Pacific Islanders, Pasifika, Pasefika, or rarely Pacificers are the peoples of the Pacific Islands. As an ethnic/racial term, it is used to describe the original peoples—inhabitants and diasporas—of any of the three major subregions of Oceania (Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia).
Melanesians include the Fijians (Fiji), Kanaks (New Caledonia), Ni-Vanuatu (Vanuatu), Papua New Guineans (Papua New Guinea), Solomon Islanders (Solomon Islands), and West Papuans (Indonesia's West Papua).
Micronesians include the Carolinians (Northern Mariana Islands), Chamorros (Guam), Chuukese (Chuuk), I-Kiribati (Kiribati), Kosraeans (Kosrae), Marshallese (Marshall Islands), Palauans (Palau), Pohnpeians (Pohnpei), and Yapese (Yap).
Polynesians include the New Zealand Māori (New Zealand), Native Hawaiians (Hawaii), Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Samoans (Samoa and American Samoa), Tahitians (Tahiti), Tokelauans (Tokelau), Niueans (Niue), Cook Islands Māori (Cook Islands) and Tongans (Tonga).
Auckland, New Zealand has the world's largest concentration of urban Pacific Islanders living outside of their own countries, and is sometimes referred to as the "Polynesian capital of the world." This came as result of how, during the 20th century and into the 21st century, the country saw a steady stream of immigration from Polynesian countries such as Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Niue, and French Polynesia.
The umbrella terms Pacific Islands and Pacific Islanders may also take on several other meanings. At times, the term Pacific Islands only refers to islands within the cultural regions of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia, and to tropical islands with oceanic geology in general, such as Clipperton Island. In some common uses, the term refers to the islands of the Pacific Ocean once colonized by the Portuguese, Spaniards, Dutch, British, French, United States, and Japanese. In other uses, it may refer to areas with Austronesian linguistic heritage like Taiwan, Indonesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and the Myanmar islands, which found their genesis in the Neolithic cultures of the island of Taiwan. In an often geopolitical context, the term has been extended even further to include the large South Pacific landmass of Australia.
Main article: History of the Pacific Islands
In the North Pacific, non-tropical islands in and around Alaska, Japan and Russia were inhabited by people culturally related to Indigenous American and Far East Asian groups. In the South Pacific, the easternmost oceanic island with any human inhabitation was Easter Island, settled by the Polynesian Rapa Nui people. Oceanic islands beyond that which neighbor Central America and South America (Galápagos, Revillagigedo, Juan Fernández Islands etc.) are among the last inhabitable places on earth to have been discovered by humans. All of these islands (excluding Clipperton) were annexed by Latin American nations a few hundred years after their discoveries, and initially were sometimes used as prisons for convicts. Today only a small number of them are inhabited, mainly by Spanish-speaking mainlanders of mestizo or White Latin American origin. These individuals are not considered Pacific Islanders under the standard ethnically-based definition. In a broad sense, they could still possibly be seen as encompassing a small Spanish-speaking segment of Oceania, along with the Easter Island inhabitants, who were eventually colonized by Chileans. The 1996 book Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas notes that Spanish was once commonly spoken in the Pacific on the colonial-era Philippines, further stating, "at the present time, the Spanish language is not widely used in the South Pacific, being unknown outside of a handful of places. Spanish is spoken by a resident population only on the Ecuadorian Galápagos Islands, the Chilean possessions of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Juan Fernández Islands and a few other tiny islands. Most Pacific insular possessions of Latin American nations are either unpopulated or used as military outposts, staffed by natives of the mainland."
Lord Howe Island, located between Australia and New Zealand, is one of the only other habitable oceanic islands to have had no contact with humans prior to European discovery. The island is currently administered by Australia, and Its residents are primarily European Australians who originated from the mainland, with a small number also being Asian Australians. Like with the Spanish-speaking islanders in the southeastern Pacific, they would not normally be considered Pacific Islanders under a ethnically-based definition.
Remote and uninhabitable islands in the central Pacific such as Baker Island were also generally isolated from humans prior to European discovery. However, Pacific Islanders are believed to have possibly visited some of these locations, including Wake Island. In the case of Howland Island, there may have even been a brief attempt at settlement.
