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The main Pacific Islands span the Equator obliquely from northwest to southeast and can be divided into two major physiographic regions by island type: continental and oceanic. Deep ocean trenches form the Andesite Line along the eastern borders of Japan, the Marianas, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and New Zealand. The line separates the basaltic volcanic islands of the central and eastern Pacific from the islands of the broad western Pacific margin, which are formed mainly of metamorphosed rocks, sediment, and andesitic volcanic material.Several hundred distinct languages are spoken in the Pacific Islands; these are mostly Austronesian in origin. Most islanders have some familiarity with English or French; one or the other of these is the official language of virtually all Pacific Islands. Christianity has largely supplanted traditional beliefs and practices, although in some areas, such as Papua New Guinea, Christian faith is often combined with traditional practices.The parent lava material of the oceanic type of island is basalt. Oceanic islands are differentiated as high volcanic-based islands, such as Hawaii, or low coral islands and atolls, such as the Marshalls. Most Pacific islands are coral formations, although all of these rest on volcanic or other cores. In the shallow waters of the tropics, both continental and oceanic islands attract coral growth in the form of fringing reefs, partially submerged platforms of consolidated limestone, with coral organisms at the ocean edge feeding on materials carried in by waves and currents. Many islands have been gradually submerged through a combination of sinking, caused by geologic action, and flooding, caused by the melting of ice caps. As islands were flooded, coral growth continued outward, producing barrier reefs farther from the shorelines and separated from them by lagoons.
In general the Pacific Islands have developing economies in which both public and private sectors participate. The gross national product (GNP) per capita varies widely. Agriculture, fishing, and services are generally the largest economic sectors, and mining is important on a few of the islands. Subsistence farming predominates on the smaller islands. Almost all the islands grow coconuts, which, with copra, are a major export. Pasture is available only on the larger islands; pigs, cattle, and chickens are raised commercially there, and sufficient milk and meat are produced to satisfy domestic needs. Villagers on some smaller islands and New Guinea rear pigs and goats for local use. Subsistence fishing is important everywhere except Hawaii and New Zealand and provides a major source of protein in local diets. There is also commercial fishing, notably in Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Fiji, which account for much of the regional catch.The climate of the Pacific Islands is generally tropical (except in New Zealand, which has a temperate climate), with temperatures, humidity, and rainfall relatively uniform throughout the year. Temperature varies from averages in the low 80s F (about 28 °C) on both Nauru and Kiribati to an average in the low 60s F (about 15 °C) on Norfolk Island, one of the southernmost Pacific Islands. Most vegetation is derived from Indonesia and New Guinea, and its generic variety declines eastward across the Pacific. Local environmental differences and relative isolation have resulted in the evolution of numerous new endemic species. The introduction of new species from throughout the world has also markedly altered island flora. Only a small proportion of the total land area is arable and, outside New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, is devoted mostly to the cultivation of coconut and cassava. Most of the larger islands also support some livestock. As much as two-thirds of the Pacific Islands’ total land area is forested. Most of the islands are poor in mineral resources.
The successive geologic lifting of some islands above sea level has created a variety of “raised” coral formations. The northern half of Guam, for example, is a coralline limestone plateau with a general elevation of about 500 feet (150 metres), while the mountains in the southern half of the island, formed by volcanic activity, reach a maximum elevation of over 1,300 feet (400 metres). Nauru and Banaba (in Kiribati) are raised coral islands that stand at elevations of about 210 and 285 feet (65 and 90 metres), respectively. They have deeper soil and a more adequate water supply than atoll islets, as well as surface deposits of phosphate rock (derived from guano) that have been mined commercially.
The continental islands, lying southwestward of the Andesite Line, are faulted and folded in mountainous arcs, tend to be higher and larger than those farther east, and have rich soils that support almost every kind of vegetation. Continental islands are generally larger (most notably, the Marianas, New Guinea, the Bismarcks, the Solomons, Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the North and South islands of New Zealand) and have richer mineral-bearing soils than their oceanic counterparts.
