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Oceania (ōshēănˈēə, –āˈnēə) or Oceanica (ōshēănˈĭkə), 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 related to mainland Asia. Oceania is generally considered synonomous with the South Sea Islands and is divided ethnologically into Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the world’s largest group of islands, scattered throughout the central and western Pacific Ocean. It includes about 10,000 islands lying between the subtropical latitudes of the northern hemisphere (28°25′ N lat.) and the temperate latitudes of the southern hemisphere (52°30′ S lat.). Most of the islands are grouped in archipelagoes that extend in a submeridional direction. Oceania’s largest islands, New Guinea and New Zealand, account for about 80 percent of its total area of 1.26 million sq km. In dividing the earth into land areas, Oceania is classified with Australia. Population (excluding Australia), about 8 million (1971).

Natural features. Oceania is subdivided into Melanesia (the western most and largest of the islands), Micronesia (the small islands north of Melanesia), and Polynesia (all the remaining islands).

The natural features of Oceania are highly distinctive primarily because of the insular nature of its land areas and the dispersal of the islands across a vast stretch of the Pacific Ocean. The characteristic terrain of the islands is linked by origin with the geological structure and morphostructures of the ocean floor and with variations in the ocean’s level and its physical and chemical properties. All the islands have an oceanic climate, which is also influenced by the proximity of Eurasia and Australia. The fauna and flora are poor in species, and many species on the older islands are endemic. The landscapes range from those of equatorial geographic belts to those of subtropical and temperate (southern hemisphere) belts—from humid equatorial forests to broadleaf forests of the temperate latitudes. The landscapes are distinguished by the uniqueness of their natural complexes in an oceanic environment. On the large mountainous islands landscapes show altitude zonation and differ markedly, depending on the exposure of slopes to either damp or dry winds.

TERRAIN AND GEOLOGICAL STRUCTURE. The islands of western Micronesia, Melanesia, and New Zealand are large, mountainous, and extremely dissected. Mountain ranges and summits reach considerable heights; Mount Djaja on New Guinea (5,029 m) is the highest point in Oceania. The islands of eastern Micronesia and Polynesia are small, low coral atolls; a few are mountainous. The islands of western Micronesia and Melanesia are composed of folded sedimentary formations and of intrusive and particularly extrusive (mainly andesite) rock. They lie in an alpine geosyncline of the western rim of the Pacific floor. The islands are folded island arcs—the parts of enormous mountain systems of Mesozoic and Cenozoic folding that rise above the water. Volcanism and earthquakes attest to orogenic movements. The islands of the central Pacific are huge basalt cones surmounting volcanic ridges that were formed during the eruption of basalts along faults at the end of the Neogene and beginning of the Anthropogene. The above-water summits of these ridges are high volcanoes rising to more than 9,000 m if the underwater foundation is included (Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii). Among the volcanic islands are the Hawaiian, Samoa, Marquesas, Society, Cook (south), Tubuai, and Easter islands, as well as various smaller islands. Most volcanic summits, however, are submerged and topped by coral structures whose above-water parts are atolls. With the exception of a few volcanic islets in their midst, the Marshall, Caroline, Gilbert, Ellice, Tokelau, Cook (north), Phoenix, Line, and Tuamotu islands are coral formations; Nauru and Ocean Island are also coral islands.

The most important minerals of Oceania are nickel ores (New Caledonia), phosphates (Nauru, Christmas Island), oil (New Guinea), gold (New Guinea, Fiji), coal (New Zealand), and copper (Bougainville).

CLIMATE. Most of the islands lie in the tropical climatic zones of both hemispheres. On the islands near Australia and Asia the climate is subequatorial in the equatorial latitudes and equatorial west of the 180th meridian. North and south of the tropics the climate is subtropical. Most of the South Island of New Zealand lies in the temperate zone. The average monthly temperature of the warmest month is 25°C in the north (August) and 16°C in the south (February); the temperature of the coldest month is 16°C in the north (February) and 5°C in the south (August). In the equatorial zone average monthly temperatures are 26°–28°C. Daily fluctuations in temperature are slight.

