Pacific Islander

Pacific Islanders originate from countries within the Oceanic regions of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia.

Pacific Islanders, Pacificer, Pasifika, or Pasefika, are the peoples of the Pacific Islands—particularly those who are indigenous to them.[1]

As an ethnic/racial term, it is used to describe the original peoples—inhabitants and diaspora—of any of the three major subregions of Oceania (Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia). It is also sometimes used as a general geographic term, describing any inhabitants of the Pacific islands (i.e., including citizens of Pacific states/territories who are of Asian or European descent and who call the Pacific their home). As "Pacific Islander" can be understood to denote both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples of the Pacific Islands, as well as excluding Aboriginal Australians, the term is distinct from referring to the indigenous peoples of Oceania.

Melanesians include the Fijians (Fiji), Kanaks (New Caledonia), Ni-Vanuatu (Vanuatu), Papua New Guineans (Papua New Guinea), Solomon Islanders (Solomon Islands), and West Papuans (West Papua).

Micronesians include the Carolinians (Northern Mariana Islands), Chamorros (Guam), Chuukese (Chuuk), I-Kiribati (Kiribati), Kosraeans (Kosrae), Marshallese (Marshall Islands), Palauans (Palau), Pohnpeians (Pohnpei), and Yapese (Yap).

Polynesians include the Māori (New Zealand), Native Hawaiians (Hawaii), Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Samoans (Samoa and American Samoa), Tahitians (Tahiti), Tokelauans (Tokelau), Niueans (Niue), Cook Islands Māori (Cook Islands) and Tongans (Tonga).[1]

Auckland, New Zealand has the world's largest concentration of urban Pacific Islanders living outside of their own countries, and is sometimes referred to as the "Polynesian capital of the world."[2] This came as result of how, during the 20th century and into the 21st century, the country saw a steady stream of immigration from Polynesian countries such as Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Niue, and French Polynesia.[2]


In the easternmost North Pacific, islands nearing Alaska and Canada were inhabited by people considered to be Indigenous Americans, not Indigenous Oceanians.[3] In the South Pacific, the easternmost island with any human inhabitation was Easter Island, settled by the Polynesian Rapa Nui people.[4] Islands beyond that which neighbor South America and Central America (Clipperton, Galápagos, Revillagigedo, Juan Fernández Islands etc.) are among the last places on earth to have been discovered by humans.[5][6] Several of the islands were initially used as prisons for Latin American convicts, and today only a small number of them are inhabited, mostly by Spanish-speaking mainlanders.[7] These individuals are not considered Pacific Islanders under the standard ethnically-based definition.[8][3] In a broad sense, they could still possibly be seen as encompassing a Spanish-speaking segment of Oceania, along with the Easter Island inhabitants, who were eventually colonized by Chileans.[7][9] Extremely remote Islands not located in the eastern half of the Pacific, such as Baker Island, were also generally uninhabited prior to European discovery.[10] However, Pacific Islanders are believed to have possibly visited some of these isolated locations, including Wake Island.[10][11] In the case of the uninhabitable Howland Island, there may have even been a brief attempt at settlement.[11]

Pacific Islander regions

The Pacific islands consist of three main regions.


Melanesia is the great arc of islands located north and east of Australia and south of the Equator. The name derives the Greek words melas ('black') and nēsos ('island') for the predominantly dark-skinned peoples of New Guinea island, the Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides), New Caledonia, and Fiji.[12]

In addition those places listed above, Melanesia includes the Louisiade Archipelago, the Admiralty Islands, Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, Western New Guinea (part of Indonesia), Maluku Island, Aru Islands, Kei Islands, the Santa Cruz Islands (part of the Solomon Islands), Loyalty Islands (part of New Caledonia), Norfolk Island (sometimes considered part of Australasia), and various smaller islands.

New Caledonia (and Vanuatu to a lesser extent) were under French colonial influence from the 19th century onward.[13] Most islands however have historically had close ties to Australia and associated countries, with the United States having had little impact on the region.[13][14]


Micronesia includes Kiribati, Nauru, the Marianas (Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae, all in the Caroline Islands).

