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Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Indigenous People of the Pacific and Some History

When I mentioned to my dad about the policy behind the 51st Defense Battalion being sent to the Marshall Islands, he chuckled. He had no idea, but he was not surprised about the genetics reasoning. Nonetheless, some of the fiercest fighting in World War II took place in the Pacific Theater, and during the early years of WW II, the Japanese were winning. All Allied soldiers were needed to stop the Axis powers, and our civilian population did their part with war bonds, conservation, and support.

Montford Point Marines on the beaches of Peleliu. Although not assigned to combat, these soldiers pitched in to help.

The Pacific enjoys many romantic connotations to many present day Americans. It represents a tranquil vacation paradise, and to a key television demographic of 18-49, the frequent isolated locale of the CBS reality competition show Survivor.

Furthermore, the Pacific Ocean represents one third of the earth's surface. It was explored by Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, who named it for its peaceful, tranquil waters. Magellan was the first to circumnavigate the globe. Legends and folklore add to the allure of the Pacific, along with its distinctive cultures, traditions, and various languages/dialects.

Many of the Survivor locales were in the Pacific. Can you guess how many?

There are three distinct classifications of the indigenous people that reside in the Pacific:  Micronesians, Melanesians and Polynesians. These distinctions were classified in 1822 by French explorer and naval officer Jules Dumont D'Urville. Like many categorizations based on explorers of centuries past, some of them are flawed. Nonetheless, these classifications are still used.


Micronesia- Greek word, meaning small islands

Melanesia- Greek word, meaning, Black islands, named after its inhabitants

Polynesia- Many islands.

Judging from the map a majority of the islands are small and numerous. Additionally, the classification system does not take into account migration from remote small islands to larger cities, crossing geo-cultural regions and intermarriage.

Young children from the Solomon Islands.

If you look at many of the pictures of some of the Pacific Islanders, you might notice that there is a segment of dark skinned people with blond hair. The blond hair is not from European blood, or hair coloring but rather an amino acid change in the TYRP1 gene. This change is unique to this group of people.

American soldier with Micronesian infant. The dying baby was  holed up in a cave with a Japanese soldiers.
Photo taken by famed Time photographer Eugene Smith 1918-1978.

Prime Minister Tojo sought complete domination of the Pacific. They believed that the natives were of a lesser race. Country after country fell to the Imperial Japanese. Power and the need for raw materials fueled their zeal for occupation. Despite the origins of its name, the Pacific was not a peaceful place during World War II.

Notes: Peleliu is a part of Palau. (See above map.) An intense battle lasted two months and resulted in a US victory. The Marines suffered heavy losses on this island. A tactic by the Japanese at this time was to hide out in caves to inflict massive casualties.

Oceania: Includes the tropical islands of the Pacific and also the countries of Australia and New Zealand.

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