(Last Updated On April 16, 2021)
Melanesia is by far the part of Oceania with the most land area. The island of New Guinea has more than twice as much land as Polynesia and Micronesia combined. It is also the earliest inhabited part of Oceania. If you look at a map, it will not be obvious why Melanesia is considered to be part of Oceania. On the map, a swarm of large islands, close together, extends from the Malay Peninsula to the Fiji Islands.
The islands from New Guinea to Fiji are considered to be Melanesia, and the islands west of New Guinea are said to be part of Asia. The reason for dividing Melanesia from Asia at New Guinea is that the people who inhabit the islands west of New Guinea are of the same race as the Malay people on the Asian mainland. From New Guinea east to Fiji the people are of a Black race with an appearance similar to the people of Africa. Melanesia is big enough and old enough to have a rich diversity of cultures, and most of the images of Melanesia in this post are from ethnographic works.
An ethnographic contrivance by Francis Barton, along with some information about the photographer, was posted in Pigtails in Paint here. Another of Captain Barton’s photographs is shown below. It was published in the book Melanesians of British New Guinea by Charles Seligman. The purpose of the photograph is to show the tattoo patterns of the girl’s tribe.
Francis Rickman Barton – Tattooed Girl (1904-1910)
J. G. Pasteur was another photographer who documented the life on New Guinea in about the time of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pasteur sent the negatives of his work to Europe, and his friend C. H. Stratz published the photos in his books after Pasteur’s death. The Stratz books are not art books, but the photos definitely have an artistic composition. Stratz wrote in Naturgeschichte des Menschen that J. G. Pasteur created the most beautiful and artistically perfect Papua pictures (Papua is another name for New Guinea). Although Naturgeschichte des Menschen is a scientific book, Stratz was clearly interested in the artistic value of the photographs.
J.G. Pasteur – Papuamädchen von Acht bis Zehn Jahren (circa 1900)
J.G. Pasteur – Papuamädchen von Etwa Zehn Jahren (circa1900)
J.G. Pasteur – Mädchen von Vierzehn Jahren aus Taubadji (circa1900)
The next two Melanesian photos are anonymous images from the Solomon Islands and New Britain Island. The picture of the Solomon Islands girl with the wide smile and flowers in her hair is particularly evocative of a happy childhood. The New Britain girl appears more somber. She was probably posed that way by an ethnologist to demonstrate the musical instrument of her tribe.
Anonymous – Solomon Island Girl (circa1920)
Museum für Völkerkunde, Dresden – A Girl from Gazelle Peninsula, New Britain, Playing on Pongolo (before 1930)
The next photograph is from the collection of the American physician Sylvester M. Lambert. Lambert spent twenty years in the Pacific islands as a doctor for the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Board. During that time he took many photographs that document the life of the island people. His photos have the appearance of an amateur snapshot. This is a photo of Melanesian women and girls. One source says the photo was taken on Santa Ana Island, while another says that it is from Santa Catalina Island. Santa Ana (Owaraha) and Santa Catalina (Owariki) are both in the Solomon Islands, and are separated by less than two miles of water.
S. M. Lambert – Women and Girls on Santa Ana (1919–1939)
Note that all of the Melanesian photos shown so far were taken before 1940, and that the girls in the photos have no clothing. The idea that nudity is obscene, although common in Western culture, is not universally held. There are two interesting maps in Die Frauenkleidung und ihre natürliche Entwicklung by C. H. Stratz that show where women routinely went nude in the years 1500 and 1900. This area seems to be most of the tropics in 1500, and a much smaller but still significant area, including part of Melanesia, in 1900. (I think he underestimated the area in South America in 1900.) There is still at least one area in Melanesia where nudity is common today. On the Melanesian island of Malaita, it is customary in some communities for only men, boys, and married women to wear clothes, while girls and young unmarried women go naked. Most of Melanesia has adopted western or at least semi-western modes of dress today. This is shown on the last two images from Melanesia. Both are from the Melanesian Women Today web page.
Melanesian Women Today – Solomon Scholarships (circa2020)
Melanesian Women Today – Takuu (circa2020)
In Micronesia, many people wore clothing, even if only grass skirts, before they adopted western style dress. The next two photographs are of girls on the Micronesian island of Nauru. Nauru is now an independent state, and with a land area of about eight square miles is one of the smallest sovereign states.
Anonymous – Nauru Girls (circa 1920)
Australian War Memorial – Private Corfield with a Young Nauruan Girl (1945)
Micronesian people are related to Polynesians. They are descended from the same group of migrants that left Taiwan in ancient times and went to Indonesia. Some of those people went north to Micronesia while the rest went east to Polynesia. The Micronesian population was later augmented with more migrants from Polynesia and from The Philippines.
Yap is a very traditional Micronesian island, where the old-fashioned grass skirts are still worn for special occasions. The next image is a vintage postcard from Yap showing a girl, a man, and one of the stone wheels that are highly valued by the people on Yap. Following that is a photo taken by an Australian woman and posted on her Lozinyap blog. The two girls were celebrating Yap Day in 2015.
Anonymous – Girl and Man on Yap (circa1940)
Lozinyap – Yapday Girls (2015)
Guam is the biggest and most cosmopolitan island in Micronesia. Gerard Aflague is a Chamorro, an indigenous person of Guam, and an illustrator of children’s books. He has illustrated, and written several books with Christian religious, educational, and Pacific Island themes. His wife is also a writer. He seems to be very proud of his Chamorro heritage, and the first image is the cover of a book written in both Chamorro and English. He has also written and illustrated bilingual books in English and other Pacific island languages.
Gerard Aflague – Cover of Head Shoulders Knees and Toes (2017)
Gerard Aflague – Cover of Little Chamorrita Did I Tell You (2014)
Robert Hunter is a painter living in the Northern Mariana Islands. He has a great deal of experience as a commercial and fine artist, having worked as an artist for the United States Postal Service, the Red Cross and others. Much of his art revolves around Micronesian life and legends. The first painting by Robert Hunter, Things Lost, Things Found , depicts a young girl and a nautilus shell on the beach. The second painting, Piggyback, shows a girl carrying another child.
Robert Hunter – Things Lost, Things Found (2010)
Robert Hunter – Piggyback (2011)
Most of Micronesia consists of U.S. territories or independent states in free association with the United States. The free association status, among other things, makes it easy for the Micronesians to enter the United States. Many people from Chuuk (formerly Truk) have settled in Milan, Minnesota. The mural of a young Chuukese girl shown below is on the wall of Bergen’s Prairie Market in Milan.
Anonymous – Mural of a Micronesian Girl on Bergen’s Prairie Market (circa2020)
The last example of a young island girl in this post is one that people in the USA, and in associated states that use US money, have probably already seen. This is the Northern Marianas Islands quarter dollar for the “America the Beautiful” quarter series. The design depicts a girl at the memorial commemorating the 1944 Battle of Saipan. Donna Weaver designed the quarter, and Phebe Hemphill sculpted it. Phebe Hemphill said on a Youtube video that the person on the quarter is a “young girl”. On the US Mint website, however, the person on the quarter is described as a “young woman”. I agree with the sculptor that she is a girl, and therefore have included the quarter in this post.
Weaver and Hemphill – America the Beautiful Quarter for Northern Mariana Islands (2019)