Pacific Islanders Essay

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The Pacific Islanders  (or Oceanic people or Oceanians) are the indigenous  inhabitants of Polynesia, Melanesia, and  Micronesia. The  Oceanic  people arrived  on the islands  thousands of years ago. By the time the first Europeans arrived on the islands, the Pacific Islanders  had  their  own  culture,  traditions,  and  forms  of organization. The  European settlement  entirely changed the region. Now, most of the Pacific Islands  represent  a combination of Oceanic   people  traditions  as  well  as  European style  and  culture.  In  the  early  19th  century,  the French  navigator  Jules-Sébastien-César Dumont d’Urville classified  the  indigenous  inhabitants of the Pacific islands into three main categories considering  their ethnic background: Melanesians, Micronesians, and Polynesians.

Polynesians  inhabit   the  triangle  of  islands  of the eastern  Pacific. The region  is bordered by the Hawaii  Islands  in the north, New  Zealand in the east, and Rapa  Nui (Easter Island) to the far west. Polynesians also live on Tuvalu, Wallis and Futuna, Tokelau,  Samoa,  American  Samoa,  Tonga,  Niue, Cook Islands, and French Polynesia (including Society, Tuamotu, and Marquesas islands). Melanesians inhabit Papua New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu  (New  Hebrides),   New  Caledonia,  and Fiji. Micronesia is the region situated  north  of the equator and east of the Philippines. The islands of Palau,  Guam,  the  Northern Mariana Islands,  the Federal States of Micronesia (the Caroline  Islands), Nauru, the Marshall Islands, and Kiribati  are inhabited by Micronesians.


The  distance  between  the  islands,  as well as the dense  forests  and  high  mountains, represented a barrier  for the development of the Pacific people. Therefore,   Oceanic   people   were   not   able   to develop the same language, traditions, or industry. Sometimes,  there  are significant  differences between tribes living on the same island. The most eloquent  example  is Papua  New  Guinea,  where the  tribes  living on  the  coast  were influenced  by the European settlers and have a different  level of development. In isolated  regions inside the island, people   still  live  like  thousands  of  years   ago, because their interaction with the modern  society is nearly inexistent.  The small volcanic  islands  of Polynesia  have  a  higher  degree  of  development and  homogeneity because  they had  greater  social and political  unity. Another  reason  is that  natural resources  could  be easily exploited  as compared with Papua New Guinea. The traditional activities of Oceanic people are fishing, farming, and handicrafts. Polynesians were great navigators, as they managed  to settle in the remote islands of the Pacific. They traveled  thousands of miles on open sea guided by the motion  of the stars, weather, the direction   and  speed  of  ocean  waves,  as  well  as the fauna  and  flora  found  on discovered  islands. Certain theories stipulate that the Polynesian navigators reached South America, and even Antarctica.

The total  gross domestic  product (GDP) of the Pacific Islands (except New Zealand) amounted to $8.2  billion  in 2014,  increasing  by 3.3 percent  as compared with the previous  year according  to the World   Bank.  The  highest   values  for  GDP  per capita  are  registered  in New  Zealand ($40,600), Cook  Islands ($9,300), and Palau ($8,100).

New  Zealand  is  the  largest   economy   in  the region,  with  an estimated  GDP for 2015  of $192 billion. New Zealand is a modern  market  economy, its main trading  partners being Australia,  the European Union,  the United  States, Japan,  China, and  South  Korea.  Agricultural  products represent two-thirds of New Zealand’s  exports.  Dairy  products   (milk   powder,   cheese,  casein,   and   butter) account  for one-sixth  of the country’s total exports. New Zealand is also known for its large-scale sheep farming, being an important producer of wool. The significant  decline  of the price of wool  after  mid-1960s  prompted local farmers to focus on the production  of meat instead of wool. Meat accounts  for 1/10th of New Zealand’s exports. The gradual reduction of subsidies  and  tax  concessions  for the agricultural sector in the 1980s made local farmers extremely vulnerable to the international shocks on commodity prices.  The  country   has  a  developed manufacturing industry, including  food processing, forestry,  and aluminum production. Real GDP increased by 3.5 percent in 2014, and it is expected to  grow  by  3  percent  in  2015,  according  to  the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. The robust  growth is driven by the positive evolution  of trading  sector, increased net immigration, as well as the rebuilding of Canterbury after 2010  earthquake.