The islands were previously under the influence of colonial powers such as Germany, Spain and Japan, with this lasting from the 16th century up until the end of World War II. Several of the island groups have since developed financially crucial political alignments with the United States.[13] Nauru's main political partner since World War I has been Australia, excluding a brief period of Japanese occupation in World War II.[13][15]


The Polynesian islands are scattered across a triangle covering the east-central region of the Pacific Ocean. The triangle is bound by the Hawaiian Islands in the north, New Zealand in the west, and Easter Island in the east. The rest of Polynesia includes the Samoan islands (American Samoa and Samoa [formerly Western Samoa]); Cook Islands; French Polynesia (the Society Islands [Tahiti], Marquesas Islands, Austral Islands, and Tuamotu); Niue Island; Tokelau and Tuvalu; Tonga; Wallis and Futuna; Rotuma Island; Pitcairn Island; Nukuoro; and Kapingamarangi.[12]

The majority of islands are most closely aligned to New Zealand/Australia, with a smaller number being politically aligned to France or the United States.[13] Hawaii is geographically isolated from Polynesia, and is situated in the North Pacific, unlike the rest of Polynesia, which is in the South Pacific. They are still a part of the subregion for ethnocultural reasons. Easter Island is located in a remote part of the Pacific which is thousands of kilometers removed from both Polynesia and the South American continent. It was annexed by Chile in 1888, and Spanish is now commonly spoken in a bilingual manner, with some having race-mixed with Mestizo Chilean settlers. However, the inhabitants consider their island and its culture to be Polynesian, and do not view themselves as South Americans.[16][8] Easter Island still currently participates in Pacific Islander affairs, unlike with many other Pacific Islands administered by Latin America, which were all uninhabited during the pre-Columbian era.[8]

Ethnic groups

The population of the Pacific Islands is concentrated in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand (which has a majority of people of European descent), Hawaii, Fiji, and Solomon Islands. Most Pacific Islands are densely populated, and habitation tends to be concentrated along the coasts.[12]

Melanesians constitute over three quarters of the total indigenous population of the Pacific Islands; Polynesians account for more than one-sixth; and Micronesians make up about one-twentieth.[12]


Several hundred distinct languages are spoken in the Pacific Islands. In ethnolinguistic terms, those Pacific islanders who reside in Oceania are divided into two different ethnic classifications:[12]

  • Austronesian-speaking peoples — Austronesian peoples who speak the Oceanian languages, numbering about 2.3 million in population, who occupy Polynesia, Micronesia, and most of the smaller islands of Melanesia.
  • Papuan-speaking peoples — Papuan peoples who speak the Papuan languages (the mutually unrelated, non-Austronesian language families), numbering about 7 million in population, and mostly reside on the island of New Guinea and a few of the smaller islands of Melanesia located off the northeast coast of New Guinea.[17]

List of Pacific peoples

  • Austronesian-speaking peoples
  • Papuan-speaking peoples
    • Papua New Guinea region
    • Papua region
      • Asmat
      • Bauzi
      • Dani
      • Fayu
      • Kombai
      • Korowai
      • KotekaLani, Ekari, Amungme, Moni, Yali
      • Marind
      • Mek
      • Sawi
      • Wolani
    • West Papua region (see List of ethnic groups of West Papua)

Usage by country

The umbrella term Pacific Islands may take on several meanings.[18] Sometimes it refers to only those islands covered by the region of Oceania.[19][20] In some common uses, the term refers to the islands of the Pacific Ocean once colonized by the Portuguese, Spaniards, Dutch, British, French, United States, and Japanese, such as the Pitcairn Islands, Taiwan, and Borneo.[21] In other uses, it may refer to islands with Austronesian linguistic heritage like Taiwan, Indonesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, Myanmar islands, which found their genesis in the Neolithic cultures of the island of Taiwan.[22]


In Australia, the term South Sea Islander was used to describe Australian descendants of people from the over-80 islands in the western Pacific who had been brought to Australia to work on the sugar fields of Queensland—these people were called Kanakas in the 19th century.[23]

The Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901 was enacted to restrict entry of Pacific Islanders to Australia and to authorise their deportation. In this legislation, Pacific Islanders were defined as:

"Pacific Island Labourer" includes all natives not of European extraction of any island except the islands of New Zealand situated in the Pacific Ocean beyond the Commonwealth [of Australia] as constituted at the commencement of this Act.[24]

Despite this, Pacific Islanders were generally held in a much higher regard than Indigenous Australians were during the early 20th century.[13]

In 2008, a "Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme" was announced as a three-year pilot experiment.[25] It provides visas for workers from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea to work in Australia.[26] Aside from Papua New Guinea, the scheme includes one country each from Melanesia (Vanuatu), Polynesia (Tonga), and Micronesia (Kiribati)—countries that already send workers to New Zealand under its seasonal labour scheme.[27][28]

New Zealand

Cook Island dancers at Auckland's Pasifika Festival, 2010

Local usage in New Zealand uses Pacific islander (formerly Pacific Polynesians,[29] or Pasifika) to distinguish those who have emigrated from one of these areas in modern times from the New Zealand Māori, who are also Polynesian but are indigenous to New Zealand.[29]

In the 2013 New Zealand census, 7.4% of the New Zealand population identified with one or more Pacific ethnic groups, although 62.3% of these were born in New Zealand.[30] Those with a Samoan background make up the largest proportion, followed by Cook Islands Māori, Tongan, and Niuean.[30] Some smaller island populations such as Niue and Tokelau have the majority of their nationals living in New Zealand.[31]

To celebrate the diverse Pacific island cultures, the Auckland Region hosts several Pacific island festivals. Two of the major ones are Polyfest, which showcases performances of the secondary school cultural groups in the region,[32] and Pasifika, a festival that celebrates Pacific island heritage through traditional food, music, dance, and entertainment.[33]

United States

By the 1980s, the United States Census Bureau grouped persons of Asian ancestry and created the category "Asian-Pacific Islander," which continued in the 1990s census. In 2000, "Asian" and "Pacific Islander" became two separate racial categories.[34]

According to the Census Bureau's Population Estimates Program (PEP), a "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander" is,

A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific islands. It includes people who indicate their race as 'Native Hawaiian', 'Guamanian or Chamorro', 'Samoan', and 'Other Pacific Islander' or provide other detailed Pacific Islander responses.[35]

According to the Office of Management and Budget, "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander" refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.[34]

Eight out of 10 Pacific Islanders in the United States are native to the United States. Polynesians make up the largest group, including Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Tahitians, and Tongans. Micronesians make up the second largest, including primarily Chamoru from Guam; as well as other Chamoru, Carolinian from the Northern Mariana Islands, Marshallese, Palauans, and various others. Among Melanesians, Fijian Americans are the largest in this group.[36]

