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Home » , , , » What makes a Melanesian?

What makes a Melanesian?

Written By Voice Of Baptist Papua on April 17, 2011 | 5:06 PM

Indonesia reaches out to the lands of the outriggers. [ABC]
Indonesia reaches out to the lands of the outriggers. [ABC]
Stephanie March
What makes a Melanesian? It is a question exercising academic minds after Indonesia said it was home to 11 million Melanesians.
Being a base to the largest Melanesian population in the world is a claim Jakarta used to justify its inclusion as an observer to the recent Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting in Fiji. 
The decision to include Indonesia prompted outrage from pro-West Papuan independence groups, concerned Jakarta would use its presence in the regional leadership group to quash support for West Papuan independence. 

Nations represented at the MSG meeting were Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. 
Some experts say what qualifies a person as being Melanesian is about how they identify themselves - while others, including the Indonesian government, say it is about genetics and cultural backgrounds. 


Places that Jakarta claims are home to Melanesians include the province of West Papua, which shares a land border with Papua New Guinea; and, further west, the Maluku Islands and south, near Timor island, Nusa Tengarra.
Indonesia's Foreign Affairs spokesman, Michael Tene, told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat: "Our Indonesian citizens in eastern part of Indonesia mainly comes from the Melanesian ethnicity, so certainly we have a huge number of our citizens which are from Melanesian ethnicity. 
"As you know, Indonesia is multi-culture, multi-ethnic nation." 

Dr Ray Anere, a research fellow with the National Research Institute in Port Moresby, says Pacific Islander Melanesians view their links with people in Indonesia - other than those in West Papua - more tenuously. 
"I think that realisation sort of is understood that although they are Melanesians, they belong to a different country, and they come under a different national, political, social system.
However, some academics agree that many east Indonesians do have genetic links with Melanesia. 

Dr Michael Ewing, a linguist and anthropologist from Melbourne University, says: "Genetically there appear to be connections and we can see this through certain racial characteristics as well." 
Dr Ewing, who has done extensive work documenting languages in Indonesia's Maluku islands, says while some Indonesians have genetic links to the Pacific, they would not necessarily view themselves as being Melanesian. 
"My impression would be they wouldn't have a sense of identity with broader group like the Melanesians. 


"With the communities (where) I was working, their identity was much more focused on their particular village or small ethnic group they belong (to); in addition to that they would have an identity as being Indonesians. 
"But I think a pan-ethnic identity that would cut across areas of east Indonesia into Papua New Guinea and the Pacific is something most people there are not particularly aware of." 
Spokesman Tene says it does not matter how someone views their ethnicity, it is how it influences their lives and culture that qualifies them as being Melanesian.
"It is a fact that they have certain type of culture, certain physical features, certain aspects of traditions, way of life.
"I think this issue questioning if they are questioning if Melanesians it is rather absurd."
Mr Tene says Jakarta's inclusion in the Melanesian Spearhead Group will strengthen and preserve Indonesia's Melanesian culture. 

"In Indonesia we cherish the traditional cultures, we encourage the preservation of local cultures."
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