The annual precipitation in tropical zones, where trade winds blow, is less than 1,000 mm, although the windward slopes of large volcanic islands receive up to 10,000 mm per year (Hawaiian Islands). Where the climate is subequatorial, most of the precipitation falls during the summer, with the coming of equatorial air. Tropical cyclones (typhoons), occurring here during the summer, are especially dangerous in western Oceania north of the equator. The equatorial zone receives precipitation throughout the year; in the west, where the layer of equatorial air is thick, the precipitation reaches 3,000 mm. In the eastern part of the equatorial zone the climate is arid (about 700 mm of precipitation), owing to the prevalence of southeasterly trade winds. In the subtropical zones most of the precipitation occurs in winter, and in the southern temperate zone, where westerly winds prevail, the precipitation is regular throughout the year. Glaciers are found in the mountains of New Guinea and the South Island of New Zealand, covering a total area of more than 1,000 sq km.

RIVERS AND LAKES. Most rivers and lakes are found on the large mountainous islands of western Oceania, which are composed of sedimentary and crystalline rock. There are few or no rivers and lakes on the volcanic and coral islands of western Oceania or in eastern Oceania, where atmospheric moisture is absorbed by the porous basalt and limestone. The rivers are fed chiefly by rain; only a few mountain rivers in New Guinea and New Zealand also receive snowmelt and glacial water. The maximum flow is at the end of summer (during the summer if the river is fed by glaciers), with the exception of the small rivers of New Zealand (South Island), which have a maximum discharge in winter. Almost all the large rivers rise high in the mountains, where they flow through deep valleys with many rapids and are a potential source of hydroelectric energy. On coastal lowlands, where the current is much slower, the rivers are navigable and have swampy valleys. The mouths of small rivers are blocked by sandy spits and mangrove thickets. The largest rivers of Oceania are the Fly and Digul in New Guinea.

On coral and small volcanic islands pockets of fresh groundwater lie above salty water along the shore. The largest lakes of Oceania are either volcanic or glacial; the smaller ones are oxbow lakes in broad valleys in the lowlands. There are many thermal and salt lakes in areas of active volcanism. New Zealand has the greatest number of lakes, and there are many geysers on the North Island.

Soils vary greatly because of the different conditions of soil formation. On the large mountainous islands of western Oceania, which have a hot and damp climate, red-yellow lateritic soils are well developed under evergreen rain forests. Higher up the slopes there are mountain-lateritic, yellow, red, and yellow-brown soils, and the highest summits have mountain-meadow soils. In central and eastern Oceania lateritic soils are found only on large islands composed of weathered lava, and dark and fertile ando soils occur on fresh ashes and young lava. The cutting down of forests, plowing, and natural disasters have caused severe soil erosion. The soils of the atolls are thin, calcareous, and frequently saline.

VEGETATION. Oceania is part of the Palaeotropical region, and its flora originated in Asia, the Americas, and Antarctica. There are three subregions: the Malesian, Hawaiian, and New Zealand. The Malesian subregion has numerous tropical families, including the Pandanaceae, Palmae, Moraceae, Lauraceae, Nymphaeaceae, Musaceae, and Leguminosae, as well as many epiphytes (ferns, orchids). The Hawaiian subregion has no gymnosperms or fig trees, only one genus of palm (Pritchardia), and few orchids, but it has many species of ferns, the first plants to grow in the cracks of cooled lava flows. In the New Zealand subregion there are many species belonging to the Compositae, fern, sedge, and grass families. The islands of eastern Oceania have many endemic species (about 90 percent of the species on the Hawaiian Islands). However, moving eastward, the number of species, genera, and families declines; New Guinea has more than 6,800 species, and the Hawaiian Islands, 1,100.

The vegetation of Oceania is highly diversified. On the high mountainous islands, xerophilic hard-leaved forests, shrubs, and savannas cover the wet windward slopes to elevations of 300–600 m. In a more humid climate evergreen rain forests grow at elevations of up to 1,000–1,800 m. In a cool and very humid climate, up to 3,000 m, there are cloud forests, with smaller trees and an abundance of moss, lichens, and ferns. The summits of the highest islands have high-mountain vegetation—cushionlike grasses and low shrubs. The drier leeward slopes support, at lower elevations, desert savannas and semideserts with xerophilic, thorny, frequently cushion-like grasses, shrubs with small leaves, and low trees. At higher elevations the leeward slopes are covered with xerophilic hard-leaved forests, shrubs, and savannas, and above 1,500 m there is a narrow belt of evergreen forests.

