The Melanesian Archipelago consists of four individual nations; Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands. The term “Melanesia“ was first used by a French explorer, Jules Dumont d’Urville. The Wantok people are known for their mostly peaceful past, despite the presence of almost 70 distinct ethnic groups. This article explores the history, culture, and customs of the Wantok natives residing in the Melanesian Archipelagos.
Situated in the South Pacific ocean, part of the Melanesian archipelago, the land of the Wantoks is found near the North East region of Australia. Melanesia is known for being a chain of archipelagoes. It has been expanded from Fiji to New Caledonia to Papua New Guinea.
The province is stretched for about a land radius of 10,639 square miles. Additionally, the same is extended to about an ocean border radius of 310,000 square miles. Comprised of 992 small islands, the region covers the second biggest area in the chain of Melanesian archipelagos. If you do a little research about the locality, you will find the climate of the province to be Equatorial. This is due to being surrounded by the ocean on all sides. Furthermore, on some of the mountainous islands of the province’s rainfall can be particularly heavy. Interestingly enough, coastal regions of the archipelago are often found to be a bit drier with much less rainfall.
Being multilingual is a common occurrence among the people of the Melanesian archipelago region. In a rough estimate, almost 63 to 70 different languages and dialects are used by the locals. This is due to the locality being a melting pot of various cultures. A fun fact about English-speaking Solomon Islanders. The English that the locals speak is called pidgin English. It’s a distinct variation of modern English that most of the world uses. While some of the formal places, like schools, are churches, may use English as the go-to medium, it is usually a blend of local languages and pidgin English.
The presence of so many different cultures and ethnicities is a beautiful thing. However, it can be a struggle to form a coherent singular national identity because of the same. The representatives of different ethnic groups could not agree on a single decision. This led to deciding to assemble which represents the most prevalent cultural groups. It’s an amalgam of signs such as fighting spears, a turtle, an eagle, a frigid bird, a war shield, a crocodile, a crown, as well as a shark. Moreover, a phrase to lead is to serve can be found in the coat of arms of the Solomon Islands. Upholding duty and responsibility through mutual support, was the message the founding fathers tried to send through the symbolism of the nation.
History of the Wantok people of the Melanesian Archipelago
The first people of the province settled on the biggest islands of the archipelago. Local communities then developed agriculture and, later on, animal husbandry for their sustenance. Of the animal husbandry elements, pigs played the most significant part. With time, the economy grew, the Solomon islanders expanded their reach to the oceans. Starting with the lagoons, fishing and ocean-related activities were developed.
As the main islands were already taken over by the first people, the newcomers started settling in the outer islands. The migrant newcomers were Polynesians, who soon became quite good at sea navigation as well as fishing. Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, a Spanish explorer, was the first European that discovered the island, making it known to the outside world. He named the islands and desired to return one day. Mendaña had planned to settle in the Solomon Islands. Eventually, he did indeed return in 1595. However, he became sick with malaria, which unfortunately led to his death.
For a long time, other than the Spanish explorers, not much contact was had with the outside world. In 1767, Philip Carteret, an English explorer, visited the islands. This eventually paved the way for traders and whalers in the 1800s. A frequent stream of Europeans arrived one after another. From missionaries to British government officers, the place was scouted for plenty of purposes. The province lacked coherent governance before the takeover by the British in 1893. Moreover, the island was segmented into small tribes that took control of their own little communities. While the Polynesian regions were reigned by monarchs, the same could not be said for the Wantoks.
Web of alliances among the Wantok people
Even without the presence of a centralized monarchy, a web of alliances held the communities aloft just as well. While there were wars between tribes, there were marriages that focused on building alliances as well. The arrival of Europeans changed it all for the locals. As the British authorities took over, they banned warfare between the tribes. Missionaries preached Christianity to the locals and the church became blended with the native culture, displacing their prior belief systems. The contact with outsiders also opened up the locals to western culture, eventually worming its way through the native culture.
As in the case of most of the Pacific nations, independence came late to them. The Wantoks were given autonomy of self-governance only in 1978. While the transfer of power may have been a peaceful affair, the locals had been very vocal about their need for independence. Furthermore, many movements regarding the same were organized by the natives to get back their freedom. The concept of government has never been acceptable to the locals. This was due to their history, which never comprised any government, yet worked well for them. The need for the government was confusing to the locals, for whom they had to pay taxes, which in return offered nothing significant to them.
The emergence of national identity among the Wantoks
The Wantoks did not give significance to the ruling government, but rather the Church. Church missions worked to connect the different communities through a common thread of religion. Social welfare activities propagated by the Church worked to earn them a lot of goodwill from the locals. The establishment of schools and clinics helped much in propagating their views as well. The church buildings became places for social gatherings, subtly mixing people from different communities under the same banner.
