Oceania (Mission History)
In terms of population, Oceania has over time
received more foreign missionaries than any other
continent; there are now only a few people in the
Pacific who are not Christians. On many islands,
competition between different mission societies resulted
in local conflicts. Spanish Jesuits were the first to
land on the Marianas in 1668, and by 1710 they had
converted the entire population, which, however, had
been greatly reduced during the same period. Thereafter,
it took more than 100 years for Catholic missionaries to
gain a foothold in other parts of Oceania. Visit
for detailed information about Oceania.
James Cook's voyages opened the Pacific to a stream
of foreigners, including missionaries from Protestant
Europe. In 1796, the London Missionary Society began
missionary work in Tahiti and other Polynesian islands.
In the hierarchical societies, the transition to
Christianity in several cases took place under the
leadership of a chief, and missionaries exercised
considerable political influence. In the chiefless
Melanesian communities in the western part of Oceania,
missionaries gained a foothold only slowly in the 1800's
and 1900's, often using Polynesian missionaries; in the
highlands of New Guinea, missionary work did not begin
in earnest until after World War II.
Many of the 1800's British missionaries were artisans
and descended from the lower middle class. An exception
was the Anglican Mission in Melanesia, whose
predominantly academically educated members represented
a high-church Protestantism in close alliance with the
colonial state power.
Christian missionaries have played a crucial role in
Oceania's societal change, both in the destruction of
the people's cultural heritage and in the building of a
new cultural foundation, especially through education.
The missions have now been transformed into
self-governing, local (indigenous) churches. The Pacific
Conference of Churches was formed in 1966, and in most
states, churches are central to the development of
Oceania (Prehistory and History - Prehistoric
The pre-European societies in Oceania were unwritten
and consistently small. The Aborigines of Australia
lived in egalitarian groups, with only older men playing
a leading role. In most Melanesian village communities,
informal leaders competed for power and influence, but
in the Polynesian and Micronesian territories there was
an inherited hierarchy that in some places could take
the form of powerful principalities. As a result of
European influence, it developed in the 1800's states
with kings in Hawaii, Tahiti and Tonga.
Apart from Australia, where hunting and gathering
were the mainstays, the subsistence economy in Oceania
was based on root crops and tree crops combined with
fishing in coastal areas as well as in many places pig
farming and hunting. The technology was based on hand
power and rocks or shells from sea creatures. Draft
animals, cattle, grain and metals were first introduced
by Europeans. The wide spread of communities in diverse
natural environments led to political fragmentation and
a diversity of cultural forms of adaptation, but at the
same time, within larger regions, social and cultural
communities were created based on trade and marriage
exchanges. A famous example is the ceremonial sphere
exchange system, which integrated the Trobriands and
other islands NE of New Guinea into a community.
Oceania (Prehistory and History - War and Bomb
World War II strengthened Oceania's strategic and
economic importance. The populations of colonies in
Melanesia and Micronesia were involuntarily involved in
the fighting between Japan and the allied powers led by
the United States, while the southeastern Melanesian and
many of the Polynesian islands served as supply and base
areas. For the first time, the people of Oceania became
acquainted with an incredible material wealth and met
with human respect and sympathy among the many foreign
soldiers, which stimulated the desire for independence.
Since World War II, the United States, Britain, and
France have conducted more than 250 nuclear tests on
coral islands in Micronesia and Polynesia. The United
States and Britain stopped the experiments in 1963,
while France continued despite international protests.
French Polynesia, Territoire de la Polynésie Française, French
colony in the Pacific Ocean, includes four major archipelagos; a total of 4167
km2, 245,500 residents (2002). The archipelagos are located in
NW-SE-oriented, parallel rows. All the islands are of volcanic origin, formed
over so-called hot spots during the migration of the overlying Pacific plate to
the west. Many of the volcanic islands were later modified into atolls by
sinking into the subsoil, by water level changes and through coral growth.
