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The Pacific Islands

The Pacific Islands: Environment and Society, Revised Edition

Moshe Rapaport
Copyright Date: 2013
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    The Pacific Islands
    Book Description:

    The Pacific is the last major world region to be discovered by humans. Although small in total land area, its numerous islands and archipelagoes with their startlingly diverse habitats and biotas, extend across a third of the globe. This revised edition of a popular text explores the diverse landforms, climates, and ecosystems of the Pacific island region. Multiple chapters, written by leading specialists, cover the environment, history, culture, population, and economy. The work includes new or completely revised chapters on gender, music, logging, development, education, urbanization, health, ocean resources, and tourism. Throughout two key issues are addressed: the exceptional environmental challenges and the demographic/economic/political challenges facing the region. Although modern technology and media and waves of continental tourists are fast eroding island cultures, the continuing resilience of Pacific island populations is apparent.

    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.

    262 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6584-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. The Physical Environment

    • 1 Climate
      (pp. 1-18)
      Andrew P. Sturman and Hamish A. McGowan

      The islands of the Pacific Ocean experience a diverse variety of weather and climate (aggregate weather) due to their wide-ranging geographic locations, which encompass midlatitude to equatorial settings. Because Pacific islands are surrounded by vast areas of ocean, their climates are strongly influenced by maritime processes. Atmospheric circulation systems, terrain, and surface vegetation cover, however, frequently modify the maritime air masses that pass over islands. This results in distinct microclimates.

      The main climate-related concerns for many Pacific Island nations are providing adequate water supplies and minimizing exposure to atmospheric hazards at a time of uncertain future climate change. The nature...

    • 2 Oceanography
      (pp. 19-33)
      Lynne D. Talley, Gerard J. Fryer and Rick Lumpkin

      This is a brief introduction to the physical oceanography of the Pacific Islands region, the circulation, tsunamis, waves, sea level, temperature and salinity distributions, and the forces that create these. Since the tropical Pacific contains most of the island groups, and since the dynamics and properties of the tropical oceans differ from those at higher latitudes, this chapter primarily concerns tropical oceanography; but New Zealand is also briefly discussed.

      The tropical Pacific is usually considered to lie between the astronomically defined tropics: the Tropic of Cancer (23.5°N) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5°S). There are other useful definitions of the...

    • 3 Geology
      (pp. 34-44)
      David M. Kennedy, Gerard J. Fryer and Patricia Fryer

      The geological evolution of the Pacific Basin is founded in the processes that drive plate tectonics. Almost the entire ocean is floored by the Pacific Plate, which is in constant northwestward motion, driven by plumes deep within the Earth’s mantle. At its northern, northeastern, and western boundaries the plate is subducted into the mantle, while new crust is created on its southern and southeastern sides at the spreading ridges of the East Pacific Rise (Figure 3.1). The resulting melting of the crust that occurs as it descends into the mantle at subduction zones leads to highly explosive volcanoes, which form...

    • 4 Geomorphology
      (pp. 45-58)
      Patrick D. Nunn

      The Pacific Islands region extends over 130° of longitude and 70° of latitude. Some islands are more than 100,000 km² in size; others are miniscule. Some islands are pieces of ancient continent, hundreds of millions of years old; other islands are still growing, and periodic volcanic eruptions give subaerial landforms little chance to develop. Some tropical islands are so high they have ice caps; others are so low they can barely be seen on approach by sea. Some islands are rain-soaked; others sometimes go for years without rain.

      Prevailing climatic and geological controls produce seemingly infinite permutations and militate against...

    • 5 Soils
      (pp. 59-69)
      R. John Morrison

      Soils are one of the major resources of Pacific Islanders. Despite the islanders’ dependence on the marine environment, soils are the source of a major proportion of the food, building materials, clothing, and medicines. The islands vary enormously in size, geomorphology, and geology, with a resultant diversity in soils. From the small atolls to the large continental islands, traditional technologies have been developed to effectively utilize this invaluable resource (Morrison et al. 1994). Many Pacific Island groups earn significant portions of their foreign exchange earnings through the export of agricultural and forest products (Browne 2006).

      The Pacific Islands region covers...

    • 6 Water
      (pp. 70-80)
      Derrick Depledge and James P. Terry

      A supply of fresh water is a prerequisite to any settlement. The needs of the people who first came to the Pacific were met by pre-existing supplies, which they either could see or knew where to find. The technology was simple and adequate, perhaps using lengths of bamboo or locally made clay pots as containers for collection and storage.

