General Survey of the Races of Oceania

The position of the Pacific Ocean in history

Since the, Pacific ocean lies between the eastern and western portions of the inhabited earth, the inhabitants of its islands appear in a general survey as the instruments of an important ethnographical connection. From its western border we can follow Asiatic traces far towards the east in a gradual transition across the islands. They grow fainter as we go east, but some remain even in the most eastern islets of Polynesia, and some are found again on the opposite shore, especially in those districts of North-west America which are distinguished by points of agreement with Polynesia.

It has been pointed out in the first section of our introduction how closely the inhabitants of the Pacific islands are connected with the Americans by the stone-period civilization, which is common and fundamental to the eastern half of mankind, as well as by that inclusion in the Mongolian race, which applies to by far the greater part of them. This connection is one of the most important facts in the ethnographical distribution of the human race as it now exists.

It has been said that the key to the greatest problems of ethnography is to be found in America. If we can succeed in bringing the inhabitants of this the largest and most isolated island of the world into connection with the rest of mankind, then in any case the unity of the human race is established. But the connection can only be sought by way of the Pacific, for ancient America looks westward. From this side America must have been discovered long before the Northmen found their way to its shores from the east.

Map of the Races of Oceania and Australasia
[Click on picture for higher resolution (1.1Mb)

Pacific Islands wall map

Among the peculiarities of the inhabitants of Guanahani which most astonished Columbus, was their lack of iron, as he noted in his log-book as long ago as 13th October 1492. No subsequent discovery has succeeded in putting this significant fact of old American, and at the same time of Oceanian, ethnography in another light. With the exception of a strip in the north-west, which became acquainted with iron from Asia, America was, when discovered, still in the stone age. Even its more civilized races, while producing highly artistic work in gold, silver, copper, and bronze, use weapons and implements of stone.

When Africa was discovered by the Europeans it was manufacturing iron right away to the Hottentot country. The races of the Malay Archipelagowrought artistically in iron. In Northern Asia only one strip on the coast where their traffic was small was without iron. Thus the domain of the ironless races lies on the eastern border of the inhabited earth; it embraces Australia, the Pacific Islands, the Arctic region, and America.

Absence of iron implies limitation to the use of stone, bone, or wood, for imperfect weapons and utensils implies, too, exclusion from the possibility of such industrial progress as is based upon iron and steel. Within the line which includes the ironless races there is to be observed also the want of the most valuable domestic animals; oxen, buffaloes, sheep, goats, elephants, camels, are here unknown, and consequently there is no cattle-breeding.

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