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Oceania

People

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Several different racial and ethnic groups make up the people of the Pacific Islands, reflecting various migrants to the region over several thousand years. These peoples include Melanesians, Micronesians, and Polynesians, whose origins can be traced to Southeast Asia; Europeans and Americans; Chinese; and Indians, found mostly in Fiji. More recent immigrants include Vietnamese to New Caledonia and Vanuatu, and Filipinos to Micronesia.

Not counting the languages introduced since the first Europeans arrived—languages such as English, French, Hindi, and Vietnamese—some 1200 languages are spoken throughout the Pacific Island region, more than 700 in New Guinea alone. These languages belong to two language groups, Papuan and Malayo-Polynesian. Papuan languages are spoken on New Guinea, while Malayo-Polynesian languages dominate elsewhere. Most native islanders speak at least one of the many native Malayo-Polynesian languages. English or French, however, is usually the official language of most island nations or territories as well as the language of instruction in schools. English is an official language of Fiji, Kiribati, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, and the Micronesian nation-states. French is an official language of French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and Wallis and Futuna.

Although the great diversity of the Pacific Islands makes it difficult to generalize, a few traits of island life are common throughout the region. Islanders who live in rural areas—and the Pacific Islands are still predominantly rural—depend on subsistence farming and, especially on the coasts, on fishing. Diets are composed of various kinds of marine life, and plants such as taro, cassava, yams, breadfruit, bananas, and several other fruits. The soft center of the sago palm is used make bread. The ubiquitous coconut palm is important on both large plantations and small plots, where its nut, leaves, and trunk are all put to use. In some areas where water is scarce, coconut milk is an important beverage. Clothing is typically lightweight. In Fiji, for example, native peoples wear a traditional sulu, an all-purpose garment worn by men and women that to Westerners resembles a skirt. Houses on the islands are typically constructed from concrete blocks or thatch.

 
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