The coral islands have few plant species. Along the outer edges of atolls grow shrub thickets, replaced further inland by forests of pandanuses and groves of cocoa palms and breadfruit trees. Interior lagoons are surrounded by mangrove thickets. The plant cover of Oceania has been greatly altered by man, especially since colonial times. Large areas are occupied by plantations and pastures (New Zealand), and much of the forest has been cut down. Imported animals have caused great damage to the natural vegetation.

FAUNA. Most of Oceania lies within the Polynesian fauna! region, which has a Hawaiian subregion. The fauna of New Zealand belongs to a separate region, and that of New Guinea is classified within the Papuan subregion of the Australian region. The fauna of the Polynesian region is insular and consists chiefly of species brought by man or transported by driftwood, wind, or ocean currents. There are almost no mammals, and birds are abundant, although the eastern archipelagoes have fewer land birds, particularly songbirds. There are many endemic species but comparatively few ancient relic animals. New Guinea has the greatest number of mammals, including oviparous mammals and marsupials of Australian origin. In the Polynesian region the fauna is richer in species in the west than in the east, where there are no freshwater fish or turtles. East of the Solomon Islands there are almost no land mammals, excluding mice and rats, or snakes. Carnivorous bats are not encountered east of Samoa, although insectivorous bats occur in Micronesia. Cassowaries are found only in New Guinea and New Britain. The number of doves, flycatchers, parrots, and honey eaters has been steadily declining, particularly in eastern Polynesia. Atolls have the fewest species. The fauna of Oceania has suffered greatly because of the introduction, both intentional and accidental, of cattle, sheep, rabbits, pigs, rats, mongooses, and other animals.


Discovery and exploration. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, Oceanian voyagers established routes in the southern Pacific in the course of settling Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Sailing eastward and southward, they reached the Hawaiian Islands and the Marquesas, Easter Island, and New Zealand. The experience of Oceanian voyagers and their geographic conceptions were to some extent used by European navigators.

The discovery of Oceania by Europeans began with F. Magellan, who crossed the Pacific Ocean in the zone of the eastern trade winds, thereby establishing a route across tropical Oceania. Magellan also discovered the Marianas. In 1528–29 the Spaniard A. Saavedra discovered the Marshalls and the Carolines en route from Mexico to the Moluccas. In 1568 his countryman A. Mendaña de Neira, sailing from Peru to Melanesia, found the Solomons. During a second journey, in 1595, he discovered the Marquesas and the Santa Cruz archipelago. In 1606 a Spanish expedition led by P. Quiros and L. Torres made a number of discoveries in western Oceania, including the New Hebrides and the Torres Strait. In 1642–43 the Dutch navigator A. Tasman discovered Tasmania, New Zealand, and the islands of Tonga and Fiji; in 1699–1700 the Englishman W. Dampier visited the islands north of New Guinea, including New Britain; and in 1722 the Dutchman J. Roggeveen found Easter Island and the Samoa Islands. In 1767 the Englishman S. Wallis discovered Tahiti, and a year later the French navigator L. A. Bougainville visited several Melanesian islands. All of these discoveries were in the zone of the eastern trade winds, occupying a relatively narrow stretch of the Pacific between the northern and southern tropics. Between the 16th and first half of the 18th centuries navigators did not venture south of this zone because of strong winds and currents, and Europeans continued to believe in the existence of a huge continent in the southern Pacific.

The discoveries and exploration of the English navigator J. Cook were of great importance. During his three voyages, made between 1768 and 1779, he established a new sea route in the southern Pacific in the zone of prevailing westerly winds and currents. He reached the edge of Antarctica, explored New Zealand in detail, and discovered a number of islands in the Society, Tuamotu, and New Hebrides archipelagoes, New Caledonia, and the Hawaiian Islands in the northern Pacific.

In the 19th century several Russian round-the-world navigators made important contributions to the discovery and exploration of Oceania. Among them were I. F. Kruzenshtern, Iu. F. Lisianskii, O. E. Kotsebu, V. M. Golovin, F. F. Bellingshausen, M. P. Lazarev, and F. P. Litke. Kotsebu discovered some of the Marshalls, and the expedition headed by Bellingshausen and Lazarev found more of the Tuamotu Islands. The Russian scientist N. N. Miklukho-Maklai obtained important anthropological and ethnographic data on the inhabitants of New Guinea and other islands.