The  economic   success  of  Cook   Islands   and Palau  is  due  to  their  healthy  tourist   industries, large  government staff,  and  low  unemployment. Cook   Islands   and   Palau   are   small   economies (around 20,000 people  each).  Tourism   accounts for 59 percent  of GDP in Palau and 49 percent  in Cook  Islands.  Pacific islands  are  well-known for their exotic beaches and balmy weather. The most popular tourist  destinations are Fiji, Cook  Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa,  and  Palau.  The  development of tourism   in  the  above-mentioned  countries   owes much  to  their  “paradise” beaches,  good  climate, frequent   flights,   good   shopping,   and   security. Papua  New Guinea,  Solomon  Islands, the Federal States  of  Micronesia, and  Tonga   have  not  succeeded  in  building   strong   tourism   despite  their efforts. The East-West Center does not anticipate a significant   development  of  tourism   in  the  low-lying  atolls  like  Tuvalu,   Nauru,  Marshalls, and Kiribati. The lowest tourism  receipts as a percentage of GDP were registered in Kiribati (2 percent), Papua  New  Guinea  (3 percent),  Solomon  Islands (3 percent), and Marshall Islands (4 percent). According  to  the  World  Bank  data,  the  highest number   of  tourists   arrived   in   Fiji  (543,000), Vanuatu (197,000), and Samoa (116,000).

It is considered  that  increasing exports  generate future  growth  and prosperity. The highest exports are registered in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Solomon Islands. The main exported natural resources  of Papua  are gold, copper,  phosphorus, natural gas, and timber.  Papua’s exports  represent 80 percent  of the GDP. Despite  the high exports, Papua  remains  one of the poorest  countries  in the region,   as  the  GDP  per  capita   represents   only $1,200. The mining and  natural gas activities provide jobs for only a small percentage of the population. The remaining  population still live in the dense forests in the center of the island as they did thousands of years ago. Papua’s GDP slumped from  $17  billion  to $4 billion  between  1994  and 2002   because  of  the  civil  war  in  Bougainville, which  interrupted the  mining  activities.  The  logging industry  brings two-thirds of the total exports of the  Solomon  Islands.  Fiji islands  have  a more diversified range of products for export, including gold,  fish, marine  products, machinery,  and  agricultural  products. After  a  peak  registered  in  the 1980s   because   of   the   prosperous   phosphate exports,  the economy of Nauru registered a downward trend because of the slump of phosphate production as well as the poor  financial  management of the trust  created from export  activity.

Although  fish is one of the main resources of the region, its contribution to the Pacific economy GDP does not surpass  13 percent. There have been considerable  efforts  to develop  the agricultural activities. Commercial  crops were introduced in different islands, considering the demand from the foreign markets. Cacao,  oil palm,  ramie,  and  pepper  were brought to the islands. Sugar production was one of the main activities in Fiji, but the recent unfavorable trade  agreements  prompted the local producers to focus on other agricultural products. Services represents another important source  of revenue  for the economies   in  the   region.   The   local   authorities charge  rental  fees for  using  islands,  harbors, airfields,  and  for  authorizing  the  setup  of  military bases.  Vanuatu, Cook  Islands,  Palau,  and  Nauru also provide  financial  services, especially the registration of foreign banks.  Financial  aid from  developed countries represents another source of revenue for the small poor  islands. According  to Professor Biman Prasad, the main challenges for the future development of the  Pacific islands  are  poor  infrastructure, frequent  natural disasters, land lease problems,  monopolistic market  structures, as well as political and security instability in certain regions. The  continuous rising  sea  level is another major concern for the low-lying Pacific islands.


  1. Hezel, Francis X. Pacific Island Nations. How Viable Are Their Economies?  Honolulu, HI: East-West  Center, 2012.
  2. Statistics New Zealand. (Accessed December 2014).
  3. S. Census. “The Native  Hawaiian and Other  Pacific Islander  Population” (2010). prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-12.pdf (Accessed December  2014).
  4. World “Pacific Islands.” (Accessed December  2014).

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