research, and after World War II the influx reached flood proportions and is not now visibly diminishing. Moreover, these research activities have been aided by a number of journals, monograph series, museums, libraries, and university departments devoted exclusively or at least primarily to Oceania. The rich ethnographic data resulting from field research in Oceania have been drawn on heavily by many other social scientists for inspiration and for information respecting the range and variation of human social behavior.

The most influential innovation in social science research strategy and methodology to come out of Oceania was Malinowski’s experience of long residence in a native community and active participation in its activities. He worked exclusively in the native vernacular, focused his attention upon the prosaic as well as the dramatic aspects of native life, and collected (and published) masses of documentary evidence to support and enrich his generalizations. It is somewhat ironic that Malinowski’s style of field research has been more faithfully followed in Africa than in Oceania, with the outstanding exception of Raymond Firth’s work in Tikopia (Firth 1936; 1939; 1940).

Malinowski aimed at more or less total coverage of his native subjects’ way of life, and for some time after him this remained the objective of most social scientists working in the region. But this goal has increasingly given way to a narrower focus upon special aspects of native life, including economics, law, religion, ecology, acculturation, and education.

Malinowski’s example of one-man field work has tended to prevail, although field research is coming to be conducted within the framework of larger-scale programs, such as the Coordinated Investigation of Micronesian Anthropology, the Tri-Institutional Pacific Program, the long-range New Guinea research program of the Australian National University, the University of Oregon’s study of resettled populations, the University of Washington’s study of cultural and physical evolution in New Guinea, the Harvard study of social change in the Society Islands, etc. In this connection, attention should be called to the research activities of such organizations as the South Pacific Commission (an international body designed to improve the welfare of Pacific islanders) and the French government’s Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique Outre Mer, which though aimed primarily at the solution of practical problems have contributed useful data on some rapidly changing aspects of Oceanian ways of life.

Turning now to the substantive contributions to general social science theory that have come out of research in Oceania—contributions in addition to the enrichment of the world’s ethnographic corpus—one again begins with the writing of Malinowski, who audaciously—although not always justifiably—challenged some of the basic assumptions of economics, comparative law, semantics, and psychoanalysis, and who in addition popularized the functional viewpoint already mentioned (Firth 1957). For Malinowski functionalism consisted mainly of a proposition to the effect that all of a society’s customs are mutually interdependent and an analytical principle based on viewing institutions as instruments for satisfying basic human needs. The proposition has subsequently become an almost universally accepted canon among anthropologists, but not much use has been found for the analytical principle. Radcliffe-Brown’s contributions to general social science theory have been mainly in the field of comparative sociology(see Radcliffe-Brown 1922), and although his interests were somewhat narrower than Malinowski’s he has left a comparably deep imprint. Perhaps the most successful implementations in Oceanian research of the general methods and theories of Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown have been done, respectively, by Firth (1936) and Warner (1937).It now remains to list some other investigations in Oceania which, in my opinion, have served most to enrich social science either by proposing or testing theory or by describing novel or comparatively important institutions.

Major contributions to the sociology of kinship are to be found in the writings of Firth (1936),Warner (1937), Malinowski (1929), Radcliffebrown (1922), Elkin (1938), Mead (1934), R. M. Berndt and C. H. Berndt (1951), Meggitt (1962),and Goodenough (1951). Only from Africa have come works of comparable quality. Government and social control of relatively un-Westernized societies are usefully documented in the works of Malinowski (1926), Hogbin (1934), Guiart (1963),Oliver (1955), Pospisil (1958), and Berndt (1962).Useful studies of Oceanian economies are those by Malinowski (1922), Bell (1953), Salisbury(1962), and, especially, Firth (1939; 1959). The published works of Firth provide probably the fullest and most sophisticated treatment available on the economics of “primitive” societies.

Among the most useful studies of the social contexts of belief and ritual are those of Firth (1940), Fortune (1932; 1935), Malinowski (1935),Warner (1937), Guiart (1951), and Williams (1940). In this connection should be mentioned Bateson’s stimulating, and in some respects novel, multifaceted analysis of ritual behavior (1936), which deserves far wider attention than it has thus far received.

