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The Diversity of Melanesian Culture
The area of the world referred to as Melanesia includes the Pacific Islands that lie in an arc beginning with New Guinea and extending in a southwesterly direction to Fiji. The culture of the native people inhabiting this area is a tremendously diverse one, and has been given the overarching title of “Melanesian Culture”.
Much like the diversity that exists in the various Pacific islands peoples of the Polynesian and Micronesian areas, the many elements of social, genetic, linguistic and cultural features among the Melanesian people are similar from island to island, but each group has developed a unique world and life view.
Melanesian woman prepares a meal
For example, the people of the island nation Vanuatu have seen their cultural values shift and alter geographically throughout the island due to the settlement and influence of European peoples. The Melanesian people in the northern areas of Vanuatu determine wealth by the amount an individual can give away.
In the southern parts of the island nation a more Western method of determining social ranking and wealth is utilized, where grants of title and associated privileges are valued. The middle of the country sees the Melanesian culture adhering to more traditional standards, where livestock of a certain appearance determines wealth and rank, and traditional ceremonies are still performed.
The language known as “Bislama” is the formal language of the native Melanesian people, as well as the most often spoken language in the nation. There are however approximately one hundred and ten native languages still used in Vanuatu. The nation is considered to have the highest density of spoken languages in the world. Many of the native Melanesian people have also learned to speak both English and French to accommodate the fusion of their culture with Western cultures.
The Vanuatu people also preserve traditional Melanesian music, and it is a thriving cultural event in the country. The “kastom singing” and associated instruments, including drums, rattles and gongs are still relied upon for entertainment and occasionally performed for ritual communication. This music has also been transformed by its introduction into the Western world and today a popular music in the South Pacific is based on this earlier, more traditional format.
The Melanesian cultural factors will differ from island region to island region, and it is important that Melanesian people and their governments continue to foster and support efforts at preserving and educating visitors and residents about the native peoples and their cultures. To that end several islands have developed museums and historical societies aimed at preserving artifacts and histories of the native peoples.
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