Melanesia is a subregion of Oceania extending from the western end of the Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea, and eastward to Fiji. The region comprises the countries of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea; besides these independent countries, Melanesia also includes New Caledonia, a special collectivity of France, and the region of West Papua which is the location of two provinces of Indonesia, Papua and West Papua.
The name Melanesia (from Greek: μέλας black; Greek: νῆσος islands) was first used by Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1832 to denote an ethnic and geographical grouping of islands distinct from Polynesia and Micronesia.
The concept of Melanesia as a distinct area evolved gradually over time as Europeans mapped and explored the Pacific. Early European explorers noted the physical differences among various groups of Pacific Islanders, but it was not until 1756 that Charles de Brosses theorized that there was an 'old black race' in Pacific that was conquered or defeated by the more lightly complected people of what is now called Polynesia.:189-190 By 1825 Jean Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent developed a more elaborate, 15-race model of human diversity. He described the inhabitants of modern-day Melanesia as 'Mélaniens', a distinct racial group from the 'Australian' and 'Neptunian' (i.e. Polynesian) races surrounding them.:178.
In 1832 Dumont D'Urville expanded and simplified much of this earlier work. He divided Oceania into four racial groups: Malaysians, Polynesians, Micronesians, and Melanesians. :165 D'Urville's model differed from that of Bory de Saint-Vincent as he referred to 'melanesians' rather than 'Mélaniens.' Although Bory de Saint-Vincent separated Mélaniens from Australians, Dumont D'Urville combined them in one group. He thought 'Melanesia' included Australia, in addition to the countries which today constitute Melanesia. Dumont D'Urville's concept of Melanesia was not geographic or cultural—it was racial. He described Melanesia as "the home of the black race of Oceania" :165 and wrote that "all the nations of this major division of Oceania are more or less black in colour, with curly, fuzzy or sometimes nearly woolly hair, flat noses, wide mouths and unpleasent features, and their limbs are often very frail and seldom well shaped... Their aptitudes and their intelligence are also generally largely inferior to those of the copper-skinned race [i.e. Polynesians]".:169
Over time 'Melanesia' was increasingly viewed as a distinct cultural, rather than racial, area. Its boundaries also continued to shift. In the nineteenth century Robert Codrington, a missionary, produced a series of monographs on 'the Melanesians' based on his long-time residence in the region. In works like The Melanesian Languages (1885) and The Melanesians: Studies in their Anthropology and Folk-lore (1891) Codrington defined Melanesia as Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, and Fiji. He did not include the islands of New Guinea with the area, because only some of its people were Melanesians. Like Bory de Saint-Vincent, he excluded Australia from Melanesia.:528 It was in these works that Codrington introduced the concept of mana to the west.
Uncertainty about the delineation of the region continues, although most agree that it now includes the island of New Guinea. In 1977, Ann Chowning wrote in her 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".:1 In 1998 Paul Sillitoe wrote Melanesia "it is not easy to define precisely, on geographical, cultural, biological, or any other grounds, where Melanesia ends and the neighbouring regions... begins".: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".:1. Both Sillitoe and Chowning include the island of New Guinea in the definition of Melanesia, and both exclude Australia.
Now that most of the countries in Melanesia have become independent, are heading towards independence (in the case of New Caledonia) or have active independence movements (in the case of west Papua), the term 'Melanesia' has now been seized on as a source of empowerment for the people of this region. Stepahnie 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.":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, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji.
The original inhabitants of the group of islands now named Melanesia were likely the ancestors of the present-day Papuan-speaking people. They appear to have occupied these islands as far east as the main islands in the Solomon Islands, including Makira and possibly the smaller islands farther to the east.
Particularly along the north coast of New Guinea and in the islands north and east of New Guinea, the Austronesian people came into contact with these pre-existing populations of Papuan-speaking peoples, probably around 4,000 years ago. Scholars theorized a long period of interaction that resulted in many complex changes in genetics, languages, and culture. Kayser, et. al proposed that, from this area, a very small group of people (speaking an Austronesian language) departed to the east to become the forebears of the Polynesian people. This finding is, however, contradicted by a genetic study published by Temple University in 2008, which found that Polynesians and Micronesians have little relation to Melanesians. They are more related to East Asians, particularly Taiwanese Aborigines. It appeared the Polynesians moved through the area quickly and left little genetic evidence. The study found significant genetic differentiation among groups living within the Melanesian islands, often differentiated by island and geography.
Melanesians, together with Papuan people and Australian Aborigines, are the only known modern humans whose prehistoric ancestors interbred with the Denisova hominin, sharing 4%–6% of their genome with this ancient human species.
In the world, blond hair is exceptionally rare among those without European heritage. However, Melanesians of some islands are one of the few non-European peoples and the only dark-skinned group of people outside Australia known to have blond hair.
Most of the languages of Melanesia are members of the Austronesian or Papuan language families. By one count, there are 1,319 languages in Melanesia, scattered across a small amount of land. The proportion of 716 sq. kilometers per language is by far the most dense rate of languages in relation to land mass in the earth, almost three times as dense as in Nigeria, a country famous for its high number of languages in a compact area.
