Oceania is the geographical zone in the south east of Asia Pacific region, which constitutes the majority of the islands present in the Pacific region. The Oceanic region majorly comprises of four cultural areas- Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and Australasia (Australia and New Zealand). Oceania is recorded to have the second smallest population, after Antarctica and the geographical area of this region is the smallest in the world.
The word Oceania has been derived from the French word Océanie, which comes from the Latin word oceanus. Since the countries in the region are connected through the ocean, therefore this region was named Oceania.
Being a zone with a very small population, Oceania should definitely not be mistaken for being singular in culture. In other words, Oceania, with a mere population of about 39 million, possesses different traditions, norms and beliefs which make it culturally diverse. However, since Europeans began immigrating in this region in the 16th century, their culture is majorly influenced by the West. But before we further ponder over Oceania’s culture, it is important we get familiar with its history.
The Polynesians were originally the people who settled in Fiji, during 1800 BC. In the early 16th century, Europeans reached the Oceanic region, and throughout the 16th and 17th century their navigators went on exploring other islands, nations and regions in the present day Oceania. The Dutch were also successful in exploring the regions of Oceania. Then began the colonisation of the Oceanic regions, by the British, French, Spanish, Dutch, American and Japanese.
The British colonised Australia (1788), Pitcairn Islands (1789), New Zealand (1840) and Fiji (1872), which roughly covered most of the Oceanic region as a British colony. The British established a few more islands as their colonies in the 19th century. Then comes the French colonisation, when some French missionaries who came to Tahiti were declared as French protectorate. In 1886, these people turned Tahiti into a colony and went on colonising other regions in Oceania. After, one of the Spanish explorers, Alonso De Salazar came across the Marshall Island, Spain claimed it in 1874. Then Germany established colonies in New Guinea and Samoa in the 19th century. The Unites States also established their colonies in their region, which soon resulted in Hawaii becoming a U.S. territory in 1898. During World
War I and II, Japan made several colonies in the Oceanic regions for the purpose of administration, control and power.
These colonisations led to a major crisis between United States and Germany, known as Samoan Crisis. Both the nations had a huge conflict over taking control over the Samoan Islands, and this crisis lasted from 1887-1889 and while their warships kept each other at the bay for more than seven months, one day a cyclone destroyed all the warships in the harbour. However, this didn’t stop either of the nations and the war over the islands continued until they both agreed to divide the islands into two colonies, one for each nation.
Arrival of the Europeans disturbed the existing air of the Oceanic regions massively. Their possession of firearms worsened every situation, a minor conflict turned into a war and there were some wars which lasted years, even decades.
Apart from the arrival of Europeans and the colonisations, even the World Wars had a destructive impact on Oceania. The World War I, although occurred majorly between Europe and the Middle East, Oceania was forced to become a part of it as well. British people living in Australia and New Zealand were eager to fight for their country; hence armies were formed from both the nations which led to a massive bloodbath. And also Japan took control over all the regions in control of Germany. Similarly in the Second World War, both the countries fought in defence of Britain in some major battles. By bombing the US claimed Hawaii at Pearl Harbour, Japan declared war against US. New Zealand and most of Polynesia were somehow unaffected by the war and the Australian troops fought very important battles.
It would be completely false to state that warfare in Oceania began only after the arrival of Europeans. A peaceful society has always been a myth, and similar was the case with Oceania. Although there are no certain proofs of the whereabouts or reasons of the conflicts or wars, however stories heard and the weapons discovered tell much about the warfare before Europeans claimed regions of Oceania. The sorts of weapons used in Oceania were boomerang, woomera, bow, spears, clubs and many more. And it is believed that most of the people earlier, in Oceania possessed these weapons. The wars were believed to have taken place between people within the same culture and also between people with different cultures.
Except for the civil war that took place in Bougainville, the late 20th century was relatively peaceful and most of the countries had won back their independence. However some islands
still remained to be the territories of Europeans, Asians and Americans, and they used these territories for nuclear testing. The small population of this region made it ideal for such experiments to take place. However the dwellers of the respective regions had to face severe consequences many times, sometimes they were even forced to evacuate their homes due to the horrible surroundings. Soon nations began revolting against these tests and they finally stopped. The last test occurred in 1996.
Due to the powers the Europeans have held in this region, they still have a strong influence on Oceania. However the rest of the world doesn’t seem to be connected to this region, partially because of its geographical isolation and also because the events occurring here barely make it to the headlines, except for the natural calamities.
As discussed earlier, Oceanic regions are diverse in culture. Talking about Australian culture, it has been majorly influenced by European culture since the 18th century; however it has also been influenced by the 20th century American lifestyle mainly cinema, also Australia’s museums like Australian Museum in Sydney and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne are oldest and largest in Oceania. Some of its cultural influences also come from its neighbouring Asian countries and other non-English speaking regions. Australia is famous worldwide for its coffee culture. Australia has not only been influenced by the above stated regions’ cultures but cuisines as well.
In earlier centuries, the tribal groups of Australia lived entirely on a hunter-gatherer based diet. Although the tribal groups of other major regions of Oceania followed the hunter- gatherer based diet, which also included fishing, but they also ate also through agriculture.