Polynesian Culture

Topics: Polynesia, French Polynesia, Polynesian culture Pages: 17 (6897 words) Published: March 8, 2014
Polynesian culture
The beliefs and practices of the indigenous peoples of the ethnogeographic group of Pacific Islands known as Polynesia (from Greek poly ‘many’ and nēsoi ‘islands’). Polynesia encompasses a huge triangular area of the east-central Pacific Ocean. The triangle has its apex at the Hawaiian Islands in the north and its base angles at New Zealand (Aotearoa) in the west and Easter Island (Rapa Nui) in the east. It also includes (from northwest to southeast) Tuvalu, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna, Samoa (formerly Western Samoa), American Samoa, Tonga, Niue, theCook Islands, French Polynesia (Tahiti and the other Society Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Austral Islands, and the Tuamotu Archipelago, including the Gambier Islands [formerly the Mangareva Islands]), and Pitcairn Island. At the turn of the 21st century, about 70 percent of the total population of Polynesia resided in Hawaii. The physical environment of the Polynesian islands is not as favourable for human habitation as it might at first seem. It certainly presented difficulties when the ancestors of the Polynesians entered the area some 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, first settling on the western islands—Wallis and Futuna, Samoa, and Tonga—which were devoid of much that was needed for human habitation. As a result, early peoples had to take in a wide variety of subsistence items, including most of the useful plants and all of the domestic animals they required. The physical environment has continued to exert a marked influence on Polynesian culture. Polynesian cultures have been radically altered by Western colonialism. European explorers navigated much of the area in the latter quarter of the 18th century, and the first missionaries arrived in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Britain annexed New Zealand through the Treaty of Waitangi(1840), but interethnic tension arose between the indigenous Maori. Other colonial powers that laid claim to various parts of Polynesia includedFrance, Germany, New Zealand, the United States, and Chile. Missionary influence on Polynesian peoples increased over time, and Christianity eventually became an integral part of the islanders’ lives. In many areas Christianity was also influenced by local traditions and customs. Quite commonly, villages competed to build larger and more elaborate churches, and first-time visitors to Polynesia are often surprised at the intensity of the islanders’ commitment to Christianity. Many Polynesians were recruited to proselytize other parts of the Pacific, particularly Melanesia. After World War II, local sentiments for decolonization began to spread. Samoa became the first postcolonial Pacific nation when it gained sovereignty from New Zealand in 1962. It has a parliamentary system, but only traditional chiefs (matai) may vote and run for election. Tuvalu also follows the parliamentary style of government. Three island groups—Tonga, Tahiti, and Hawaii—had traditionally been monarchies. This form of government survives only in Tonga, where a British-style parliament gives special status to traditional nobles. Most of the remaining island groups have gained some degree of independence from colonial rule. Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is the anomaly of the region. The aboriginal population was so decimated by European-introduced diseases and by slavers in the 1860s that it almost became extinct. In 1888 the island was annexed by Chile; its people are now the only Pacific islanders controlled by a Latin American power. Little remains of Easter Island’s original culture. The indigenous Polynesian language (also called Rapa Nui) survives, but most people also speak Spanish. About one-third of the island’s small population is from Chile. Contemporary Polynesia

Polynesia has loomed large in the Western imagination for more than 200 years. Idealized images were disseminated around the world from the time of first contact with Europeans: people in Europe avidly read the reports of Louis-Antoine de...
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