In addition to this large number of indigenous languages, there are also a number of pidgins and creoles. Most notable among these are Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu, Solomon Islands Pijin, Bislama, and Papuan Malay.
Political geography 
The following countries are considered part of Melanesia:
- Papua New Guinea
- Solomon Islands
Melanesia also includes one dependency of France
- New Caledonia
Because the western half of the island of New Guinea is part of the nation state of Indonesia, Indonesia is also included in this area. A separatist group, the Free Papua Movement is also active in this area.
Several Melanesian states are members of various intergovernmental organizations. Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu are members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu are also members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
Associated islands 
The following islands and groups of islands since the 19th century have been considered part of Melanesia:
- Amphlett Islands, Papua New Guinea
- Bismarck Archipelago, Papua New Guinea
- d'Entrecasteaux Islands, Papua New Guinea
- Louisiade Archipelago, Papua New Guinea
- Maluku Islands
- New Caledonia, France
- New Guinea, politically divided between independent state of Papua New Guinea and West Papua
- Norfolk Island, Australia (geographically only)
- Raja Ampat Islands
- Rotuma, Fiji
- Schouten Islands
- Santa Cruz Islands, Solomon Islands
- Solomon Islands, politically divided between the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea and independent Solomon Islands
- Torres Strait Islands, politically divided between Australia and Papua New Guinea
- Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea
- Woodlark Island, Papua New Guinea
Based on ethnological factors, some of the islands to the west of the Moluccas, such as Flores, Sumba, Timor, Halmahera, Alor, and Pantar can also be considered to be part of Melanesia, although most people in this area do not make use of the term.
See also 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Melanesia|
- Bishop of Melanesia
- Denisova hominin
- Island Melanesia
- Melanesian Brotherhood
- Papuan peoples
- Tcherkezoff, Serge (2003). "A Long and Unfortunate Voyage Toward the Invention of the Melanesia-Polynesia Distinction 1595-1832". Journal of Pacific History 38 (2): 175–196.
- "MAPS AND NOTES to illustrate the history of the European "invention" of the Melanesia / Polynesia distinction.". Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- Durmont D'Urville, Jules-Sebastian-Cesar (2003). "On The Islands of The Great Ocean". Journal of Pacific History 38 (2): 163–174.
- Codrington, Robert (1915). "Melanesians" in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. pp. 528–535.
- Chowning, Ann (1977). An Introduction to the Peoples an Cultures of Melanesia. Menlo Park: Cummings Publishing Company.
- Sillitoe, Paul (1998). An Introduction to the Anthropology of Melanesia. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Lawson, Stephanie (2013). "'Melanesia': The History and Politics of an Idea". Journal of Pacific History 48 (1): 1-22.
- Dunn, Michael, Angela Terrill, Ger Reesink, Robert A. Foley, Stephen C. Levinson (2005). "Structural Phylogenetics and the Reconstruction of Ancient Language History". Science 309 (5743): 2072–2075. doi:10.1126/science.1114615. PMID 16179483.
- Spriggs, Matthew (1997). The Island Melanesians. Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-16727-7.
- Kayser, Manfred, Silke Brauer, Gunter Weiss, Peter A. Underhill, Lutz Rower, Wulf Schiefenhövel and Mark Stoneking (2000). "The Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y chromosomes". Current Biology 10 (20): 1237–1246. doi:10.1016/S0960-9822(00)00734-X. PMID 11069104.
- "Genome Scans Show Polynesians Have Little Genetic Relationship to Melanesians", Press Release, Temple University, 18 January 2008, accessed 9 March 2013
- Friedlaender, Jonathan, Friedlaender JS, Friedlaender FR, Reed FA, Kidd KK et al. (2008-01-18). "The Genetic Structure of Pacific Islanders". Public Library of Science (Philadelphia, PA 19122: Temple University). PLoS Genet (4(1): e19 doi=10.1371/journal.pgen.0040019). Retrieved 2008-01-18.
- Carl Zimmer (22 December 2010). "Denisovans Were Neanderthals' Cousins, DNA Analysis Reveals". NYTimes.com. Retrieved 22 December 2010.
- M. Lynn Landweer and Peter Unseth. 2012. An introduction to language use in Melanesia. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 214:1-3.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Melanesia|
- Polynesian origins: Insights from the Y chromosome
- Independent Histories of Human Y Chromosomes from Melanesia and Australia
- A site about West Melanesia
- Bird checklists for Melanesian islands
- New Guinea: Crossing Boundaries and History - a general history of New Guinea
- Anglican historical texts related to Melanesia
- Ancient humans, dubbed 'Denisovans', interbred with us BBC News online (2010-12-22) report (with video) on study that shows that Denisovans interbred with the ancestors of the present day people of the Melanesian region north and north-east of Australia. Melanesian DNA comprises between 4% and 6% Denisovan DNA.