Many richly illustrated works have been published concerning the widely varied and extraordinarily elaborated graphic art tradition of Oceania, but only a few seek to relate these to social behavior, mainly those of Elkin et al. (1950),Mountford (1956), Firth (1936), and Guiart (1963b).

For all the relevance of the ecological approach to Oceania, only a few investigators have dealt intensively and theoretically with the ecological aspects of Oceanian society: for example, Fosberg (1963), Sahlins (1958; 1962), Warner (1937), Mead (1938-1949), Thompson (1949), Firth (1959), and Raulet (1960). Nor has much advantage been taken of the region’s inviting prospects for exploring the relationships between biology and society (Oliver & Howells 1957; Oliver 1954; Borrie et al. 1957), although a project along these lines is now underway at the University of Washington (Watson 1963).

Every reliable description of a contemporary Oceanian society will of necessity touch on the processes and results of Westernization; in addition there are numerous published reports directly focused upon such events. Such studies range from comprehensive, multitopic community or “tribal”ethnographies, including those of Firth (1959),Hogbin (1939; 1951), Mead (1956), Sahlins (1962),and Barnett (1949), to narrowly delimited concern with single institutions. Among the studies of changing economic systems those of Belshaw (1954; 1955) are outstanding; and Salisbury’s quantifiably documented description of the introduction of Western goods into a stone-age New Guinea society is unique (1962). Studies of changing leadership are also well represented in the works of Spoehr (1949), Force (1960), Keesing and Keesing (1956), Guiart (1952), and Oliver (1951).

Studies of urbanization are also beginning to proliferate, as are those of resettlement (Belshaw 1957; Spoehr 1963). But the phenomenon of change that has excited most interest among social scientists in Oceania has been nativistic movements of various kinds, especially the so-called

“cargo cults” that have proliferated with such energy and speed throughout many parts of New Guinea (Worsley 1957; Mead 1956).

And finally, in the subdiscipline of psychological anthropology, it may be justifiably claimed that ethnically oriented field research actually began in Oceania, and that the region has provided the inspiration and the testing grounds for some of the subdiscipline’s most gifted and productive investigators. In Gladwin’s excellent survey of the subject he notes that practically all explicit anthropological contributions to the study of cognitive process have stemmed from Oceania; two major approaches to a genuinely anthropological (i.e., cultural) theory of personality development have been developed by Mead, Beaglehole, and their colleagues (Gladwin 1961).

In conclusion, although Oceania is everywhere undergoing change, and at varied but generally accelerated rates, the region continues to offer unexcelled research opportunities in social science. The terms of reference for such research are changing, but the phenomena are if anything more dynamic and more directly relevant to phenomena elsewhere. It would be surprising, to this writer at least, if any future investigator should equal the marks set by Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Firth, or Mead in methodological pioneering or in theoretical achievement. But the very size of the legions of researchers now engaged in the region will ensure rich returns for social science, including a measure of data reliability not always characteristic of work done in the days of sporadic and solitary research.

Douglas L. Oliver

[Other relevant material may be found inComponential Analysis; Exchange AND Display; and the biographies ofCodrington; Haddon; Malinowski; Radcliffe-Brown; Rivers; Thurnwald.]


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Oceania: Island Culture

Oceania: Island Culture

Oceania encompasses more than thirty thousand islands in the Pacific Ocean, spanning from Hawaii in the north to New Zealand in the south. To most geographers the lands that make up Oceania include Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, New Zealand, and often Australia and the Malay Archipelago. These islands are home to a wide range of cultures, and today many of the island nations recognize more than one language. For example, in Papua New Guinea alone, a part of the island region known as Melanesia, at least 846 different languages are spoken. Some of these languages are spoken by as few as fifty people.