The Official Journal of the Asia Oceania Geosciences Society (AOGS) considers the term Pacific Islands to encompass the following:
The 1982 edition of the South Pacific Handbook, by David Stanley, groups Australia, New Zealand, Norfolk Island and the islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia under the more restrictive label of the "South Pacific Islands", even though Hawaii and most islands in Micronesia technically lie in the North Pacific. He additionally includes the Galápagos Islands in his definition of the South Pacific, but does not include any other islands located within the southeastern Pacific area, aside from Easter Island which is considered part of Polynesia. New Zealand author Ron Crocombe's 2007 book Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West has a slightly wider definition of the term "Pacific Islands". He considers the term to encompass American Samoa, Australia, the Bonin Islands, the Cook Islands, Easter Island, East Timor (technically in the Indian Ocean), Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, the Galápagos Islands, Guam, Hawaii, the Kermadec Islands, Kiribati, Lord Howe Island, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Norfolk Island, Niue, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, the Torres Strait Islands, Wallis and Futuna, Western New Guinea and the United States Minor Outlying Islands (Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Midway Atoll, Palmyra Atoll and Wake Island).
Ian Todd's 1974 book Island Realm: A Pacific Panorama considers Oceania and the term "Pacific Islands" to encompass all of the above mentioned islands and states (excluding East Timor). Additionally, he also considers the terms to encompass the non-tropical Aleutian Islands, as well as Clipperton Island, the Coral Sea Islands, the Desventuradas Islands, the Juan Fernández Islands, the Revillagigedo Islands and Salas y Gómez Island. He notes that the terms are sometimes taken to include Australia, New Zealand and the non-oceanic Papua New Guinea, however he does not consider them to encompass Taiwan, Japan, the Kuril Islands or countries associated with Maritime Southeast Asia. The Philippines according to him are at a "cross-roads of the Pacific — a racial and geographic link connecting Oceania, Southeast Asia and Indonesia." Debate exists over whether or not the Philippines should be categorized with Pacific Islands of shared Austronesian origin or with the mainland nations of Asia. The islands of the Philippines do not have oceanic geology, instead being detached fragments of a continental landmass, and as such they are sometimes not deemed as Pacific Islands from a geological perspective. In his 2012 book Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education, American author James A. Banks claimed that, "although islands such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan and the Aleutian Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, islanders from these locales are not typically considered Pacific Islanders. They are usually considered Asian, with Aleuts considered Alaskan natives." Murakami Hyôe's 1977 book Guides to Japanese Culture states, "I feel that I must go so far as to say that the culture of Okinawa and Japan is not oriental culture. Geographically, we are a part of Asia but we do not have the same fate as the Asian continent, and should be considered a part of Pacific island culture." In 2014, American historian Ryan Tucker Jones wrote in The Journal of Pacific History that "several themes prominent in the history of Oceania – such as humans’ orientation towards the ocean, the complex ways in which European and Indigenous histories mixed in the colonial era, and the notion of vast, interconnected spaces – apply to North Pacific history as well", adding that "the history of the Russian Far East and Alaska could be written as Pacific history and integrated into histories of Oceania. Such an integration would provide numerous benefits for historians and activists in the North Pacific." British historian David Armitage's 2014 book Pacific Histories: Ocean, Land, People states that, "New Zealand and even Australia are sometimes considered part of the Pacific, sometimes not. Archipelagos which might otherwise appear to be 'in' the Pacific are by convention usually excluded: Indonesia (excluding West Papua), the Philippines, the Aleutians or even Japan. And yet Timor Leste (or East Timor) is an observer of the Pacific Islands Forum." He adds that "various geographers carve up this part of the world differently, using a range of labels such as Oceania, Asia-Pacific, the Pacific-Basin, the South Pacific or South Seas (which commonly includes islands in the north) or the Pacific Islands. Of course, all the seas are connected, and there are no neat limits. But the struggle for putting the Pacific into discourse is partly decided by how it is defined."
The Pacific Islands Forum is the major governing organization for the Pacific Islands, and has been labelled as the "EU of the Pacific region". Up until 2021, its member nations and associate members were American Samoa, Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna. Additionally, there have been pushes for Easter Island and Hawaii to join the Pacific Islands Forum, as they are primarily inhabited by Polynesian peoples. Japan and Malay Archipelago countries such as East Timor, Indonesia and the Philippines are dialogue partners of the Pacific Islands Forum, with East Timor having observer status, but none are full members. The nations of the Malay Archipelago have their own regional governing organization called ASEAN, which includes mainland Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam and Thailand. In July 2019, at the inaugural Indonesian Exposition held in Auckland, Indonesia launched its ‘Pacific Elevation’ program, which would encompass a new era of elevated engagement with the region, with the country also using the event to lay claim that Indonesia is culturally and ethnically linked to the Pacific islands. The event was attended by dignitaries from Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific island countries.