Population. Oceania is inhabited by a great number of peoples who differ in race, language, history, and culture. They may be divided into two groups of roughly equal size—indigenous peoples and immigrants. The native peoples of Oceania belong to the Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian anthropological types and speak either Malayo-Polynesian or Papuan languages. Among the Malayo-Polynesian languages, the Polynesian languages are fairly homogeneous. They are widely spoken in the Tonga, Samoa, Wallis, Hoorn, Ellice, Tokelau, Cook, Society, Tubuai, Tuamotu, Gambier, and Marquesas islands, as well as on Niue and Easter Island. They are also spoken by some of the natives of the Hawaiian Islands and New Zealand, as well as on several small islands in Melanesia and Micronesia. Other Malayo-Polynesian languages are spoken by the native population of several regions in New Guinea; in the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomons, the Banks Islands, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands, the Fiji Islands, the Marianas, the Carolines (including the Yap and Palau islands), the Marshalls, and the Gilberts; and on Nauru, Ocean Island, and Rotuma Island.

The Papuan languages are not homogeneous, but they have been grouped into those spoken (1) in central New Guinea, (2) in western New Guinea, (3) in the Torricelli Mountains, (4) in the Ramu Valley, (5) on Bougainville Island, and (5) in the Reef and Santa Cruz Islands.

In Oceania, the language grouping of peoples does not fully correspond to their ethnic and cultural affinities. Ethnologists often divide Oceania into historical and cultural regions. One such region, sometimes called Papuasia, includes the population of New Guinea and certain neighboring islands made up of several hundred ethnic groups, most of them small. Another historical and cultural region is Melanesia, which consists of the Solomon Islands, the New Hebrides, and various other islands. New Guinea is also often included in the region, which encompasses more than a hundred small ethnic groups. The population of southern Melanesia (Austro-Melanesia), comprising New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands, is ethnically and culturally different from the rest of Melanesia. The indigenous peoples of New Caledonia, although they speak 30 different languages, are gradually being amalgamated into one nation. About 20 peoples speaking closely related languages live in the historical and cultural region that includes the Polynesian islands. Among them are Tongans, Niueans, Sanioans, Tokelauans, Uveans (Wallis Islands), Futunans (Hoorn Islands), Tuvaluans (Ellice Islands), Maori (New Zealand), Tahitians, Tubuaians, Tuamotuans, Mangarevans (Gambier Island), Hivaoans (the Marquesas), Ha-waiians, and Rapanuians (Easter Island).

The Fiji Islands and Rotuma Island, whose indigenous inhabitants are the Fiji and the Rotumans, occupy an intermediary position between Polynesia and Melanesia (Melano-Polynesia). Micronesia, the historical and cultural region in northern Oceania, is populated by such small ethnic groups as the Trukese and Ponapeans (Caroline Islands), the Marshallese, Tungaruans (Gilbert Islands), and Nauruans. Somewhat isolated from the rest of Micronesia is its western part (Indo-Micronesia), inhabited by the Chamorro (Marianas) and the Palauans.

The nonindigenous population of Oceania consists of Anglo-New Zealanders, French (New Caledonia), Americans, Japanese, Filipinos (Hawaiian Islands), Indians (Fiji), and several other groups. Most of the inhabitants of Oceania are Christians, both Protestants and Catholics. Traditional beliefs have been preserved among some native peoples in New Guinea and in the New Hebrides.

Historical survey. The first inhabitants of Oceania came from Southeast Asia between 20,000 and 30,000 years ago. These Proto-Australoids were the ancestors of both the indigenous peoples of Australia and the oldest Negroid groups of Melanesia. About 5,000 to 6,000 years ago the next wave of immigrants arrived—the Proto-Melanesians, whose descendants now constitute most of the population of Melanesia. The settlement of Micronesia and Polynesia occurred in the first millennium A.D., ending by the 14th century. By the early 16th century the peoples inhabiting the islands of Oceania had reached various stages of the disintegration of the primitive communal structure and of the formation of early class society. Intensive barter between communities linked the populations of the islands and archipelagoes of Oceania. Various crafts were well developed, and the Oceanians were skillful and courageous seafarers. On the islands of Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti, and Tonga a hierarchy of hereditary castes developed, and primitive states arose.

