Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/23

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CHAPTER I.

INTRODUCTORY.

There are four groups of islands, within that region of the Western Pacific to which the name of Melanesia has been given, that form a curved belt following roughly the outline of the Australian coast, at a general distance of some fifteen hundred miles, and turning away from the important outlying Archipelago of Fiji; these are the Solomon Islands, the Santa Cruz group, the Banks' Islands and New Hebrides, and New Caledonia with the Loyalty Islands. There is an undoubted connexion of race, language and customs among the people who inhabit these groups; a connexion which further extends itself throughout what is called Melanesia to New Guinea westwards, and eastwards to Fiji. The distinction between the Melanesian people of these groups and the Polynesians eastwards of Fiji is clearly marked and recognised, for the line which separates Melanesian from Polynesian falls between Fiji and Tonga. No such line can be drawn to mark such a boundary to the west till the Asiatic continent itself is reached. From the Polynesian islands of the East Pacific on the one side, and from the Asiatic islands of the Malay Archipelago on the other, two currents of influence have poured and are pouring into Melanesia, the former much more modern and direct, the latter ancient and broken in its course. Upon these currents float respectively the kava root and the betel-nut. The use of the betel is common to India, China, and the Melanesian islands as far to the east as Tikopia; the Polynesian kava has established itself in the New Hebrides, and is a novelty in some of the Banks' Islands; it has not been carried across