Australia and New Zealand have been described as both continental landmasses and as Pacific Islands. New Zealand's native population, the Māoris, are Polynesians, and thus Pacific Islanders. Australia's Indigenous population are loosely related to Melanesians, and more often associated with Pacific Islanders than with any other ethnic group. The United States Census categorize Indigenous Australians under the Pacific Islander American umbrella with Melanesians, Micronesians and Polynesians. Tony deBrum, Foreign Minister for the Marshall Islands, stated in 2014, "Not only [is Australia] our big brother down south, Australia is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum and Australia is a Pacific island, a big island, but a Pacific island." In Island Realm: A Pacific Panorama (1974), Ian Todd states that, "New Zealand is uniquely gifted in its role as a Polynesian associate. A large section of its own indigenous population consists of Maoris — a Polynesian race. Beyond her own sphere of association, New Zealand's trading influence is prominent in Tonga, Fiji and other areas of the Pacific with Commonwealth affiliations." Regarding Australia, he further wrote, "Australia plays a leading economic role in the south-west Pacific area — commonly known as Melanesia. Fiji, the New Hebrides, the Solomons, even French-controlled New Caledonia have a major trade connection with Australia. The thriving little republic of Nauru was administered by Australia before its recent independence. Further afield, in western Polynesia, Australia provides economic and technical aid in Tonga and Western Samoa. Much of Fiji's tourist trade comes from 'down under'. Among the oceanic islands which are part of the Commonwealth of Australia are Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, the Torres Strait Islands, the Willis Group and Coringa Islands." The East Asia journal observes that, "Australia is often described as a 'big brother' to island countries: part of the Pacific family by geography and history but set apart by wealth and national identity. With its Polynesian heritage, New Zealand has a greater claim to cultural connection with the Pacific. Australia and New Zealand are close allies, and consult closely on their engagement with Pacific island states. For the most part, they pursue a shared approach."
The Pacific islands consist of three main regions.
Melanesia is the great arc of islands located north and east of Australia and south of the Equator. The name derives the Greek words melas ('black') and nēsos ('island') for the predominantly dark-skinned peoples of New Guinea island, the Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides), New Caledonia, and Fiji.
In addition those places listed above, Melanesia includes the Louisiade Archipelago, the Admiralty Islands, Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, Western New Guinea (part of Indonesia), Maluku Island, Aru Islands, Kei Islands, the Santa Cruz Islands (part of the Solomon Islands), Loyalty Islands (part of New Caledonia) and various smaller islands. East Timor, while considered to be geographically Southeast Asian, is still generally accepted as being ethnoculturally part of Melanesia. The Torres Strait Islands are politically part of nearby Queensland, Australia, although the inhabitants are considered to be Melanesians rather than Indigenous Australians. This is not the case with other Australian islands that were inhabited by Indigenous peoples prior to European discovery, such as Fraser Island, Great Palm Island and the Tiwi Islands. The Torres Strait Islands could be seen as a Melanesian territory in Australasia, similar to how East Timor is a Melanesian territory in Asia. Norfolk Island was uninhabited when discovered by Europeans, and later became politically integrated into Australia (and by extension, Australasia). The remote island is still sometimes considered to be in Melanesia, as it is close to the region, and has archeological evidence of prehistoric inhabitation.
New Caledonia (and Vanuatu to a lesser extent) were under French colonial influence from the 19th century onward. Most islands however have historically had close ties to Australia and the United Kingdom, with the United States having had little impact on the region.
Micronesia includes Kiribati, Nauru, the Marianas (Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae, all in the Caroline Islands).
The islands were previously under the influence of colonial powers such as Germany, Spain and Japan, with this lasting from the 16th century up until the end of World War II. Several of the island groups have since developed financially crucial political alignments with the United States. Nauru's main political partner since World War I has been Australia, excluding a brief period of Japanese occupation in World War II.
