Melanesians are the predominant and indigenous inhabitants of Melanesia, a group of islands northeast of Australia. They are one of the few non-European people, and the only dark-skinned group of people known to have blond hair.
The melanesia islands comprises most of the islands immediately north and northeast of Australia, including the countries of Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Island, and New Caledonia. The name Melanesia was first used by Jules Dumont d’Urville in 1832 to denote an ethnic and geographical grouping of islands distinct from Polynesia and Micronesia.
Origin of the Melanesians
Melanesians are believed to be descendants of some Southeast Asian migrants. According to archaeological and linguistic evidences, the migration happened in two waves. First, the Papuan-speaking descendants arrived on the coasts of what is now Melanesia. Many years later, Austronesians joined the Papuan-speaking population and colonized the interior parts of the islands.
Mystery of their Blond Hair
Melanesians of some islands are one of the few non-European peoples, and the only dark-skinned group of people outside Australia, known to have blond hair.
Genetic experts and scientists have attributed the odd trait of the over half a million Melanesian people to inheritance – from the Europeans, particularly, the British, German and Australians, who have been associated with the island for several years.
But in 2012, it turned out that all these theories were false, as investigations revealed that the weird colour combination of the Melanesians was due to a random mutation.
The investigation carried by Bustamante and his colleagues compared the genomes of 43 blond and 42 dark-haired Solomon Islanders. This revealed that the blond hair was strongly associated with a single mutation in the TYRP1 gene, which encodes an enzyme that influences pigmentation in mice and humans. In Europeans, several genes are known to contribute to blond hair, but TYRP1 isn’t involved.
They compared DNA between more than 900 Solomon Islanders and 900 other people from 52 populations around the world to find that the TYRP1 mutation is probably unique to the Oceanic region that includes Melanesia. About one-quarter Solomon Islanders carry the recessive gene, so two copies are needed to have blond hair.
However, not all occurrences of blond hair are the result of this particular mutation, but researchers have predicted that it accounts for about 30% of cases. Another 16% are attributed to age and gender (young children and women are more likely to have blond hair), while the rest is attributed to sun exposure and other undiscovered genes.
The TYRP1 mutation is recessive gene and is more common in children than in adults, with hair tending to darken as the individual matures.
Way of life of the Melanesians
With its native people otherwise called Papuans, Melanesia includes the islands of New Guinea, Vanuatu (the former New Hebrides), New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, and some smaller neighbouring islands.
Melanesia currently has over 1,000 languages, with pidgins and creole languages developing from trade and cultural interaction centuries before European encounter.
Christianity is the main religion, with many missionaries across the area though some people still practice their native religions such as the belief in a variety of spirits that inhabit the forests, mountains, and swamps.
Melanasians typically live in homesteads and hamlets, as opposed to villages. This is a typical practice of coastal settlements, especially in the Pacific. These groups tend to have under 1,000 people in their community, and typically live in very close proximity to each-other, in case of any attacks against them. Many groups also reside far from the coast, and on mountains, ridges, and peaks which is essential for vegetation, hunting and daily island lifestyle and again helps protect them from potential island attacks.
In Melanesian culture, women are highly valued and cherished. Women are the ones who ensure their groups survival and cultivation. They are the major producers of agriculture in their groups, and also the chief administrators in domestic politics, healing and ritual, and all this in addition to maternity.