      Rainfall was collected from the trunk of a tree using a thick bush rope. Groundwater was collected from hand-dug wells, usually shallow, but sometimes reaching considerable depth. Cave pools and coastal springs were also utilized where available. The location of a...

  6. The Living Environment

    • 7 Biogeography
      (pp. 83-94)
      Brenden S. Holland and E. Alison Kay

      Biogeography is the scientific discipline that seeks to understand the distribution of animal and plant life on earth. As a fundamentally integrative, multidisciplinary field, biogeography has both historical and predictive powers. Such varied fields as climatology, ecology, geology, phylogenetics, and physiology contribute to our understanding of why species naturally occur where they do, providing the most complete picture obtainable of how and where biodiversity is generated as well as how and where it is lost. In recent decades it has become evident that if we are to understand the patterns of natural distributions of organisms on earth, we need to...

    • 8 Terrestrial Ecosystems
      (pp. 95-108)
      Harley I. Manner, Dieter Mueller-Dombois and Moshe Rapaport

      Prior to European contact, virtually all Pacific Islanders lived in rural locations, dependent on the natural environment for basic subsistence needs. This dependence inevitably resulted in largescale ecosystem conversion. Today, the pace and intensity of exploitation have accelerated. Areas under primary forest, comprising many rare, endemic species of plants and animals, are covered by secondary forest, savannas, agriculture, and urban development. The study of terrestrial ecosystems and their modification has thus become a critical issue in the Pacific Islands. Vegetation is used as the principal biological component by which terrestrial ecosystems are recognized.

      The strand is that portion of the...

    • 9 Aquatic Ecosystems
      (pp. 109-122)
      Stephen G. Nelson

      The vast area of the Pacific Islands region is largely underwater and is blessed with a diverse array of interesting and valuable aquatic ecosystems, including those of inland fresh waters, mangroves, sea-grass meadows, coral reefs, kelp beds, continental shelves, seafloor slopes, the open ocean, and the deep sea. The focus in this chapter is primarily on the structure and function of these ecosystems, comparing their biotic assemblages, their trophic structures, and the sources and fates of organic materials and nutrients within. Every ecosystem relies on such processes. The inputs upon which consumers and decomposers depend must either come from primary...

  7. History

    • 10 The Precontact Period
      (pp. 125-137)
      Frank R. Thomas

      As the pace of European exploration of the Pacific quickened in the second half of the eighteenth century, an increasing number of insular societies were drawn into the various processes of culture contact, often with disastrous consequences. Thus ended what may be considered the prehistory of an area, archipelago, or specific island and the beginning of the historic period. The history of the region is of course known to us from the written sources left by a variety of individuals (explorers, traders, missionaries) who interacted with Pacific Islanders. The former were also responsible for providing the outside world with the...

    • 11 The Postcontact Period
      (pp. 138-146)
      David A. Chappell

      This chapter traces historical changes in Oceania from early Euroamerican contacts through colonial rule into the post-1945 era of decolonization. The reader should be aware, however, that history is never separate from the present, because each generation reinterprets the past in light of its own priorities. The written history of the Pacific Islands was produced mainly by outsiders until very recently, and as an academic subject that is taught in universities the field really dates only to the 1950s. Foreign explorers, missionaries, traders, and colonial officials kept many records, but their accounts were often biased, privileging the “civilizing” influence of...

    • 12 Changing Patterns of Power
      (pp. 147-156)
      Terence Wesley-Smith

      Some commentators had already condemned the region to a dismal future when Pacific Island leaders crafted their optimistic prologue to the Pacific Plan for Strengthening Regional Cooperation and Integration in mid-2004. Citing tense civil-military relations in some island states, ethnic conflicts associated with natural resource exploitation, as well as ongoing issues of poor governance and corruption, Australian political scientist Ben Reilly suggested that the region was experiencing a process of “Africanisation”:

      Taken together, these factors indicate a growing weakness of democracy and an increasing likelihood of further troubles in the region in the future. In particular, they indicate that some...