The Polynesian islands are scattered across a triangle covering the east-central region of the Pacific Ocean. The triangle is bound by the Hawaiian Islands in the north, New Zealand in the west, and Easter Island in the east. The rest of Polynesia includes the Samoan islands (American Samoa and Samoa [formerly Western Samoa]); Cook Islands; French Polynesia (the Society Islands [Tahiti], Marquesas Islands, Austral Islands, and Tuamotu); Niue Island; Tokelau and Tuvalu; Tonga; Wallis and Futuna; Rotuma Island; Pitcairn Island; Nukuoro; and Kapingamarangi.
The majority of island groups are most closely aligned to New Zealand/Australia, with others being politically aligned to France or the United States. Hawaii is geographically isolated from Polynesia, and is situated in the North Pacific, unlike the rest of Polynesia, which is in the South Pacific. They are still a part of the subregion for ethnocultural reasons. Easter Island is located in a remote part of the Pacific which is thousands of kilometers removed from both Polynesia and the South American continent. It was annexed by Chile in 1888, and Spanish is now commonly spoken in a bilingual manner, with some having race-mixed with Mestizo Chilean settlers. However, the inhabitants consider their island and its culture to be Polynesian, and do not view themselves as South Americans.
The population of the Pacific Islands is concentrated in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand (which has a majority of people of European descent), Hawaii, Fiji, and Solomon Islands. Most Pacific Islands are densely populated, and habitation tends to be concentrated along the coasts.
Melanesians constitute over three quarters of the total indigenous population of the Pacific Islands; Polynesians account for more than one-sixth; and Micronesians make up about one-twentieth.
Several hundred distinct languages are spoken in the Pacific Islands. In ethnolinguistic terms, those Pacific islanders who reside in Oceania are divided into two different ethnic classifications:
In Australia, the term South Sea Islander was used to describe Australian descendants of people from the over-80 islands in the western Pacific who had been brought to Australia to work on the sugar fields of Queensland—these people were called Kanakas in the 19th century.
The Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901 was enacted to restrict entry of Pacific Islanders to Australia and to authorise their deportation. In this legislation, Pacific Islanders were defined as:
"Pacific Island Labourer" includes all natives not of European extraction of any island except the islands of New Zealand situated in the Pacific Ocean beyond the Commonwealth [of Australia] as constituted at the commencement of this Act.
Despite this, Pacific Islanders were generally held in a much higher regard than Indigenous Australians were during the early 20th century.
In 2008, a "Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme" was announced as a three-year pilot experiment. It provides visas for workers from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea to work in Australia. Aside from Papua New Guinea, the scheme includes one country each from Melanesia (Vanuatu), Polynesia (Tonga), and Micronesia (Kiribati)—countries that already send workers to New Zealand under its seasonal labour scheme.
Main article: Pasifika New Zealanders
Local usage in New Zealand uses Pacific islander (formerly Pacific Polynesians, or Pasifika) to distinguish those who have emigrated from one of these areas in modern times from the New Zealand Māori, who are also Polynesian but are indigenous to New Zealand.
In the 2013 New Zealand census, 7.4% of the New Zealand population identified with one or more Pacific ethnic groups, although 62.3% of these were born in New Zealand. Those with a Samoan background make up the largest proportion, followed by Cook Islands Māori, Tongan, and Niuean. Some smaller island populations such as Niue and Tokelau have the majority of their nationals living in New Zealand.
To celebrate the diverse Pacific island cultures, the Auckland Region hosts several Pacific island festivals. Two of the major ones are Polyfest, which showcases performances of the secondary school cultural groups in the region, and Pasifika, a festival that celebrates Pacific island heritage through traditional food, music, dance, and entertainment.
Main article: Pacific Islander Americans
By the 1980s, the United States Census Bureau grouped persons of Asian ancestry and created the category "Asian-Pacific Islander," which continued in the 1990s census. In 2000, "Asian" and "Pacific Islander" became two separate racial categories.
According to the Census Bureau's Population Estimates Program (PEP), a "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander" is,
A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific islands. It includes people who indicate their race as 'Native Hawaiian', 'Guamanian or Chamorro', 'Samoan', and 'Other Pacific Islander' or provide other detailed Pacific Islander responses.
