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.


A guide-book to the study of Man and Civilization

WHEN the first edition of Ratzel’s Volkerkunde was published in 1885-88 it at once took its position as a guide-book to the study of Man and Civilization. To those beginning anthropological work it offered the indispensable outline sketches of the races of mankind, especially of the savage and barbaric peoples who display culture in its earlier stages, thus aiding the great modern nations to understand themselves, to weigh in a just balance their own merits and defects, and even in some measure to forecast from their own development the possibilities of the future. So good a judge as Professor Virchow wrote of the work on its first appearance, that since the time of Prichard and Waitz no such extensive attempt had been made to represent our knowledge of the lower races of mankind, immensely augmented as this has been by the researches of travellers, the exhibition of savages in Europe, and the information opened to the public by the great museums. The present English translation is from the second German edition of 1894-95, revised, and condensed from three to two volumes.

The Value of Illustrations

Special mention must be made of the illustrations, 1160 in number, which in excellence surpass those which had hitherto come within the range of any work on Man intended for general circulation. These, be it observed, are no mere book-decorations, but a most important part of the apparatus for realising civilization in its successive stages. They offer, in a way which no verbal description can attain to, an introduction and guide to the use of the museum collections on which the Science of Man comes more and more to depend in working out the theory of human development. Works which combine this material presentation of culture with the best descriptions by observant travellers, promote most the great object of displaying mankind as related together in Nature through its very variation. The Rev. J. G. Wood’s Natural History of Man and Dr. Robert Brown’s Races of Mankind have in this way done much to promote anthropology.

Classification of Peoples

The bodily differences between races can only, it is true, be represented by descriptions and well-chosen portraits, minute physical classification belonging to a region only accessible to anatomists. The classification of peoples by their languages can only be illustrated by examples chosen from the grammar and dictionary, so as to make plain the conclusions of comparative philology without the elaborate detail of a linguistic treatise. But a fuller though less technical treatment of the culture-side of human life lies more readily open. The material arts of war, subsistence, pleasure, the stages of knowledge, morals, religion, may be so brought to view that a compendium of them, as found among the ruder peoples, may serve not only as a lesson-book for the learner, but as a reference-book for the learned.


Index to the General Survey of the Races of Oceania

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

Map of Pacific Islands Groups

General Survey

  • The Position of the Pacific Ocean in History
  • The Indians of Columbus
  • Situation of America in the Inhabited World
  • Racial resemblances of the people of Oceania to Malays and Indians
  • Racial resemblances of the people of Oceania and America
  • Ethnographic Relationships
  • The great groups; Oceanians, Malays with Malagasies, Australians and Americans
  • The Malayo-Polynesians
  • Position of Japan and North-west America
  • The vacant space between Easter Island and Peru