  8. Culture

    • 13 Language
      (pp. 159-171)
      Andrew Pawley

      The Pacific Islands constitute, by two different measures, the most linguistically diverse region in the world. One measure is language density.¹ Roughly 20 percent of the world’s six to seven thousand languages are packed into this region, which contains less than 1 percent of the world’s land mass and population. A second index refers to the number of different (maximal) language families, i.e., linguistic stocks not known to be related to each other, which have no known relatives outside the region. This is a measure of deep genealogical diversity and gives an indication of how long the families have been...

    • 14 Social Relations
      (pp. 172-181)
      Lamont Lindstrom

      Alexander Selkirk, marooned in the Juan Fernandez Islands of the southeastern Pacific between 1704 and 1709, inspired one of literature’s most enduring sociological horror stories. InRobinson Crusoe,Daniel Defoe retold Selkirk’s castaway experience to explore the individual’s relations with society. By the end of the story, after surviving several years of lonely and desperate isolation, Crusoe builds a new society on his desert island beginning with his Man Friday. Enduring debates about the “individual” and whether or not individuals can exist outside society, and also about humanity’s growing estrangement from nature, have ensured the lasting popularity of Defoe’s novel....

    • 15 Gender
      (pp. 182-191)
      Julie Cupples and Nancy McDowell

      If one were to examine the indices of ethnographies written before 1970 or so, there would probably be no entry for “gender.” There might be one for “women” or “the sexes,” but these entries would almost certainly not encompass what is meant today by “gender.” All human groups recognize that people come in two basic models, male and female; gender, however, refers not to these specifically biological differences and capabilities but to what human creativity makes of them: cultures define and construct female and male beyond these observable biological contrasts. A sexual division of labor seems to be a genuine...

    • 16 Tenure
      (pp. 192-201)
      Ron Crocombe

      Land and water tenures are shaped by the environment, by past experiences and present circumstances of the people who live by them, and by external forces. Tenure systems also influence ecology, society, and economy in a continuing process of interaction.

      Tenures used to be guided only by diverse traditional customs and precedents. Today they are also covered by laws—lots of laws—of the fourteen independent nations and twelve dependent territories of the region. Foreign influences on tenures are more prominent than ever, coming now from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, and from former colonial powers with continuing...

    • 17 Law
      (pp. 202-213)
      Richard Scaglion

      One of the most striking characteristics of “law” in most contemporary Pacific Island nations is what legal scholars call “legal pluralism.” Legal pluralism is the simultaneous existence of different types of legal systems within a single setting. In the contemporary Pacific, legal pluralism most often derives from legal heritages that combine “custom” law and “introduced” law in various ways. In any given country, however, there also can be multiple and sometimes contradictory forms of customary law, the simultaneous existence of which creates even more difficulties for Pacific nations as they struggle to create unified and equitable national legal systems.


    • 18 Religion
      (pp. 214-224)
      John Barker

      What is “Oceanic religion”? Until recently many scholars restricted the term to the religions of Pacific Islanders as they existed before extensive European contact. They wrote of mission Christianity as an intrusive force and sought to explain a variety of postcontact religious movements as indigenous responses to colonialism. Today, with Christianity entrenched across the region, a sharp distinction between indigenous and foreign religions is no longer viable.

      For most Pacific Islanders, the religion of the present is a complex and ever-changing mix of local and imported elements. In some cases, especially where missionaries have only recently been at work, the...

    • 19 Literature
      (pp. 225-235)
      Selina Tusitala Marsh

      This chapter examines the terrain of Pacific literature published in English by its indigenous peoples. With a few outliers, like Cook Islander Florence Johnny Frisbie’sMiss Ulysses of Pukapuka(1948), this is a “land” barely four decades old, with its genesis occurring in the late 1960s. The broad aesthetic foundation of this terrain is deeply embedded in oral traditions, a field still in development in terms of adequately critiquing literature simultaneously engaged in the rich orature of its cultures. This chapter, however, confines itself to examining major critical, thematic, and aesthetic developments in Pacific literature and argues that writings once...

    • 20 Art
      (pp. 236-247)
      Caroline Vercoe

      Pacific art practice encompasses a rich and varied body of objects, dance forms, song, performance, adornment both permanent and temporary, and oral histories. Distinctive yet diverse, it emerges as a vital and important expression and vessel of cultural knowledge, memory, emotion, and experience. Prior to Western contact and subsequent colonization, what we call art today played an essential role within Pacific cultures. This chapter discusses a range of art forms produced in the Pacific in relation to a number of themes. They include gender and the impact and legacy of colonial contact, the role of art as a visual symbol...

