Reference Entry


Barbara B. Smith, Adrienne L. Kaeppler, Artur Simon, Don Niles, Hugo Zemp, Jane Mink Rossen, Mervyn McLean, Peter Crowe, Derek A. Rawcliffe, Jean-Michel Beaudet and Kaye Glamuzina

in Oxford Music Online

Published in print January 2001 |
Published online January 2001 | e-ISBN: 9781561592630 | DOI:

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Conventional geographic and cultural division of the South Pacific Ocean, comprising a group of islands with a total land area of 966,975 km², lying north-east of Australia. With Micronesia and Polynesia they make up the Pacific Islands.

Barbara B. Smith

Melanesia (Gk. melas: ‘black’; nēsos: ‘island’) is the name given by Europeans in the 1830s to the islands that lie south of the equator and north-east of Australia, between Indonesia to the west and Polynesia to the east (for map, see Polynesia, fig.). Geographically the major island aggregates are New Guinea Island; the Bismarck Archipelago (including the Admiralty Islands, New Britain and New Ireland); the Solomon Islands; Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides); New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands; and the Fiji Islands. There are also many small islands and island groups, some being coral atolls.

The ancestors of the peoples who live in Melanesia originated in South-east Asia. There is great diversity among both the peoples and their languages, however, reflecting both the great length of time between the initial human settlement of New Guinea (estimated at 50,000 years ago) and the much later settlements of other islands (mostly within the past 5000 years) and, for some of the peoples, long periods of isolation. Scattered post-settlement contacts with Malay and Chinese sailors preceded European discovery of Melanesia by several centuries. European contacts were also diverse in national origin, purpose and extent of influence. Because of the diversity, most anthropologists eschew generalizations about culture within Melanesia; furthermore, in spite of much significant recent research (especially within Papua New Guinea), the musics of many of the peoples of Melanesia have yet to be studied in depth....

Reference Entry.  24464 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Music

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