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Pacific Islander (or Pacific person; pl: Pacific people; also Oceanic person/people(s) or Oceanians), is a geographic phrase to describe the indigenous inhabitants of any of the three major sub-regions of Oceania: Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the Pacific Islander three regions, together with their islands, consist of:
Polynesia: The islands 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 comprises Samoan islands (American Samoa and Samoa), the Cook Islands, French Polynesia (Tahiti and The Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Austral Islands, and the Tuamotu Archipelago), Niue Island, Tokelau and Tuvalu, Tonga, Wallis and Futuna, and Pitcairn Island.
Melanesia: The island of New Guinea, the Bismarck and Louisiade archipelagos, the Admiralty Islands, and Bougainville Island (which make up the independent state of Maluku, Papua New Guinea), the Solomon Islands, the Santa Cruz Islands (part of the Solomon Islands), New Caledonia and Loyalty Islands, Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides), Fiji, Norfolk Island, and various smaller islands.
Micronesia: The islands of 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).
Ethnolinguistically, those Pacific Islanders who reside in Oceania are divided into two different ethnic classifications.
In Australia the term South Sea Islander was used in the past to describe Australian descendants of people from the more than 80 islands in the Western Pacific. In 1901 legislation was enacted to restrict entry of Pacific Islanders to Australia and to facilitate their deportation: Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901. In the 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.
In 2008 a newly announced Pacific Islander guestworker scheme provides visas for workers from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea to work in Australia. The pilot scheme includes one country each from Melanesia (Vanuatu), Polynesia (Tonga) and Micronesia (Kiribati): countries which already send workers to New Zealand under its seasonal labour scheme. Australia’s pilot scheme also includes Papua New Guinea.
Local usage in New Zealand uses the term to distinguish those who have emigrated from one of these areas in modern times from the indigenous New Zealand Māori (who are also Polynesian but arrived in New Zealand many centuries earlier), and from other ethnic groups. A stated reason for making the ethnic distinction is that the Pacific peoples suffer from socio-economic disadvantages as a group and benefit from culturally targeted social and health assistance.
Pacific Islanders living in New Zealand make up 6 percent of the national population. 67 percent of the total number of Pacific Islanders in New Zealand, live in the Auckland region making Auckland the largest Polynesian city in the world (Smelt, and Lin, 1998). Statistics currently available in New Zealand project growth in the Pacific Island community is estimated to reach 480,000 in the year 2026. (Statistics New Zealand, n.d.). This number has increased from the estimated 300,000 predicted as a result of the 2006 census.
Smelt, and Lin (1998) identified Pacific Islanders to be the fourth largest ethnic group in New Zealand. This includes the various ethnicities that fall within this realm in regards to their cultural ties with their specific Island of descent. The most recent statistics identified the following as the most accurate configuration of the sub-groups categorized under the Pacific Island classification: Samoans 50%, Cook Islanders 22%, Tongans 15%, Niuean’s 8%, Fijians 3% and Tokelauans 2%. (Lal, and Fortune, 2000). The smaller Island populations such as Niue and Tokelau, currently have less of their people living in the Islands with the majority of their nationals living in New Zealand (Smelt, and Lin, 1998).
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 Auckland region, and Pasifika; a festival that celebrates Pacific Island heritage through traditional food, music, dance, and entertainment.
In the United States, the geographic location of "Pacific Islander" is the same. Pacific Islanders are defined as a native or inhabitant of any of the Polynesian, Micronesian, or Melanesian islands of Oceania. Some examples of the ethnic groups that would be considered Pacific Islanders are the indigenous peoples of Hawaii, the Marianas, Samoans, Guamanian, Chamoru, Tahitians, Mariana Islander, and Chuukese.
It is unclear whether a Papuan person from New Guinea would be regarded as a "Pacific Islander" in the United States but the issue has not arisen since very few Papuans have migrated out of New Guinea to North America.
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