North of the Equator and east of the Philippines are the islands of Micronesia, which form an arc that ranges from Palau, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands in the west eastward through the Federated States of Micronesia (the Caroline Islands), Nauru, and the Marshall Islands to Kiribati.Tourism is very important to the Pacific Ocean islands. Attractions include fine beaches, good fishing and boating, and local customs and crafts. French Polynesia, Guam, Hawaii, Fiji, and New Zealand have the most developed tourist sectors, but many of the other islands place a priority on developing facilities. Most Pacific Islands that are overseas territories of other countries receive budgetary and development aid, mainly from the continental governing countries, while the smaller independent island states receive aid particularly from Australia and New Zealand, as well as from Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Air transport and interisland shipping are the principal means of transport. Many of the island groups have international airports. Extensive road networks are limited to the larger islands.
In the eastern Pacific, largely enclosed within a huge triangle formed by the Hawaiian Islands to the north, New Zealand to the southwest, and Easter Island (Rapa Nui) far to the east, are the many (“poly”) islands of Polynesia. Other components of this widely scattered collection, again generally from west to east, are Tuvalu, Wallis and Futuna, Tokelau, Samoa (the former Western Samoa), American Samoa, Tonga, Niue, the Cook Islands, and French Polynesia (including the Society, Tuamotu, and Marquesas islands).
Melanesians make up more than three-fourths of the total indigenous population of the Pacific Islands. Polynesians account for more than one-sixth of the total, and Micronesians constitute about one-twentieth. People of European origin account for as much as one-third of the Pacific Islands’ population if New Zealand is included in the total and less than one-tenth if it is not; outside New Zealand the largest concentration of people of European origin is in Hawaii.
The manufacturing sector, except in Hawaii and New Zealand, is mostly undeveloped and limited to processing fish and agricultural products and producing handicrafts. Other islands with significant manufacturing besides Hawaii and New Zealand include Guam, Fiji, the Northern Marianas, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomons. Regional electricity is generated largely from imported fuels.
The population 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.A coral atoll results when still further flooding reduces an island to a submarine condition. The usually irregular reef continues to build up in the warm shallows. It encircles a clear-surfaced lagoon of moderate depth and in time supports a number of islets built up from reef debris to 20–30 feet (6–9 metres) above sea level. Rain catchments are usually the only source of fresh water on atolls.
Commercially exploitable forests in Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Samoa, and Vanuatu produce timber, sawn wood, and wood products for domestic consumption and export. The other islands generally must import quality lumber. Mineral production is limited to a few of the continental islands, such as New Caledonia, New Guinea, and New Zealand.
Pacific Islands, island geographic region of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises three ethnogeographic groupings—Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia—but conventionally excludes the neighbouring island continent of Australia, the Asia-related Indonesian, Philippine, and Japanese archipelagoes, and the Ryukyu, Bonin, Volcano, and Kuril island arcs that project seaward from Japan. Neither does the term include the Aleutian chain or such isolated islands of the Pacific Ocean as the Juan Fernández group off the coast of South America. The more inclusive term Oceania, in its broadest definition, encompasses all the foregoing; however, the term is used less strictly in this article to refer to the Pacific Islands as defined above. The Pacific Island region covers more than 300,000 square miles (800,000 square km) of land—of which New Zealand and the island of New Guinea make up approximately nine-tenths—and millions of square miles of ocean. It is a mixture of independent states, associated states, integral parts of non-Pacific Island countries, and dependent states.
