The Pacific Island of Micro-States:
An overview

The Pacific Island of Micro-States: An overview

The Pacific realm is home to many islands and islands groups, of which New Guinea is the largest both by size and population. Though the majority of island countries in the Pacific region gained independence, some remain under the control of colonists like France and Britain. This region first became significant in world affairs because of the US-Japanese war in the Pacific realm in the context of World War II.

Post-WWII scenario prevailed: 

US unitary hegemony in the Pacific, including its small islands, and She (US) captured the controlling power of majority islands and, moreover, took the Hawaiian Islands as the fiftieth US state in 1959. 

Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia are the three divided regions based on their physical geography, local inhabitants, and location. Due to European and American control, their strong indigenous cultures were modified into Western norms and values. Western trends in fast food, pop music, clothing styles, and social customs often dominate television, radio, and cinema [1]. 

Geography: 

The vast realm of the Pacific Islands (Microstates) is often called Oceania and includes approximately 30,000 islands with a mere 376,000 square miles throughout the largest ocean, the Pacific. The islands of the Pacific are formed in three basic ways. The first is when a volcanic eruption occurs and produces an island with an extremely rugged inner core marked as a “high” island. 

The islands can also form flat atolls on top of a coral reef. This produces “low” islands, which have little to no precipitation. Instead, they exhibit desert-like conditions with very little water. Third, the islands can form as a combination of volcanic and coral reef formations.

This can occur where the volcanic island forms and a coral reef forms around it, but the volcanic island is below sea level and the coral reef forms a donut-shaped island around it above water [2]. Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia are the three divided regions based on their physical geography [3].  

Melanesia: 

The region of the Pacific north of Australia that borders Indonesia to the east is called Melanesia. The name originally referred to people with darker skin but does not adequately describe the region’s current ethnic diversity. The main island groups include Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea. 

All are independent countries except New Caledonia, which is under the French government. The island of New Guinea is shared between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Many islands on the eastern side of Indonesia share similar characteristics but are not generally included in the region of Melanesia. 

 

⮚ Micronesia: 

North of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea is the large region of Micronesia. The “micro” portion of the name refers to the fact that the islands are small in size—often only one square mile or so in physical area. 

The region has more than two thousand islands. Among them, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshal Islands, Nauru, and Palau are independent countries. Most of the islands are composed of coral and do not extend above sea level to any large extent. 

These low islands dominate the high islands. The high islands are usually of volcanic origin and reach elevations in the thousands of feet.      

Polynesia: 

The largest region of the Pacific is Polynesia, a land of many island groups with large distances between them. The root word poly means “many.” Numerous groups of islands have come together under separate political arrangements. 

The region includes the Hawaiian Islands in the north and the Pitcairn Islands and Easter Island to the east. Here, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu are independent countries. Polynesia has a mixture of island types ranging from the high mountains of Hawaii, which are more than 13,800 feet, to low-lying coral atolls that are only a few feet above sea level. 

Islands that have enough elevation to condense moisture from the clouds receive adequate precipitation, but many islands with low elevations have a shortage of fresh water, making habitation or human development difficult.

Demography of the Pacific Microstates: 

The islands were initially populated as people migrated from south and eastern Asia. The indigenous people of this region migrated in a sweeping motion from the area of Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, etc.) eastward to Melanesia, northward to Micronesia, and even further east to Polynesia [4]. 

The Melanesian Islands are the most populous of the Pacific island regions, with a total population of approximately 6.4 million, of which 4.8 million live on Papua New Guinea. The population of Micronesia is about 650,000, not nearly as populous as Melanesia.

The Micronesian communities have developed a large number of spoken languages and are fairly isolated from each other in distance, but not in ties to each other. There is a good relationship between high island farmers and low island fishermen. 

The population of Polynesia is only 1.9 million people. Hawaii has the largest population of any Polynesian island group, with 1.2 million people. Polynesians have lighter-colored skin and wavier hair than other peoples of the Pacific region and are known for their beautiful physiques. 

Anthropologists differentiate between these original Polynesians and a second group, the Neo-Hawaiians, who are a blend of Polynesian, European, and Asian ancestries [5].


Economy of the Pacific Islands: 

Pacific island countries face many daunting problems in their quest for economic growth and sustainable development. These include the physical disadvantages of remoteness, smallness, and dispersion, significantly raising transport and other development costs and limiting opportunities for realizing economies of scale. 

In many cases, rapid population growth exerts pressure on scarce resources and frustrates efforts to raise living standards. The severe shortages of professional and technical skills, paucity of domestic savings, and vulnerability. 

External shocks pose further constraints. Subsistence farming has long since been a way of life for the people of Melanesia. Except for Papua New Guinea, which has copper, gold, and oil, and New Caledonia, which has nickel, most islands still rely on coconut and copra for their export income. 

The islands tend to remain poor because of their limited resources. Tourism has had little impact on the people or the economies of Melanesia.

Politics of Pacific Island States: 

The Independent Pacific Island States, generally, have adopted governmental systems molded on the structure and processes of their metropolitan power. They follow the British constitutional framework of government through electoral arrangements. 

Tonga is ruled by a monarch, and the heads of some governments are elected by parliament, while Western Samoa, Nauru, Kiribati, and Fiji’s heads are appointed by the British queen. 

A few island entities remain territories under the control of the colonial power: Guam and American Samoa under the US; the French territories of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, and French Polynesia; and New Zealand’s Tokelau.

Reference:

  1. The Pacific Islands. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-worldgeography/chapter/13-1-the-pacific-islands/
  1. The Pacific Region. (2014). Regional Characteristics of Pacific Microstates.  http://maps.unomaha.edu/Peterson/geog1000/Notes/Notes_Exam3/Pacific.html
  1. The Pacific Islands. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-worldgeography/chapter/13-1-the-pacific-islands/
  1. The Pacific Region. (2014). Regional Characteristics of Pacific Microstates.  http://maps.unomaha.edu/Peterson/geog1000/Notes/Notes_Exam3/Pacific.html
  1. The Pacific Region. (2014). Regional Characteristics of Pacific Microstates.  http://maps.unomaha.edu/Peterson/geog1000/Notes/Notes_Exam3/Pacific.html

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