Life in Oceania can be traced back thousands of years, but it took many years for all the islands of Oceania to be populated. Evidence of human settlement in the Philippines dates to at least 2000 b.c.e. and on the Solomon Islands to at least 1000 b.c.e.. The first settlers of Aotearoa (modern-day New Zealand), however, didn't arrive from Polynesia until 1300 c.e. Despite this long history of human life on the islands, information about these island cultures has been recorded only since European explorers began landing on the islands in the early 1500s c.e. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (c. 14801521) sighted the Marquesas Islands and docked on the Island of Mactan in the Philippines in 1521. Portuguese navigators landed on islands in Micronesia in 1525, and Spanish explorer Don Jorge de Meneses named the largest island of Papua New Guinea "Papua" in 1526. Virtually all that we know about the customs of Oceania comes from the accounts of Europeans, for the peoples of Oceania left no written record of their early culture.

Seen through the eyes of European explorers, the island cultures were strange and exotic. Although practicing separate and distinct traditions, islanders led strikingly similar lives in the eyes of foreigners because of the similar environments on the islands. Small groups banded together and lived off fishing, the produce from their own farming, or hunting and gathering. Explorers often described life in the South Pacific as pleasant and idyllic. John Fearn, captain of a British whaling ship, dubbed the island of Nauru "Pleasant Island" when he visited it in 1798. The majority of information recorded was about islanders living nearest the coasts. Some groups living in the remote, rugged inland areas were largely unknown to the rest of the world until the 1970s, when further exploration introduced these groups to the westerners.

The traditional cultures on the islands of Oceania have become largely westernized. Not long after the first Europeans "discovered" the islands, European nations claimed sovereignty over particular islands. Micronesia, for instance, was under Spanish rule from 1526 until 1899, when Germany bought the islands. German administration of Micronesia lasted until 1914, when Japan claimed possession of the territory. In 1947 the United States began administering Micronesia, and this rule lasted until 1970, when Micronesia declared its independence. Other regions of Oceania were under similar European, Japanese, and later American, control.

Under foreign control, the peoples of Oceania were introduced to different lifestyles. Many left their subsistence farms, for example, where they grew just enough food to survive, and began working in European-owned mines that extracted the islands' valuable resources. Changing their way of life also encouraged indigenous, or native, people to change their clothing styles. Many adopted Western-style clothes and abandoned their traditional costume and body decoration except for ceremonial purposes.


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Clothing of Oceania
Headwear of Oceania
Body Decorations of Oceania
Footwear of Oceania

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Oceania (ōshēăn´ēə, –ā´nēə) or Oceanica (ōshēăn´Ĭkə), collective name for the approximately 25,000 islands of the Pacific, usually excluding such nontropical areas as the Ryukyu and Aleutian islands and Japan, as well as Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, whose populations are more closely related to mainland Asia. Oceania is generally considered synonomous with the South Sea Islands and is divided ethnologically into Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

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Oceania Collective term applied to the islands in the central and s Pacific Ocean. It includes the islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia and, sometimes, Australasia (Australia and New Zealand) and the Malay Archipelago.

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OceaniaCampania, Catania, pannier •apnoea •Oceania, Tanya, Titania •biennia, denier, quadrennia, quinquennia, septennia, triennia •Albania, balletomania, bibliomania, crania, dipsomania, egomania, erotomania, kleptomania, Lithuania, Lusitania, mania, Mauritania, megalomania, miscellanea, monomania, nymphomania, Pennsylvania, Pomerania, pyromania, Rainier, Romania, Ruritania, Tasmania, Transylvania, Urania •Armenia, bergenia, gardenia, neurasthenia, proscenia, schizophrenia, senior, SloveniaAbyssinia, Bithynia, curvilinear, Gdynia, gloxinia, interlinear, Lavinia, linear, rectilinear, Sardinia, triclinia, Virginia, zinnia •insignia • Sonia • insomnia • Bosnia •California, cornea •Amazonia, ammonia, Antonia, Babylonia, begonia, bonier, Catalonia, catatonia, Cephalonia, Estonia, Ionia, Laconia, Livonia, Macedonia, mahonia, Patagonia, pneumonia, Rondônia, sinfonia, Snowdonia, valonia, zirconia •junior, petunia •hernia, journeyer

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