For a long time the European powers showed no interest in Oceania, and many island groups were discovered only in the second half of the 18th century. In 1565, Spain annexed the Marianas, which had been discovered by Magellan. Many Christian missionaries and merchants, including slave traders, came to Oceania in the early 19th century, and the European powers and the USA began seizing various islands. In the first half of the 19th century the Netherlands claimed the western part of New Guinea, and New Zealand became an English colony in 1840. France seized the Marquesas in 1842, Tahiti and other islands of the Society group in 1843, and New Caledonia in 1853, transforming it into a penal colony.

The European colonialists disrupted the natural cultural and historical development in Oceania and brought inestimable hardships to its native population. In the last quarter of the 19th century colonial partition intensified. In 1874, Great Britain made the Fiji Islands a colony. Ten years later Germany seized northeastern New Guinea, and Great Britain, its southeastern part (Papua). In 1898 the United States annexed the Hawaiian Islands. After Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, its possessions in Oceania were divided. The United States took Guam, and Germany “acquired” the rest of the Marianas and the Caroline Islands, purchasing them from Spain. In 1899 the USA and Germany divided between themselves the Samoan Islands, and in 1900 the Tonga Islands were declared a British protectorate. The partition of Oceania was completed in 1906 with the establishment of a Franco-British condominium over the New Hebrides. In the first half of the 20th century only the imperialist “ownership” of territory changed.

Throughout the entire colonial period the peoples of Oceania did not cease fighting against their enslavers. The inhabitants of New Caledonia rose against the French administration in 1878–79, 1913, and 1917. In 1909 the Samoans rebelled against the German colonialists. There was resistance to colonial oppression on other islands as well. After World War I political organizations were formed, such as the Mau movement in Western Samoa and Fiji Youth in Fiji, calling for the abolition of the colonial regime. In 1928–29 the people of Western Samoa, a mandate of New Zealand, demonstrated against the colonial administration. During World War II Oceania became a theater of military operations, and thousands of islanders perished. After the war the imperialist powers expanded their network of military bases in Oceania. The USA converted the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, which had been placed under American administration, into a testing ground for nuclear weapons from 1946 to 1958.

After the war the spontaneous, sporadic demonstrations of various ethnic and social groups gradually gave way to an organized struggle for independence of entire archipelagoes and to organized opposition to the use of the islands for military purposes. Western Samoa achieved independence in 1962, and West Irian, part of Indonesia, freed itself from the Dutch colonial oppression in 1963, after having been held illegally by the colonialists. Nauru gained its independence in 1968 and Tonga and Fiji in 1970. Papua New Guinea was granted full internal self-government in 1973. (See Table 1 for the political divisions of Oceania.)

Table 1. Political divisions of Oceania1
 Area (sq km)Population (1972)Capital or administrative center
1Excluding the Hawaiian Islands, which became a US state in 1959 (area, 16,700 sq km; population, 748,600)
2Population for 1961
3Self-governing territory Source: UN Demographic Yearbook for 1972. New York, 1973.
Fiji . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18,300541,000Suva
Irian Jaya (province of Indonesia) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .412,900931,0002Jayapura
Nauru . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .207,000
New Zealand . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .268,7002,905,000Wellington
Tonga . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .70091,000Nukualofo
Western Samoa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2,800148,000Apia
British possessions
Gilbert and Ellice Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .90059,000Tarawa
Pitcairn Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5100Adamstown
Solomon Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28,400170,000Honiara
Australian possessions and protectorates
Norfolk Island . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .362,000Kingston
Papua New Guinea3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .461,7002,581,000Port Moresby
New Zealand possessions
Cook Islands3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23021,000Avarua
Niue Island . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2605,000Alofi
Tokelau Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .102,000Fakaofo
US possessions
Guam . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .50093,000Agaña
Midway Island . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .52,000
Samoa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20031,000Pago-Pago
Wake Island . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .82,000
French possessions
French Polynesia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4,000127,000Papeete
New Caledonia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19,000110,000Noumea
Wallis and Futuna Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20010,000Mata Utu
French and British condominium
New Hebrides . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14,80090,000Vila
UN Trust Territories
Caroline, Marshall, and Mariana islands (administered by the US) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1,80095,000Saipan


Architecture and art. The peoples of Oceania have developed an original style of art in which a penchant for two-dimensional representation and simplicity of form is combined with imaginative ornamentation, primitive but highly expressive images, and a strong rhythmic quality.

