MELANESIA, one of the three great divisions of the oceanic islands in the central and western Pacific. It embraces the Bismarck Archipelago, N.E. of New Guinea, the Louisiade, Solomon, Santa Cruz, New Hebrides and Loyalty islands, New Caledonia, Fiji and intervening small groups. The name (Gr. /itXas, black, and vrjaos, island) is derived from the black colour of the prevailing native race, the Papuan and its allied tribes. Many of these differ widely from the parent race, but all the Melanesian peoples have certain common characteristics which distinguish them sharply from the inhabitants of Polynesia and Micronesia. Their civilization is lower. The Melanesians are mostly " negroid," nearly black, with crisp, curly hair elaborately dressed; their women hold a much lower position than among the Polynesians; their institutions, social, political and religious, are simpler, their manners ruder; they have few or no traditions; cannibalism, in different degrees, is almost universal; but their artistic skill and taste, as with some of the lower African negroes, are remarkable, and they are amenable to discipline and fair treatment. Their languages, which exhibit considerable difference among themselves, have features which mark them off clearly from the Polynesian, notwithstanding certain fundamental relations with the latter.
See R. H. Codrington, The Melanesian Languages (Oxford, 1885) and The Melanesians (Oxford, 1891); the articles -PAPUANS and PACIFIC OCEAN ; also those on the several island-groups, etc.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)