The History of Melanesia in Indonesia

The Ministry of Education and Culture held a Melanesian Cultural Festival with the theme of “Celebrating Cultural Diversity of Melanesian World”. This celebration is held through various cultural agenda and discussions in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, on 26-30 October 2015. In that festival, Truman Simanjuntak gace his insights about Melanesia. Truman is a research professor from the National Archaeological Center, which was granted Sarwono Awards from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. According to the renowned Archaeologist, the Pacific has a historical and cultural links with Indonesia. The area was inhabited by early modern humans since 60,000 years ago.

Melanesia Indonesia
Papuan children holding Indonesia flag.

The people of Melanesia are widely characterized by black and curly hair. Melanesia is derived from the Greek word melas, which means black and nesos which means islands. Since 60000-30000 years ago, most of Indonesia was inhabited by early modern humans. They began to inhabit the caves, which is a new lifestyle that is not encountered in previous civilizations. In addition to inhabiting the caves, they also meet their basic needs by hunting and gathering, making tools from stone and had known fireplace. They also left trail their civilization through cave paintings, and practiced conception of faith such as burial for the dead at the end of the Pleistocene period.

Truman revealed that over the 60,000 years, until now, the lives of Melanesians in Indonesia have been nuanced with four factors. First, the arrival of early modern humans, or Homo sapiens, the distant ancestors of Melanesians. The findings in the Song Terus cave, Central Java, showed that they already know fire from 39,000 to 18,000 years ago. While in a cave in Maros, they had eternalized their civilization with rock paintings in the form of molds palms dating 40,000 years ago.

Still in the same cave, archaeologists also found a picture of hog deer figures, an animal typical of Sulawesi which was made by people of the Melanesian culture at 35,000 years ago. Secondly, at the end of the ice age about 12,000 years ago, the rise of sea level caused the human diaspora. Thirdly, the arrival of the mongolid race and acculturation around 4,300 years ago when the Austronesian inhabited Indonesia. They were aggressive, accomplished in the voyage, and occupied the islands. The evidences showed that about 3,500 years ago they were evenly distributed throughout Indonesia. Then the fourth, the Mongoloid race and Melanesid race were mixed when Indonesia became independent.

From the archaeological evidence, there is a shift of settlement that had resulted in the shift of the settlement map of the two races. The continuous interaction process of showed that the Australomelanesid race, now more commonly known as the Melanesians, are clustered in the eastern part of Indonesia.

On the development, the Mongolids (Austronesians) inhabit the western part of Indonesia, while the Austromelanesids gradually inhabit eastern Indonesia. There’s interaction in these two populations. The interaction is not only cultural but also biological, there’s harmony and is intermarriage.

However, the migration of Austronesian speakers did not reach the inlands of Papua. Hence, the more original Melanesian characteristics are more commonly found in the inlands of Papua. Apparently, one of the reasons is that there was already a powerful civilization that previously inhabited Papua, such as farming since 9,000 years ago, draining swamps and planting sugar cane. There is also an opinion that says, they used to live on the beach and was not accustomed to living in the inlands.

Although the eastern parts of Indonesia have more Melanesian occupants, Maluku is more Austronesian than Flores. This is because the Austronesian speakers have an advanced sailing technology and Maluku is more accessible and strategic.



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