Sahul: Historical Answer of Melanesian’s Span

When we are trying to map the span of Melanesian descents which include the West Papua of Indonesia, many studies from the early days of European explorations up to now have been conducted. It has evolved and changed from physical distinctions, to cultural heritage. The truth is, it’s not easy to make the clear delineation of how far the extend of Melanesian descents have spread. Studies even have shown that most Indonesians even have the Melanesian genes. So where does it start and ends? What is this sahul about?

Melanesia is a sub-region of Oceania. Melanesia begins with New Guinea in the Northwest, and continues up to the Southeast through Solomon Island (Vanuatu), New Caledonia, and Fiji, which includes numerous small islands. The Andesite Line separates Melanesia from Polynesia in the East and from Micronesia in the North, along the Equator in the South. They are the indigenous people themselves are the ethno-geographic group of the Pacific Islands. The name Melanesia itself derived from the Grecian word of melas, which means black and nesoi which means islands. This suggests that the people have the same physical characteristics of having dark skin.

Indonesian flag with its territory. Via

The people of Melanesia have a distinctive ancestry. Along with the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia, they are believed to derive from the Proto-Australoids who emigrated from Africa between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago and dispersed along the southern edge of Asia, giving rise to Australoid populations in various places, including South India, Sri Lanka, the Andaman Islands, the Philippines, and others.

The limit of this ancient migration was Sahul, the continent formed when Australia and New Guinea were united by a land bridge as a result of low sea levels. The first migration into Sahul came over 40,000 years ago. A further expansion into the eastern islands of Melanesia came much later, probably between 4000 B.C. and 3000 B.C.Particularly along the north coast of New Guinea and in the islands north and east of New Guinea, the Austronesian people, who had migrated into the area somewhat more than 3,000 years ago, came into contact with these pre-existing populations of Papuan-speaking peoples.

In the late 20th century, some scholars theorized a long period of interaction, which resulted in many complex changes in genetics, languages, and culture among the peoples. This Polynesian theory, however, is contradicted by the findings of a genetic study published by Temple University in 2008. It found that neither Polynesians nor Micronesians have much genetic relation to Melanesians. It appeared that, having developed their sailing outrigger canoes, the ancestors of the Polynesians migrated from East Asia, moved through the Melanesian area quickly on their way, and kept going to eastern areas, where they settled. They left little genetic evidence in Melanesia.

Suffice to say that the span of Melanesia, up until today, have been identified in many regions of the world. To make a whole map which includes the genetic descendants would resulted in a map which includes a large part of the world. We can imagine how Melanesian map would include most of Indonesia, moreover West Papua.


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