Language has always been one of the most significant media for connecting people. The emergence of “pidgin English”, which served as a local medium of communication in the province with around 70 languages, was a major factor supporting the birth of national identity. It became a glue that bound many distinct ethnicities, opening up a channel of communication.
A concept that explains the need for common grounds and sentiments that bind people of different cultural identities. It is a philosophy that correlates with the idea of bringing people’s differences together by uniting them through a common vision, similarity, cause. It is a concept that goes beyond the differences of nationality and encompasses people of all origins. This philosophy is followed by the most significant nations in the Melanesian archipelagos. Namely, the people of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.
The battles that dragged the Wantoks were referred to by them as “the war was not our war”. However, the same worked to bring together people of different communities in the Melanesian Archipelago under the cause of similar suffering and patriotism.
Even after having seventy ethnic groups in the same province, only the politicization of the ethnicities led to conflicts and violence. These conflicts arose in the latter part of the twentieth century only.
The culture of the Wantok people
Holistically, arranged marriages have been the tradition in the Melanesian Archipelago. This was not just because of tradition, but because it helped ensure alliances between various tribes. Inter-tribal alliances are mostly what keeps tribal warfare to a minimum. Most of the marriages were to people outside of the clan. However, sometimes, in the case of special situations, allowances are made. The Wantoks were very advanced in their community care customs. In fact, they kept special care to not let close relatives get married. This points to the fact that they had a good understanding of aftereffects and disorders in the kids born with close relatives.
Modernization has influenced the Wantoks as well. While arranged marriages have not ceased happening, people are free to make their choices as well. People can choose to court marry, or opt for a live-in too. Even arranged marriages are mostly couples choosing each other with the blessing of their parents.
Respect towards women and old people is the main feature of the etiquette among the Melanesians. For example, you could be made to pay immediate compensation for disrespecting women or the elderly in Malaita. One of the prevalent etiquette related to the locals is regarding unrelated women. Usually, you are supposed to look away rather than see directly at a woman who is not related to you by blood. The punishments are harsher when it comes to disrespecting the dignity of married women.
However, as a visitor to their community, you will not be forced to abide by their customs. But, that does not mean that you should disrespect the local customs. As a stranger to their customs and traditions, you will not be scolded for not knowing their customs. Instead, if you do make a mistake or faux pas, you’ll be told about the customs and their value to them.
It is expected from girls not to show an outward display of affection to their boyfriends, not in the presence of their relatives(close or far). It is shown as a sign of respect to the sensibilities of relatives to keep a distance. Guests are highly respected in the local customs. If a guest arrives at a native’s home, they will be offered food first. To disrespect a guest is seen as a display of shame in one’s household.
Religious views of the Wantok People
Belief in ancestral spirits is one of the major customs among the Wantoks. It was a belief that the curse of ancient spirits could be cast on your enemies. Similarly, it was believed that they could ask for the help of their ancestral spirits as well. The religious belief before the arrival of the Church missionaries is called animism. It was a belief based on maintaining a balance between the ecosystem, the spiritual world, and oneself. Animism dictates that everything contains a spirit of some sort and it’s beneficial to have a balance between all the energies.
The spiritual mediums varied according to the location of tribes. Tribes located in coastal regions may consider sharks, stingrays, and octopi as their totem deities. The tribes located in the inland regions of the islands had their totem deities in the form of crocodiles, eagles, owls, and snakes. As in the case of almost all the colonized nations, Church missionaries painted over the old belief system of the indigenous people.
At present, almost 90% of the locals’ natives are estimated to be Christians.
Shrines are usually banned from random people. Almost all kids are banned from entry to shrines. It is to keep them safe from the
Shrines are usually banned from random people. Almost all kids are banned from entry to shrines. It is to keep them safe from the wrathful spirits. Sacrifices were offered in the past. However, presently, the same does not occur anymore.
The birth and death of a person are both marked by festivity in the native customs. The views of the natives regarding the afterlife are quite hopeful. A person passing away is not termed as the end but rather the soul taking the next boat. Going on just the next journey of their lives.
The first people of the Melanesian archipelagos are known by their cultural name of the Wantoks. They are also known as Melanesians.
Historically, the natives first inhabited the main islands of the archipelago. Starting their journey with agriculture and animal husbandry focused around pigs. Subsequently, as the migrants kept coming from Polynesian provinces, they inhabited the coastal regions. The newcomers were masters of ocean activities, from navigation to fishing.
Natives had a network of alliances among their distinct communities. It should be noted, despite having almost seventy ethnicities, a balance was kept. Then came the Europeans, and the rest is history. As has happened with the case of all indigenous cultures, they fade with time. Christian religions propagated by the missionaries took the place of native cultures. In fact, all is not lost in the wantok culture. For instance, people are still just as respectful of their elders and women. Additionally, the guests are given plenty of respect. If you find a chance to visit, I recommend that you definitely visit the Melanesian archipelago.