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Polynesia(pŏlĭnē`zhə, –shə) [Gr.,=many islands], one of the three main divisions of OceaniaOceania
, 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
..... Click the link for more information. , in the central and S Pacific Ocean. The larger islands are volcanic; the smaller ones are generally coral formations. The principal groups are the Hawaiian Islands (see HawaiiHawaii
, 50th state of the United States, comprising a group of eight major islands and numerous islets in the central Pacific Ocean, c.2,100 mi (3,380 km) SW of San Francisco. Facts and Figures
Area, 6,450 sq mi (16,706 sq km). Pop.
..... Click the link for more information. ), SamoaSamoa,
chain of volcanic islands in the South Pacific, comprising the independent nation of Samoa (formerly Western Samoa), and E of long. 171° W, the islands of American Samoa, under U.S. control. The Samoan islands extend c.350 mi (560 km), with a total land area of c.
..... Click the link for more information. , TongaTonga
, officially Kingdom of Tonga, island kingdom (2015 est. pop. 106,000), 270 sq mi (699 sq km), South Pacific, c.2000 mi (3,220 km) NE of Sydney, Australia. Tonga is the only surviving independent kingdom in the South Pacific. Nukualofa is the capital.
..... Click the link for more information. , and the islands of French PolynesiaFrench Polynesia,
officially Overseas Lands of French Polynesia, internally self-governing dependency (2015 est. pop. 278,000) of France, consisting of 118 islands in the South Pacific. The capital is Papeete, on Tahiti.
..... Click the link for more information. . Ethnologically though not geographically, Polynesia also embraces New ZealandNew Zealand
, island country (2015 est. pop. 4,615,000), 104,454 sq mi (270,534 sq km), in the S Pacific Ocean, over 1,000 mi (1,600 km) SE of Australia. The capital is Wellington; the largest city and leading port is Auckland.
..... Click the link for more information. , which along with the Hawaiian Islands and Easter IslandEaster Island,
Span. Isla de Pascua, Polynesian Rapa Nui, remote island (1992 pop. 2,770), 66 sq mi (171 sq km), in the South Pacific, c.2,200 mi (3,540 km) W of Chile, to which it belongs.
..... Click the link for more information. broadly demarcate the extent of Polynesian settlement in the Pacific, known as the Polynesian Triangle. Malayo-Polynesian languagesMalayo-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;
..... Click the link for more information. are spoken in Polynesia. The Polynesians were skilled navigators and sailors, and the Pacific islands they settled were often separated by enormous expanses of open ocean.
See T. Barrow, Art and Life in Polynesia (1972); B. Finney, Voyage of Rediscovery: A Cultural Odyssey through Polynesia (1994).
islands of Oceania located in the central part of the Pacific Ocean, between 23° 30’ N lat. and 28” S lat. and between 176” E long, and 109° 20’ W long. Polynesia includes the Tonga Islands (an independent state since 1970), the Hawaiian Islands (a US state), the Tuvalu Islands and the Phoenix Islands (British possessions), the Tokelaus and the Cook Archipelago (possessions of New Zealand), Western Samoa (an independent state since 1962), Eastern Samoa (US possession), the Line Islands, or the Central Polynesian Sporades (possession of Great Britain and the USA), the Tubuais, the Marquesas, the Societies, and the Tuamotus (French possessions), and Easter Island (Chilean possession). New Zealand is also considered part of Polynesia. The area, without New Zealand, is about 26,000 sq km. Population, about 1.2 million (1969).
The islands are mostly of volcanic or coral origin. The volcanic islands are mountainous with elevations of more than 4,000 m (Hawaiian Islands 4,202 m); the coral islands are flat and low-lying. The Hawaiian and Samoan islands have active volcanoes. Most of the islands are surrounded by coral reefs. The climate is equatorial and tropical, with tradewinds; mean annual temperatures vary from 22° to 26°C, with minor monthly fluctuations. Precipitation averages 1,500 to 3,500 mm per year. Tahiti, Samoa, and Tonga are subject to violent hurricanes. The mountainous islands are covered with dense, evergreen subequatorial and tropical forests, especially on the windward slopes; the leeward slopes are covered mostly with savanna. Along the coasts are coconut palms, breadfruits, and pan-danuses. There are no large mammals but many birds.
The population of Polynesia consists of two basic groups: aboriginal Oceanians and immigrants from Europe, America, and Asia or their descendants. The former, represented by various Polynesian peoples, are heavily predominant on the islands of Tonga, Samoa, Wallis, Horn, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Line, Cook (together with Niue), Society, Tubuai, Tuamotu, Gambier, Marquesas, and Easter Island. In New Zealand the majority of the population are Anglo-New Zealanders (descendants of immigrants from Great Britain and Ireland), and on Hawaii US Americans and Japanese predominate, although there are large numbers of Filipinos and Chinese. The island of Tahiti also has a group of Chinese. Micronesians—natives of the Gilbert Islands —live on some of the Line Islands. The Phoenix Islands are uninhabited. The main crop on the islands is coconut palms. Also grown are bananas, sugarcane, pineapples, coffee, cacao, rubber plants, rice, yams, taro, and manioc. There is pearl diving, and sea turtles are caught.
The islands of Polynesia became known to the Europeans at the end of the 16th century, when the Spanish explorer A. de Mendaña de Neyra discovered the Solomon Islands in 1568 and sighted the Santa Cruz and Marquesas islands in 1595. Portuguese, Dutch, French, English, and Russian navigators took part in the discovery of the islands of Polynesia up to the 19th century. The islands of Polynesia are on routes linking America with Southeast Asia and Australia. The largest cities and ports of Polynesia are Honolulu (Hawaii), Papeete (Tahiti), Apia (Western Samoa), and Pago Pago (Eastern Samoa).