The remainder of this article covers the history of the region. For more detailed discussion of the land and people of individual island groups and states, see the articles American Samoa, Caroline Islands, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Line Islands, Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Midway Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Island, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wake Island, and Wallis and Futuna. For discussion of the arts and cultures of the region, see the articles Oceanic art and architecture, Oceanic music and dance, Oceanic literature, Melanesian culture, Micronesian culture, and Polynesian culture. Area (excluding Indonesian New Guinea and the Hawaiian Islands but including Papua New Guinea) 317,739 square miles (833,926 square km). Most Pacific Islands’ annual imports (excluding those of New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Hawaii) far exceed exports. Tourism and remittances from expatriates only partially offset the trade deficits. Frozen or canned fish, minerals, copra, cocoa, coffee, tea, and spices are among the leading exports, mainly to Japan, France, the United States, and Australia. Machinery and transport equipment, mineral fuels, food, and manufactured goods are among the chief imports and come mainly from Australia, France, Japan, and the United States. Only a small proportion of the Pacific Islands’ external trade is intraregional. The great arc of islands located north and east of Australia and south of the Equator is called Melanesia (from the Greek words melas, “black,” and nēsos, “island”) for the predominantly dark-skinned peoples of New Guinea island, the Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (the New Hebrides), New Caledonia, and Fiji.
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The islands were a popular port of call for British and American whaling ships in the 19th century. The first such visit on record was that of the Resource to Guam in October 1799. The last known visit was made by the American whaler Charles W. Morgan in February 1904.
The islands are part of a geologic structure known as the Izu–Bonin–Mariana Arc system and range in age from 5 million years old in the north to 30 million years old in the south (Guam). The islands are formed as the highly dense and very old western edge of the Pacific plate plunges downward to form the floor of the Mariana Trench and carries trapped water under the Mariana plate as it does so. This water is super-heated as the plate is carried farther downward and results in the volcanic activity which has formed the arc of Mariana Islands above this subduction region.
The islands are part of a geologic structure known as the Izu–Bonin–Mariana Arc system, and range in age from 5 million years old in the north to 30 million years old in the south (Guam). The island chain arose as a result of the western edge of the Pacific Plate moving westward and plunging downward below the Mariana plate, a region which is the most volcanically active convergent plate boundary on Earth. This subduction region, just east of the island chain, forms the noted Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the Earth’s oceans and lowest part of the surface of the Earth’s crust. In this region, according to geologic theory, water trapped in the extensive faulting of the Pacific Plate as serpentinite, is heated by the higher temperatures of depth during its subduction, the pressure from the expanding steam results in the hydrothermal activity in the area and the volcanic activity which formed the Mariana Islands. When Spanish settlement started on 14 June 1668, they were subordinate to the Mexican colony (soon viceroyalty) of New Spain, until 1817, when they became subordinated to the Philippines, like the bulk of the Spanish East Indies. The indigenous inhabitants are the Chamorro people. Archaeologists in 2013 reported findings which indicated that the people who first settled the Marianas arrived there after making what may have been at the time the longest uninterrupted ocean voyage in human history. They further reported findings which suggested that Tinian is likely to have been the first island in Oceania to have been settled by humans.
Regardless of where they landed, Spanish ships arrived in Guam and were unable to get fresh food as the inhabitants, Chamorros, “entered the ships and stole whatever they could lay their hands on”, including “the small boat that was fastened to the poop of the flagship.” The Spanish crew, in retaliation, attacked the Chamorros and dubbed the islands Islas de los Ladrones (Islands of the Thieves). “Those people are poor, but ingenious and very thievish, on account of which we called those three islands the islands of Ladrones.” Pigafetta writes,
The island chain geographically consists of two subgroups, a northern group of ten volcanic main islands, all are currently uninhabited; and a southern group of five coralline limestone islands (Rota, Guam, Aguijan, Tinian and Saipan), all inhabited except Aguijan. In the northern volcanic group a maximum elevation of about 2,700 feet (820 m) is reached; there are craters showing signs of activity, and earthquakes are not uncommon. Coral reefs fringe the coasts of the southern isles, which are of slight elevation.The Mariana Islands are the southern part of a submerged mountain range that extends 1,565 miles (2,519 km) from Guam to near Japan. Geographically, the Marianas are part of a larger region called Micronesia, situated between 13° and 21°N latitude and 144° and 146°E longitude.