    • 21 Music and Dance Performance
      (pp. 248-260)
      Paul Wolffram

      Music and dance performance have come to be understood as key components of Pacific identity and fundamental elements of Pacific life and culture. Oceanic performance contexts vary widely. They include ritual undertakings, political and religious processes, and occasions of informal celebration. They may variously involve soloists, large or small ensembles of men and women, or spiritual entities; and performances often include vocals, instrumentation, costume, and accoutrements in combination with choreographed movement. Often the performance of music and dance is based on a poetic text—which may be a form of oratory or incantation or may make reference to legends or...

  9. Population

    • 22 Demography A Slow or Stalled Demographic Transition Affecting Development
      (pp. 263-274)
      Jean Louis Rallu and Dennis Ahlburg

      Unlike Asia, where population aging is the dominant population issue, population growth and issues related to a large youthful population remain a major concern in Pacific Island countries (PICs). The experience of PICs seems to indicate that rapid growth in some countries and mass emigration in others, and associated high dependency ratios, hinder development. Many countries experienced higher population than economic growth in the 1990s and early 2000s, and evidence of increasing poverty has emerged—a lack of opportunity and low and unstable income (Abbott and Pollard 2004) rather than extreme income poverty and hunger witnessed in developing countries in...

    • 23 Mobility to Migration
      (pp. 275-286)
      John Connell and Moshe Rapaport

      Since the earliest settlement of the Pacific Islands, mobility has been associated with both challenges and opportunities, as islanders have sought new homes or been displaced from older ones. This chapter provides a broad overview of mobility, beginning from oral traditions, followed by the historical transitions in mobility patterns among island communities in various parts of the Pacific. The movements of European settlers and associated labor migrants are then discussed, along with the displacements that ensued. We then consider contemporary migration, focusing on trends, rationales, and impact.

      As emigration has evolved, small, vulnerable, and now mainly independent Pacific Island states...

    • 24 Health
      (pp. 287-298)
      Annette Sachs Robertson

      The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO 1948). While broadening the definition beyond a biomedical construct to include psychological and social dimensions was considered an advance, this definition of well-being has been described as being closer to happiness than health, without practical value (Saracci 1997). Saracci proposes an alternative definition of health as “a condition of wellbeing free of disease or infirmity and a basic and universal human right.” Distinguishing between health and happiness is critical especially with respect to...

    • 25 Education
      (pp. 299-309)
      Ron Crocombe

      Education had much in common throughout the Pacific when humans lived in small self-defending societies. It was largely learning by doing: an informal apprenticeship with parents or other relatives, supplemented by observing and imbibing the beliefs, values, traditions, and practices of the community. Where houses of learning taught skills to larger groups, these were usually families writ large, such as clans or lineages.

      Specialized knowledge was often secret. Medicine, magic, religious esoterica, navigation, even techniques for catching octopus or barracuda, were secrets passed on by experts to selected children or other close relatives.

      Knowledge was segregated by gender, by profession...

    • 26 Urban Challenges
      (pp. 310-322)
      Donovan Storey and John Connell

      In almost all Pacific Island countries a significant demographic, economic, and cultural transformation is taking place as urban populations are growing faster than total populations. Indeed, if Papua New Guinea is excluded, more than half of all Pacific Islanders live in urban areas, reflecting a global watershed heralded by the United Nations in 2007. In some countries—such as the atoll states of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands—this growth has resulted in exceptionally high population densities, comparable with those in the most highly populated Asian cities. In larger states, such as Fiji, the majority population now lives in cities...

  10. Economy

    • 27 Pacific Island Economies
      (pp. 325-340)
      Geoff Bertram

      Pacific Island economies are small and isolated, but for the most part they are not poor by the usual standards of world poverty. Environmentally deprived areas of Papua New Guinea are a partial exception (Booth 1995: 208; World Bank 1999; Allen, Bourke, and Gibson 2005). Provision of basic needs has seldom been under threat for the indigenous populations of the islands, and living standards across much of the region continue to be underwritten by official transfers and private remittances, while rising earnings from tourism (Milne 2005; Taylor, Hardner, and Stewart 2006) and fisheries (Gillett et al. 2001) have transformed several...