There are at least 39 different Pacific Island languages spoken as a second language in the American home.[36]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Defining Diaspora: Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi Identities | Cross-Cultural Center | CSUSM". Retrieved 2021-05-09.
  2. ^ a b "Pacific Islanders". Minority Rights Group. Retrieved 2021-05-10.
  3. ^ a b "Search tips - Pacific Islander Research Starter - Academic Guides at Walden University". Retrieved 2022-02-08.
  4. ^ Flett, Iona; Haberle, Simon (2008). "East of Easter: Traces of human impact in the far-eastern Pacific" (PDF). In Clark, Geoffrey; Leach, Foss; O'Connor, Sue (eds.). Islands of Inquiry. ANU Press. pp. 281–300. CiteSeerX hdl:1885/38139. ISBN 978-1-921313-89-9. JSTOR j.ctt24h8gp.20.
  5. ^ Macnaughtan, Don (February 1, 2014). "Mystery Islands of Remote East Polynesia: Bibliography of Prehistoric Settlement on the Pitcairn Islands Group". Wordpress: Don Macnaughtan's Bibliographies – via
  6. ^ Sues, Hans-Diete; MacPhee, Ross D.E (1999). Extinctions in Near Time: Causes, Contexts, and Consequences. Springer US. p. 29. Retrieved 1 February 2022. The human colonization of remote Oceania occurred in the late Holocene. Prehistoric human explorers missed only the Galápagos and a very few out-of-the-way places as they surged east out of the Solomons, island-hopping thousands of kilometers through the Polynesian heartland to reach Hawaii to the far north, Easter Island over 7500km to the east and, New Zealand to the south
  7. ^ a b Sebeok, Thomas Albert (1971). Current Trends in Linguistics: Linguistics in Oceania. the University of Michigan. p. 950. Retrieved 2 February 2022. Most of this account of the influence of the Hispanic languages in Oceania has dealt with the Western Pacific, but the Eastern Pacific has not been without some share of the presence of the Portuguese and Spanish. The Eastern Pacific does not have the multitude of islands so characteristic of the Western regions of this great ocean, but there are some: Easter Island, 2000 miles off the Chilean coast, where a Polynesian tongue, Rapanui, is still spoken is still spoken; the Juan Fernandez group, 400 miles west of Valparaiso; the Galapagos archipelago, 650 miles west of Ecuador; Malpelo and Cocos, 300 miles off the Colombian and Costa Rican coasts respectively; and others. Not many of these islands have extensive populations — some have been used effectively as prisons — but the official language on each is Spanish.
  8. ^ a b c Crocombe, R. G. (2007). Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West. University of the South Pacific. Institute of Pacific Studies. p. 13. ISBN 9789820203884. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  9. ^ Todd, Ian (1974). Island Realm: A Pacific Panorama. Angus & Robertson. p. 190. ISBN 9780207127618. Retrieved 2 February 2022. [we] can further define the word culture to mean language. Thus we have the French language part of Oceania, the Spanish part and the Japanese part. The Japanese culture groups of Oceania are the Bonin Islands, the Marcus Islands and the Volcano Islands. These three clusters, lying south and south-east of Japan, are inhabited either by Japanese or by people who have now completely fused with the Japanese race. Therefore they will not be taken into account in the proposed comparison of the policies of non - Oceanic cultures towards Oceanic peoples. On the eastern side of the Pacific are a number of Spanish language culture groups of islands. Two of them, the Galapagos and Easter Island, have been dealt with as separate chapters in this volume. Only one of the dozen or so Spanish culture island groups of Oceania has an Oceanic population — the Polynesians of Easter Island. The rest are either uninhabited or have a Spanish - Latin - American population consisting of people who migrated from the mainland. Therefore, the comparisons which follow refer almost exclusively to the English and French language cultures.
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ a b Hague, James D. Web copy "Our Equatorial Islands with an Account of Some Personal Experiences". Archived 6 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine The Century Magazine, Vol. LXIV, No. 5, September 1902. Retrieved: 3 January 2008.
  12. ^ a b c d e West, F. James, and Sophie Foster. 2020 November 17. "Pacific Islands." Encyclopædia Britannica.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Halter, Nicholas (2021). Australian Travellers in the South Seas. ANU Press. ISBN 9781760464158. Retrieved 10 January 2022.
  14. ^ "NZ and Australia: Big Brothers or Distant Cousins? | The Interpreter". 2020-07-09. Retrieved 2022-02-06.
  15. ^
  16. ^ SBS Australia (November 2004). "Saving the Rapanui". YouTube. Retrieved 16 February 2022.
  17. ^ Friedlaender, Jonathan; Friedlaender, FR; Reed FA; Kidd KK; Kidd JR (2008). "The Genetic Structure of Pacific Islanders". PLOS Genetics. 4 (3): e19. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0040019. PMC 2211537. PMID 18208337.
