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(mĕlənē`zhə, –shə), one of the three main divisions of OceaniaOceania
or Oceanica
, collective name for the approximately 25,000 islands of the Pacific, usually excluding such nontropical areas as the Ryukyu and Aleutian islands and Japan, as well as Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, whose populations are more closely
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, in the SW Pacific Ocean, NE of Australia and S of the equator. Melanesia includes the Solomon IslandsSolomon Islands,
independent Commonwealth nation (2009 pop. 515,870), c.15,500 sq mi (40,150 sq km), SW Pacific, E of New Guinea. The islands that constitute the nation of the Solomon Islands—Guadalcanal, Malaita, New Georgia, the Santa Cruz Islands, Choiseul, Ysabel
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, VanuatuVanuatu
, formerly New Hebrides
, officially Republic of Vanuatu, independent republic (2009 pop. 243,304), c.5,700 sq mi (14,760 sq km), South Pacific, E of Australia.
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, New CaledoniaNew Caledonia,
Fr. Nouvelle Calédonie, officially Territory of New Caledonia and Dependencies, internally self-governing dependency of France (2014 pop. 268,767), land area 7,241 sq mi (18,760 sq km), South Pacific, c.700 mi (1,130 km) E of Australia.
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, the Bismarck ArchipelagoBismarck Archipelago,
volcanic island group, 19,200 sq mi (49,730 sq km), SW Pacific, a part of Papua New Guinea. The group includes New Britain (the largest island), New Ireland, the Admiralty Islands, the Mussau Islands, New Hanover, the Vitu Islands, and the Duke of York
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, the Admiralty IslandsAdmiralty Islands,
group of 40 volcanic islands, c.800 sq mi (2,070 sq km), SW Pacific, in the Bismarck Archipelago and part of Papua New Guinea. Lorengau, the chief port and administrative center of the group, is on Manus, the largest island.
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, and FijiFiji
or Viti
, officially Republic of Fiji, republic made up of a Melanesian island group (2005 est. pop. 893,000), c.7,000 sq mi (18,130 sq km), South Pacific. Suva is the capital. Land

Fiji comprises c.320 islands, of which some 105 are inhabited.
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. New GuineaNew Guinea
, island, c.342,000 sq mi (885,780 sq km), SW Pacific, N of Australia; the world's second largest island after Greenland. Politically it is divided into two sections: the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua in the west and the independent country of Papua New
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 is sometimes included in Melanesia. The Melanesians are largely of Australoid stock; they speak Malayo-PolynesianMalayo-Polynesian languages
, sometimes also called Austronesian languages
, family of languages estimated at from 300 to 500 tongues and understood by approximately 300 million people in Madagascar; the Malay Peninsula; Indonesia and New Guinea; the Philippines;
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 languages. The Melanesian Spearhead Group is an international organization whose members consists of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu as well as New Caledonia's Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front. Indonesia is an associate member. It began in 1986 as an informal grouping to promote common regional interests, led to a trade agreement, and was formally established in 2007.


See study by H. C. Brookfield and D. Hart (1971).



one of the chief island groups in Oceania, in the southwestern part of the Pacific Ocean, extending almost 5,000 km from northwest to southeast between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. The main islands and groups are New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon Islands, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, and Fiji. With the exception of Fiji and New Guinea, the islands are possessions of Great Britain, France, and Australia. The Fiji Islands are an independent state; the western part of New Guinea (West Irian) belongs to Indonesia; and Papua New Guinea has been a self-governing territory since 1973. Total area, 956,300 sq km; population, 4,068,000 (1969).

The indigenous population of Melanesia consists of two linguistically distinct groups of peoples. The Papuans, accounting for about two-thirds of the total population, make up the first group, and the second group comprises the Melanesians (more than one-fourth of the population) and a small number of Polynesians and Micronesians. Papuans predominate on New Guinea, and Melanesians constitute the majority of the population in the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides and about half the population of New Caledonia and Fiji. The largest immigrant groups are Indians (half the population of Fiji) and French (more than one-third of New Caledonia’s inhabitants).

The islands of Melanesia are of continental and volcanic origin. There are many coral reefs in the shallows. The islands are composed of crystalline, metamorphic, and sedimentary rock (mostly andesite). Almost all the islands are mountainous, with elevations reaching 5,029 m on New Guinea, and the large islands have coastal lowlands. Melanesia is a region of recent volcanism and frequent earthquakes. The climate is equatorial and subequatorial, becoming tropical on the southern islands. The mean monthly temperatures range from 25° to 28°C . Annual precipitation totals 7,000–9,000 mm on the windward mountain slopes and 1,000–2,000 mm elsewhere. The river system is dense; on New Guinea it is well developed, with several rivers reaching 800 km in length. The flora is of the Malaysian type, with a small admixture of Australian varieties on New Guinea, and includes many endemics. The large northern islands are covered with dense, equatorial rain forests containing valuable varieties such as breadfruit trees, papayas, palms, rubber trees, sandalwood, and teak. Monsoon forests and savannas grow on the central and southern islands. The wildlife is similar to Australia’s and includes marsupials, New Guinea echidnas, cassowaries, and lyrebirds.

There are plantations of coconut palms, rubber trees, sugarcane, cocoa, and coffee. The chief exports are copra, cocoa beans, coffee, and rubber. Rice, corn, taro, cassava, and yams are grown for domestic consumption. Other economic activities include animal husbandry, fishing, logging, and the gathering of coral and mother-of-pearl. Nickel, cobalt, and chromium are mined in New Caledonia, manganese ores in the New Hebrides, and gold on New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Fiji.


Nevskii, V. V., and O. A. Nil’son. Okeaniia. Leningrad, 1965.
Mukhin, G. I. Avstraliia i Okeaniia, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1967. Okeaniia (handbook). Moscow, 1971.



A group of islands in the Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia.


one of the three divisions of islands in the Pacific (the others being Micronesia and Polynesia); the SW division of Oceania: includes Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the Louisiade, Solomon, Santa Cruz, and Loyalty Islands, which all lie northeast of Australia