New Guinea is famous for its wood sculpture and rich wood carving. Utensils, tools, and weapons are decorated with carvings, which are often painted. Of special interest are western New Guinea’s incised or relief designs, sometimes incorporating stylized human figures, and eastern New Guinea’s intricate curvilinear, dichromatic patterns. In the southeast the entire surface of wooden objects is covered with relief designs of supple spirals, scrolls, and flowing lines. New Guinea art, especially the faces of sculptured figures and masks, is distinguished by its grotesque, highly emotional, and dramatic quality. Many artistic works are closely bound up with cults and rituals. In some cases, schematic wood or clay figures represent revered ancestors, both male and female. Frequently, human figures are given features of animals and supernatural beings. The origin of New Guinea’s megaliths is obscure, and it is not always clear who carved the petroglyphs found in many parts of the island. The dwellings of the natives of New Guinea are diverse, ranging from tree houses in mountain regions to pile structures at the mouths of large rivers and along the coast. Rectangular houses with gable roofs are common, but saddleback roofs are also encountered.

Among the Melanesians, plastic art reached its highest development on the islands of the Bismarck Archipelago, particularly on New Ireland. In the southern part of New Ireland figurines of chalk were made to commemorate the dead. In the central part of the island massive wood statues, called uli, were carved in honor of tribal chiefs. The statues had brightly colored headdresses resembling helmets with a high crest. In the northern part of New Ireland intricate malanggans, skillfully carved from wood and painted in vivid colors, combine various motifs—birds, fish, snakes, and human figures. The malanggans were exhibited during festivals commemorating the dead. In the Solomon Islands wood sculpture, like other wooden objects ranging from vessels to boats, is painted black and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. In the New Hebrides statues of ancestors are carved out of tree trunks and made into vertical drums whose sound is thought to be the ancestor’s voice. The masks of northern New Ireland, sometimes extraordinarily realistic, are always highly expressive. Melanesian ornamentation, distinguished by a free interweaving of lines, often incorporates stylized human faces, birds, and fish. The Fiji Islands are famous for their wooden clubs and clay vessels of various shapes. Many ancient rock engravings have been discovered on New Caledonia. Noteworthy examples of Melanesian architecture are the dwellings of the chiefs of New Caledonia—round buildings with high conical roofs. Ordinary houses are usually rectangular and are covered with high roofs sloping almost to the ground.

Despite its linear expressiveness, the sculpture of the Micronesians is static and reflects a highly generalized treatment of the human body. Houses are either huts or dwellings on stone piles or posts. Among the mysterious ruins of Nan Matol on Ponape Island in the Carolines are canals, dikes, temples, and dwellings made of basalt blocks.

The Polynesians created the richest culture in Oceania. The wood carving of the Maori of New Zealand is remarkable. In the intricate designs with which they decorated various household objects, human and animal figures are interwoven with curvilinear motifs, and relief is combined with intricate designs. The worship of great gods stimulated the carving of numerous stylized stone and wood statues. Tapa cloth, decorated with geometric patterns of different colors, is made almost everywhere in Polynesia. In the past the inhabitants of Easter Island (Rapanui) carved small wooden figurines and large statues. Several hundred gigantic statues cut from tufa and standing on stone platforms have been found on the island. Many of the statues are huge faces with large coarse features. Distinctive small stone sculptures have also been discovered in family caves. Polynesian houses, usually rectangular but sometimes oval or round, stand on stone foundations or earthen platforms. The facades, walls, and ceilings of the wooden houses of the Maori of New Zealand are frequently covered with ornamental carving and painting. Cyclopean structures were erected in Polynesia, such as the pyramid temple of Mahaiatea on Tahiti in central Polynesia and, on the Hawaiian Islands, terraces with raised squares and stone pillars and temples surrounded by walls.

In the 19th and 20th centuries the culture of the indigenous peoples of Oceania changed greatly under the impact of European and American colonization, which caused a decline of ancient art. Cities of the European type were built, and professional art developed, especially in New Zealand.


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