According to the Office of Management and Budget, "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander" refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
Eight out of 10 Pacific Islanders in the United States are native to the United States. Polynesians make up the largest group, including Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Tahitians, and Tongans. Micronesians make up the second largest, including primarily Chamoru from Guam; as well as other Chamoru, Carolinian from the Northern Mariana Islands, Marshallese, Palauans, and various others. Among Melanesians, Fijian Americans are the largest in this group.
There are at least 39 different Pacific Island languages spoken as a second language in the American home.
This is the only contemporary text on the Pacific Islands that covers both environment and sociocultural issues and will thus be indispensable for any serious student of the region. Unlike other reviews, it treats the entirety of Oceania (with the exception of Australia) and is well illustrated with numerous photos and maps, including a regional atlas.– via JSTOR (subscription required)
Taiwan associations are based on almost forgotten old connections with far-reaching Pacific linguistic origins. The present term Austronesia is based on linguistics and archaeology supporting the origins and existence of the Austronesian Language family spread across the Pacific on modern Taiwan, Indonesia, East Timor, Malaysia,, Singapore, Brunei, Micronesia, Polynesia, the non-Papuan languages of Melanesia, the Cham areas of Vietnam, Cambodia, Hainan, Myanmar islands, and some Indian Ocean islands including Madagascar. Taiwan is in the initiating region.
The human colonization of remote Oceania occurred in the late Holocene. Prehistoric human explorers missed only the Galápagos and a very few out-of-the-way places as they surged east out of the Solomons, island-hopping thousands of kilometers through the Polynesian heartland to reach Hawaii to the far north, Easter Island over 7500km to the east and, New Zealand to the south
Most of this account of the influence of the Hispanic languages in Oceania has dealt with the Western Pacific, but the Eastern Pacific has not been without some share of the presence of the Portuguese and Spanish. The Eastern Pacific does not have the multitude of islands so characteristic of the Western regions of this great ocean, but there are some: Easter Island, 2000 miles off the Chilean coast, where a Polynesian tongue, Rapanui, is still spoken; the Juan Fernandez group, 400 miles west of Valparaiso; the Galapagos archipelago, 650 miles west of Ecuador; Malpelo and Cocos, 300 miles off the Colombian and Costa Rican coasts respectively; and others. Not many of these islands have extensive populations — some have been used effectively as prisons — but the official language on each is Spanish.
[we] can further define the word culture to mean language. Thus we have the French language part of Oceania, the Spanish part and the Japanese part. The Japanese culture groups of Oceania are the Bonin Islands, the Marcus Islands and the Volcano Islands. These three clusters, lying south and south-east of Japan, are inhabited either by Japanese or by people who have now completely fused with the Japanese race. Therefore they will not be taken into account in the proposed comparison of the policies of non - Oceanic cultures towards Oceanic peoples. On the eastern side of the Pacific are a number of Spanish language culture groups of islands. Two of them, the Galapagos and Easter Island, have been dealt with as separate chapters in this volume. Only one of the dozen or so Spanish culture island groups of Oceania has an Oceanic population — the Polynesians of Easter Island. The rest are either uninhabited or have a Spanish - Latin - American population consisting of people who migrated from the mainland. Therefore, the comparisons which follow refer almost exclusively to the English and French language cultures.
Britain's high commissioner in New Zealand continues to administer Pitcairn, and the other former British colonies remain members of the Commonwealth of Nations, recognizing the British Queen as their titular head of state and vesting certain residual powers in the British government or the Queen's representative in the islands. Australia did not cede control of the Torres Strait Islands, inhabited by a Melanesian population, or Lord Howe and Norfolk Island, whose residents are of European ancestry. New Zealand retains indirect rule over Niue and Tokelau and has kept close relations with another former possession, the Cook Islands, through a compact of free association. Chile rules Easter Island (Rapa Nui) and Ecuador rules the Galapagos Islands. The Aboriginals of Australia, the Maoris of New Zealand and the native Polynesians of Hawaii, despite movements demanding more cultural recognition, greater economic and political considerations or even outright sovereignty, have remained minorities in countries where massive waves of migration have completely changed society. In short, Oceania has remained one of the least completely decolonized regions on the globe.
Recognition for Australian South Sea Islanders (ASSI) has been a long time coming. It was not until 1994 that the federal government recognized them as a distinct ethnic group with their own history and culture and not until September 2000 that the Queensland government made a formal statement of recognition.
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