  18. ^ Collins Atlas of the World (revised ed.), London W6 8JB: HarperCollins, 1995 [1983], ISBN 0-00-448227-1{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  19. ^ D'Arcy, Paul (March 2006). The People of the Sea: Environment, Identity, and History in Oceania. University Of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3297-1. Archived from the original on 2014-10-30. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  20. ^ Rapaport, Moshe (April 2013). The Pacific Islands: Environment and Society, Revised Edition. University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-6584-9. JSTOR j.ctt6wqh08. This is the only contemporary text on the Pacific Islands that covers both environment and sociocultural issues and will thus be indispensable for any serious student of the region. Unlike other reviews, it treats the entirety of Oceania (with the exception of Australia) and is well illustrated with numerous photos and maps, including a regional atlas. – via JSTOR (subscription required)
  21. ^ Wright, John K. (July 1942). "Pacific Islands". Geographical Review. 32 (3): 481–486. doi:10.2307/210391. JSTOR 210391. – via JSTOR (subscription required)
  22. ^ Compare:Blundell, David (January 2011). "Taiwan Austronesian Language Heritage Connecting Pacific Island Peoples: Diplomacy and Values" (PDF). International Journal of Asia-Pacific Studies. 7 (1): 75–91. Retrieved 2 May 2015. Taiwan associations are based on almost forgotten old connections with far-reaching Pacific linguistic origins. The present term Austronesia is based on linguistics and archaeology supporting the origins and existence of the Austronesian Language family spread across the Pacific on modern Taiwan, Indonesia, East Timor, Malaysia,, Singapore, Brunei, Micronesia, Polynesia, the non-Papuan languages of Melanesia, the Cham areas of Vietnam, Cambodia, Hainan, Myanmar islands, and some Indian Ocean islands including Madagascar. Taiwan is in the initiating region.
  23. ^ "South Sea Islander Project". ABC Radio Regional Production Fund. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2004. Retrieved 2008-08-27. Recognition for Australian South Sea Islanders (ASSI) has been a long time coming. It was not until 1994 that the federal government recognized them as a distinct ethnic group with their own history and culture and not until September 2000 that the Queensland government made a formal statement of recognition.
  24. ^ "Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901 (Cth)" (PDF). Documenting a Democracy. National Archives of Australia. 1901. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
  25. ^ Australian Institute of Criminology: Australia's Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme: Managing vulnerabilities to exploitation
  26. ^ "Pacific guestworker scheme to start this year". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2008-08-17.
  27. ^ "Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme is more proof of Australia's new Pacific focus" (Press release). The Hon Duncan Kerr SC MP; Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs. 2008-08-20.
  28. ^ Australian classification standards code Pacific islanders, Oceanians, South Sea islanders, and Australasians all with code 1000, i.e., identically. This coding can be broken down into the finer classification of 1,100 Australian Peoples; 1,200 New Zealand peoples; 1,300 Melanesian and Papuan; 1,400 Micronesian; 1,500 Polynesian. There is no specific coding therefore for "Pacific islander"."Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG) - 2nd edition" (pdf - 136 pages). Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2005-07-07. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
  29. ^ a b Crocombe, R. G. (1992). Pacific Neighbours: New Zealand's Relations with Other Pacific Islands : Aotearoa Me Nga Moutere O Te Moana Nui a Kiwa. University of the South Pacific. p. xxi. ISBN 978-982-02-0078-4.
  30. ^ a b "Pacific peoples ethnic group", 2013 Census. Statistics New Zealand. Accessed on 18 August 2017.
  31. ^ Smelt, and Lin, 1998
  32. ^ "Polyfest NCEA credits / Pasifika Education Plan / Home - Pasifika". Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI). Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  33. ^ "Thousands turn out for Pasifika Festival". Radio New Zealand. 25 March 2017. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  34. ^ a b "Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — a FAQ". NBC News. Retrieved 2021-05-10.
  35. ^ "Information on Race". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on April 3, 2013. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
  36. ^ a b "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-05-20. Retrieved 2021-05-10.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further reading

  • Lal, B., and K. Fortune, eds. 2000. "The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia." Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Okihiro, Gary Y. 2015. American History Unbound: Asians and Pacific Islanders. University of California Press..
  • Smelt, R., and Y. Lin. 1998. Cultures of the world: New Zealand. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.
  • Thomas, Nicholas. 2010. Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire. Yale University Press.ISBN 978-0-300-12438-5.
  • "Pacific Islanders in the NZEF." New Zealand History Online. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 2019 March 26.

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