In 1667, Spain formally claimed them, established a regular colony there and in 1668 gave the islands the official title of Las Marianas, in honor of Spanish Queen Mariana of Austria, widow of King Philip IV of Spain and Queen Regent of the Spanish Empire ruling during the minority of her son King Charles II. They then had a population of more than 50,000 inhabitants. With the arrival of passengers and settlers aboard the Manila Galleons from the Americas, new diseases were introduced in the islands, which caused many deaths in the native Chamorro population. The native population, who referred to themselves as Taotao Tano (people of the land) but were known to the early Spanish colonists as Chamurres or HachaMori, eventually died out as a distinct people, though their descendants intermarried. At the Spanish occupation in 1668, the Chamorros were estimated at 50,000, but a century later only 1,800 natives remained, as the majority of the population was of mixed Spanish-Chamorro blood or mestizo. They were characteristic Micronesians, with a considerable civilization. In the island of Tinian are some remarkable remains attributed to them, consisting of two rows of massive square stone columns, about 5 feet 4 inches (1.63 m) broad and 14 feet (4.3 m) high, with heavy-round capitals called latte stones. According to early Spanish accounts cinerary urns were found embedded in the capitals.
The Mariana Islands (/ˌmæriˈɑːnə/ MARR-ee-AH-nə; Chamorro: Manislan Mariånas), also simply the Marianas, are a crescent-shaped archipelago comprising the summits of fifteen longitudinally oriented, mostly dormant volcanic mountains in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, between the 12th and 21st parallels north and along the 145th meridian east. They lie south-southeast of Japan, west-southwest of Hawaii, north of New Guinea and east of the Philippines, demarcating the Philippine Sea’s eastern limit. They are found in the northern part of the western Oceanic sub-region of Micronesia, and are politically divided into two jurisdictions of the United States: the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and, at the southern end of the chain, the territory of Guam. The islands were named after the influential Spanish queen Mariana of Austria following their colonization in the 17th century. All the islands, except Farallon de Medinilla and Uracas or Farallon de Pajaros (in the northern group), are more or less densely wooded, and the vegetation is dense, much resembling that of the Carolines and also of the Philippines, from where species of plants have been introduced. Owing to the moistness of the soil cryptogams are numerous, as are also most kinds of grasses. On most of the islands there is a plentiful supply of water. Tourism in the Northern Marianas is split mainly between Filipino, Japanese, American, Korean, Taiwanese and Chinese tourists. There are several large tour operators in Saipan that cater to Asian tourists coming into the island. By far, the majority of tourism in the Northern Marianas is in Guam. Several flights a day land in Guam, mostly in the early hours between 1:00 AM and 3:30 AM. With the close of the garment industries in the Northern Marianas, tourism has grown slowly and is now a major part of the economy of the CNMI.Weakened from its defeat in the Spanish–American War, Spain could no longer effectively control and protect the nearly 6,000 islands it retained throughout Micronesia, including the Northern Marianas, Carolines and Pelew Islands. Therefore, Spain entered into the German-Spanish Treaty of February 12, 1899 to sell the Northern Marianas and its other remaining islands to Germany for 837,500 German gold marks (about $4,100,000 at the time). The Northern Marianas and other island groups were incorporated by Germany as a small part of the larger German Protectorate of New Guinea. The total population in the Northern Marianas portion of these islands was only 2,646 inhabitants around this time, with the ten most northerly islands being actively volcanic and thus mostly uninhabited.
The fauna of the Marianas, though inferior in number and variety, is similar in character to that of the Carolines and certain species are indigenous to both island groups. The climate though damp is healthy, while the heat, being tempered by the trade winds, is milder than that of the Philippines; the variations of temperature are not great.
Pigafetta also described the boats the inhabitants used, the sail shaped like a “lateen sail” (actually the crab claw sail), hence the name Islas de las Velas Latinas (Islands of the Lateen Sails), the name used first as Magellan claimed them for the Spanish crown. San Lazarus archipelago, Jardines (‘gardens’) and Prazeres are among the names applied to them by later navigators.
