The geographical extent of Melanesia
The three major cultural areas in the Pacific Ocean: Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia
Map showing the sovereignty of islands of Melanesia

Melanesia (UK: ə/, US: ə/) is a subregion of Oceania extending from New Guinea island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea, and eastward to Fiji.

The region includes the four independent countries of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea, as well as the French special collectivity of New Caledonia, and the Indonesian region of Western New Guinea. Most of the region is in the Southern Hemisphere, with a few small northwestern islands of Western New Guinea in the Northern Hemisphere.

The name Melanesia (in French Mélanésie) was first used by Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1832 to denote an ethnic and geographical grouping of islands whose inhabitants he thought were distinct from those of Micronesia and Polynesia.


Distribution of Melanesians according to Meyers Konversations-Lexikon

The name Melanesia, from Greek μέλας, black, and νῆσος, islands, etymologically means "islands of black [people]", in reference to the dark skin of the inhabitants.

The concept among Europeans of Melanesia as a distinct region evolved gradually over time as their expeditions mapped and explored the Pacific. Early European explorers noted the physical differences among groups of Pacific Islanders. In 1756 Charles de Brosses theorized that there was an "old black race" in the Pacific who were conquered or defeated by the peoples of what is now called Polynesia, whom he distinguished as having lighter skin.[1]:189–190 In the first half of the nineteenth century Jean Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent and Jules Dumont d'Urville identified Melanesians as a distinct racial group.[2][3] :165

Over time, however, Europeans increasingly viewed Melanesia as a distinct cultural, rather than racial, area. Scholars and other commentators disagreed on its boundaries, which were fluid. In the nineteenth century Robert Codrington, a British missionary, produced a series of monographs on "the Melanesians" based on his long-time residence in the region. In works including The Melanesian Languages (1885) and The Melanesians: Studies in Their Anthropology and Folk-lore (1891), Codrington defined Melanesia as including Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, and Fiji. He did not include the islands of New Guinea because only some of its people were Melanesians. Like Bory de Saint-Vincent, he excluded Australia from Melanesia.[4]:528 It was in these works that Codrington introduced the cultural concept of mana to the West.

A pan flute from Solomon Islands, 19th century

Uncertainty about the delineation and definition of the region continues. The scholarly consensus now includes New Guinea within Melanesia. Ann Chowning wrote in her 1977 textbook on Melanesia that there is

no general agreement even among anthropologists about the geographical boundaries of Melanesia. Many apply the term only to the smaller islands, excluding New Guinea; Fiji has frequently been treated as an anomalous border region or even assigned wholly to Polynesia; and the people of the Torres Straits Islands are often simply classified as Australian aborigines.[5]:1

In 1998 Paul Sillitoe wrote of Melanesia: "it is not easy to define precisely, on geographical, cultural, biological, or any other grounds, where Melanesia ends and the neighbouring regions ... begins".[6]:1 He ultimately concludes that the region is

a historical category which evolved in the nineteenth century from the discoveries made in the Pacific and has been legitimated by use and further research in the region. It covers populations that have a certain linguistic, biological and cultural affinity – a certain ill-defined sameness, which shades off at its margins into difference.[6]:1

Both Sillitoe and Chowning include the island of New Guinea in the definition of Melanesia, and both exclude Australia.

Most of the peoples in Melanesia have established independent countries, are administered by France or have active independence movements (in the case of West Papua). Many have recently taken up the term 'Melanesia' as a source of identity and "empowerment". Stephanie Lawson writes that the term "moved from a term of denigration to one of affirmation, providing a positive basis for contemporary subregional identity as well as a formal organisation".[7]:14 For instance, the author Bernard Narokobi wrote about the "Melanesian Way" as a distinct form of culture that could empower the people of this region. The concept is also used in geopolitics. For instance, the Melanesian Spearhead Group preferential trade agreement is a regional trade treaty among Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji.

Other Languages
Acèh: Melanesia
Afrikaans: Melanesië
Alemannisch: Melanesien
አማርኛ: መላኔዥያ
العربية: ميلانيزيا
arpetan: Mèlanèsie
asturianu: Melanesia
azərbaycanca: Melaneziya
Bân-lâm-gú: Melanesia
беларуская: Меланезія
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Мэланэзія
Bikol Central: Melanesya
български: Меланезия
Boarisch: Melanesien
bosanski: Melanezija
brezhoneg: Melanezia
català: Melanèsia
Чӑвашла: Меланези
čeština: Melanésie
Cymraeg: Melanesia
dansk: Melanesien
Deutsch: Melanesien
eesti: Melaneesia
Ελληνικά: Μελανησία
español: Melanesia
Esperanto: Melanezio
euskara: Melanesia
فارسی: ملانزی
Fiji Hindi: Melanesia
føroyskt: Melanesia
français: Mélanésie
Frysk: Melaneezje
galego: Melanesia
한국어: 멜라네시아
հայերեն: Մելանեզիա
हिन्दी: मॅलानिशिया
hrvatski: Melanezija
Ilokano: Melanesia
Bahasa Indonesia: Melanesia
íslenska: Melanesía
italiano: Melanesia
עברית: מלנזיה
Basa Jawa: Mèlanésia
Kapampangan: Melanesia
ქართული: მელანეზია
қазақша: Меланезия
Kiswahili: Melanesia
kurdî: Melanezya
Кыргызча: Меланезия
кырык мары: Меланези
Latina: Melanesia
latviešu: Melanēzija
lietuvių: Melanezija
Limburgs: Melanesië
magyar: Melanézia
македонски: Меланезија
მარგალური: მელანეზია
Bahasa Melayu: Melanesia
မြန်မာဘာသာ: မီလန်နီးရှား
Nederlands: Melanesië
日本語: メラネシア
Nordfriisk: Melaneesien
norsk: Melanesia
norsk nynorsk: Melanesia
occitan: Melanesia
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Melaneziya
پنجابی: میلانیشیا
Tok Pisin: Melanesia
polski: Melanezja
português: Melanésia
română: Melanezia
русский: Меланезия
Gagana Samoa: Melanisia
Scots: Melanesie
shqip: Melanesia
Simple English: Melanesia
slovenčina: Melanézia
slovenščina: Melanezija
српски / srpski: Меланезија
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Melanezija
suomi: Melanesia
svenska: Melanesien
Tagalog: Melanesya
татарча/tatarça: Меланезия
Türkçe: Melanezya
Türkmençe: Melaneziýa
українська: Меланезія
Tiếng Việt: Melanesia
West-Vlams: Melanesië
Winaray: Melanesia
Wolof: Melaneesi
Yorùbá: Melanésíà
žemaitėška: Melanezėjė
Lingua Franca Nova: Melanesia