    • 28 Agriculture
      (pp. 341-354)
      Harley I. Manner and Randolph R. Thaman

      The environments where agriculture is practiced in the Pacific Islands range from frost-prone but gardened mountain slopes at 2,600 m in Papua New Guinea through temperate-latitude New Zealand to tiny atoll islets lying scarcely above the reach of the waves in the always warm equatorial ocean. A comparable dissimilarity exists in rainfall—from virtual desert to constantly humid—and in soils, with some young volcanic and alluvial soils being highly fertile, whereas on atoll islets the only natural soil material may be no more than rough, highly alkaline coral rubble.

      Traditional Pacific Island agriculturalists adapted to this wide range of...

    • 29 Logging
      (pp. 355-363)
      Colin Filer

      According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “logging” is “the work of cutting and preparing forest timber.” In current political debate, however, “logging” sounds like an activity that causes lots of unnecessary environmental damage, whereas “forestry” lacks these negative connotations, and “forest management” sounds quite benign. When people talk about “logging in the Pacific,” the sort of thing that comes to mind is an image of bulldozers trashing the native forests of New Guinea or other parts of island Melanesia. But the indigenous people of the region have been “cutting and preparing forest timber” wherever they have encountered forests, and much...

    • 30 Ocean Resources
      (pp. 364-378)
      Vina Ram-Bidesi

      The twenty-two developing states and territories of the Pacific Islands region consist of only about 551,390 km² of land with about 9.5 million people spread across 30 million km² of ocean (as shown in Figure 30.1). The region therefore comprises mainly ocean, which accounts for 98 percent of the total area and extends thousands of kilometers from north to south of the equator. The islands are linked and controlled by the oceanic environment.

      The dependence of the Pacific Island countries upon the ocean resources has been a vital part of their cultural, social, and economic development. The coastal and marine...

    • 31 Mining
      (pp. 379-391)
      Glenn Banks

      This chapter addresses the exploitation of minerals and petroleum hydrocarbons in the island Pacific, extending from Papua Province in Indonesia to New Zealand. The discussion tends to focus on mining because in terms of investment, economic contribution, areal extent, and particularly social and environmental change it has generally had, to date at least, a greater impact than oil and gas production. In the decade since the first edition of this book was published, there have been dramatic changes in the global mining industry and mining operations in the Pacific, as well in the extent of the literature on mining and...

    • 32 Tourism
      (pp. 392-400)
      Simon Milne

      Any attempt to understand the economic, cultural, and environmental dynamics of the Pacific region must take into account the role of tourism (ADB 1996, 2006; AusAID 2006). Governments throughout the Pacific have, almost without exception, turned to the industry as a source of potentially sustainable economic development (Fagence 1999; Harrison 2004; UNESCAP 2008). While the cultural and environmental resources upon which the industry depends are vulnerable to uncontrolled tourism development (Connell and Rugendyke 2008), they can also potentially benefit from tourism—sustained, and perhaps enhanced, by the money and awareness that the industry brings (SPTO 2003a, TRIP 2007).

      Tourism is...

    • 33 Communications
      (pp. 401-416)
      Michael R. Ogden

      Despite the incredible diversity among Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs), most gained their political independence, or right to self-governance, prior to the development of modern telecommunication satellites, fiber-optic cables, cellular telephony, or Internet-based information and communication technologies (ICTs). Yet the past few decades have borne witness to the global transformative capabilities of telecoms/ICTs.¹ This is just as true for PICTs as for any other country in the world. It is therefore not surprising that the establishment of communications infrastructure in the Pacific Islands has been a priority for many decades (cf. Ogden & Jussawalla 1994; SPFS 1998; ITU 2001;...

    • 34 Development Prospects
      (pp. 417-422)
      Donovan Storey and David Abbott

      Since the first edition ofThe Pacific Islands: Environment & Society,much of the region has undergone profound political, economic, and social change. There have been political crises in Solomon Islands and Fiji and even social discord evidenced in Tonga. In Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and the Marshall Islands, governments have been under increasing pressure to perform essential service and infrastructure functions in the face of severe fiscal challenges. Fiji, once the most diverse and robust economy in the South Pacific, with a booming tourist market, manufacturing and service industries, and mining and agricultural exports, has in a generation become an economy...

  11. ATLAS
    (pp. 423-430)
    (pp. 431-438)
  13. List of Contributors
    (pp. 439-442)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 443-457)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 458-459)