Japan, allied with the Entente Powers during World War I, seized all of Germany’s colonial possessions in East Asia and Micronesia, including the Northern Mariana Islands, and held them through the end of the war. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Germany was stripped of all her colonies worldwide, including the Palau, Caroline, Northern Mariana and Marshall Islands. By international agreement, these were all placed into trusteeship under the management of League of Nations which assigned them to Japan as the Class C South Seas Mandate. During this time, Japan used some of the islands for sugarcane production, modestly increasing the population of a few of the islands.
Mitochondrial DNA and whole genome sequencing of the Chamorro people strongly support an ancestry from the Philippines. Genetic analysis of pre-Latte period skeletons in Guam also show that they do not have Australo-Melanesian (“Papuan”) ancestry which rules out origins from the Bismarck Archipelago, New Guinea, or eastern Indonesia. The Lapita culture itself (the ancestral branch of the Polynesian migrations) is younger than the first settlement of the Marianas (the earliest Lapita artifacts are dated to around 1350 to 1300 BCE), indicating that they originated from separate migration voyages.
The Marianas and specifically the island of Guam were a stopover for Spanish galleons en route from Acapulco, Mexico to Manila, Philippines in a convoy known as the Galeon de Manila. Following the 1872 Cavite mutiny, several Filipinos were exiled to Guam, including the father of Pedro Paterno, Maximo Paterno, Dr. Antonio M. Regidor y Jurado and Jose Maria Basa.The Marianas also later established contact and received migrations from the Caroline Islands at around the first millennium CE. This brought new pottery styles, language, genes, and the hybrid Polynesian breadfruit.Nevertheless, DNA analysis also show close genetic relationship between ancient settlers of the Marianas and early Lapita settlers in the Bismarck Archipelago. This may indicate that both the Lapita culture and the Marianas were settled from direct migrations from the Philippines, or that early settlers from the Marianas voyaged further southwards into the Bismarcks and reconnected with the Lapita people.
The majority of islands in the Marianas still retain their indigenous names end in the letters -an; e.g. Guahan (the indigenous name of Guam), Agrigan, Agrihan, Aguihan/Aguigan, Pagan, Sarigan, etc.
Archeological studies of human activity on the islands has revealed potteries with red-slipped, circle-stamped and punctate-stamped designs found in the Mariana Islands dating between 1500 and 1400 BC. These artifacts show similar aesthetics to pottery found in Northern and Central Philippines, the Nagsabaran (Cagayan Valley) pottery, which flourished during the period between 2000 and 1300 BC.
According to Werner Gruhl: “Mariana Island historians estimate that 10 percent of Guam’s some 20,000 population were killed by violence, most by the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy.”
The island chain saw significant fighting during World War II. Guam, a possession of the United States since 1898, was captured by Japan in an attack from the Northern Mariana Islands that began on the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 8, 1941, the same time as the Pearl Harbor attack across the International Date Line). In 1944, the United States captured the Mariana Islands chain from Japan: the Northern Mariana Islands were desired by the U.S. as bombing bases to reach the Japanese mainland, with the invasion of Saipan being launched for that reason in June before the U.S. even moved to recapture Guam; a month later the U.S. recaptured Guam and captured Tinian. Once captured, Saipan and Tinian’s islands were used extensively by the United States military as they finally put mainland Japan within a round-trip range of American B-29 bombers. In response, Japanese forces attacked the bases on Saipan and Tinian from November 1944 to February 1945. At the same time and afterwards, the United States Army Air Forces based on these islands conducted an intense strategic bombing campaign against the Japanese cities of military and industrial importance, including Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, and others. Both the Enola Gay and the Bockscar (which dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively) flew their missions from Tinian’s North Field.The reasons for these changes is still unclear, but it is believed that it may have resulted from a third wave of migrants from Island Southeast Asia. Comparisons with other architectural traditions makes it likely that this third migration wave were again from the Philippines, or from eastern Indonesia (either Sulawesi or Sumba), all of which have a tradition of raised buildings with capstones. Interestingly, the word haligi (“pillar”) is also used in various languages throughout the Philippines; while the Chamorro word guma (“house”) closely resembles the Sumba word uma.