The climate of the islands is generally marine-tropical, but the
precipitation varies greatly from island to island. The capital Papeete in
Tahiti gets over 2000 mm a year, while the lower islands and the islands near
the tropics are dry. The largest seasonal differences are due to the
displacement of the trade wind system.
The population is Polynesian, linguistically divided into 5-6 Polynesian
languages, of which Tahitian is the most widespread; it works alongside French
as a common language.
The settlements are predominantly gathered in villages whose population often
belongs to one or quite a few kinship groups. Due to mosquito infestation, the
cultivated areas on the atolls, especially in the case of sumptaro, are far from
On most islands, agriculture and fishing are still the main occupations. A
large part of the production, eg bananas, pineapple and taro, is used for
self-sufficiency. For export, coconut is grown and processed into coconut
oil. Local fishing is also for local supply, while high seas fishing is almost
entirely in foreign hands and export-oriented. The main exports are cultured
pearls and coconut oil. Tourism stands at approximately 150,000 visitors a year for a
third of foreign exchange earnings. In addition, there are significant subsidies
from France and the military activities, including the nuclear test sites at
The companion islands have over half the population and consist of
two groups: Îles du Vent (the islands on the windward side, ie in the east,
where the trade winds come from) and Îles sous le Vent (the islands on the
leeward side). The first include the main island of Tahiti (1042 km2;
152,000 residents (2001)) with high mountains (Mont Orohena, 2237 m), the
capital Papeete and Faa International Airport. The second group consists of five
major volcanic islands, Raiatea and Bora Bora.
To the SW are the Tubuai or Austral Islands, a 1300 km
long series of volcanic islands and atolls; approximately 6386 residents (2002). The
capital is Mataura on Tubuai.
The Tuamotu Islands are located NE of Tahiti and include 78 atolls
in two long rows; a total of 690 km2 with 15,973 residents (2002)
incl. The Gambier Islands towards the SE. Particularly well known are Muroroa
and Fangataufa, which since 1964 have been used for nuclear weapons tests.
The Marquesas Islands are furthest to the NE and consist of ten
islands; 1049 km2, 8712 residents (2002). The main island is
Nukuhiva. These islands play an important role in Polynesian folklore.
The first people to settle in the eastern Polynesian area that now forms
French Polynesia came from Samoa and Tonga in western Polynesia. The Marquesas
Islands were populated approximately 200 BC, and from here people spread to the
Society Islands and other archipelagos. For the same reason, all the peoples of
the East Polynesian area are historically and culturally closely related.
Before Europeans came to the area, Polynesian communities were hierarchically
organized and led by local chiefs. Wars between districts with competing chiefs
and religious ceremonies in honor of the gods occupied an important place in the
lives of the communities.
The visits of British and French sailors to Tahiti in the late 1700's, such as
Samuel Wallis' in 1767, Louis Antoine de Bougainvilles in 1768 and James Cooks
in 1769, as well as the arrival of Christian missionaries in 1797, had decisive
consequences for development.
A single chieftain family, Pomare in Tahiti, was able to overcome rivals and
found a monarchy thanks to the support of the Europeans. The Christian
missionaries, however, still had great political influence.
Disputes between rival British and French interests led in 1842 to the
creation of a French protectorate. In 1880, France finally annexed the islands
under the name Établissements français de l'Océanie (EFO).
Due to the growing opposition of the Polynesians to colonial rule, France had
to reorganize the EFO in 1957 under the name French Polynesia; in 1977 the area
gained limited autonomy.
In 1963, France decided to transfer its nuclear tests from North Africa to
the Muroroa Atoll in French Polynesia. The Polynesians thus became heavily
dependent on the newly built administrative and supply apparatus. Their former
subsistence-oriented lives came to rest predominantly on wage labor and market
Although the Polynesian people of French Polynesia are working to gain more
control over their own lives, they are bound to France in a strong dependency