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A view of Maitavie Bay, with canoes and people in foreground and sailing ships behind. There is blue sky and mountainous landscape and sunshine on calm water.
A view of Maitavie Bay, William Hodges

Our sea of islands

Dr Epeli Hau’ofa (1939-2009) wrote:

We are ‘ocean peoples’ because our ancestors, who had lived in the Pacific for over 2000 years, viewed their world as a ‘sea of islands’, rather than ‘islands in a far sea’ (Hau’ofa, 1993)

Here is a quick exercise to give you a perspective on the size of the Pacific ocean. Go to Google Earth.

Why not start by finding Aotearoa/New Zealand, where our lead educator Jo Walsh is from? Then try finding Guam, Fiji, Hawaii and Rapanui to give you an idea of the spread of islands. You could also look for Tahiti, where Cook was first instructed to sail to observe the Transit of Venus. You can zoom in and out and scroll across the ocean to get a sense of how vast the ocean is and how far apart the islands are.

Pacific Ocean facts and figures

  • The Pacific Ocean received its European name from Ferdinand Magellan in the 16th century – pacific means peaceful.

  • The Pacific Ocean covers MORE than 30% of the earth’s surface and the ocean basin is larger than ALL the world’s land masses COMBINED taking up approximately 155million square kilometres of the earth.

  • There are 25,000 islands in the Pacific.

  • Populations have been split into socially-constructed western created regions called Polynesia (‘many islands’), Melanesia (‘black islands’) and Micronesia (‘small islands’).

  • In Melanesia, 85% of the population are rural and has the largest number of cultures / associated languages.

  • In Polynesia and Micronesia 25% live in urban / city areas.

  • Polynesia has the largest number of nations.

  • The countries in the Pacific are a diverse array of environments, from Papua New Guinea’s massive mountains to the atolls and lagoons of Tahiti and the Cook Islands to the urban jungles of Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand.

  • The population of the Pacific is roughly 0.05% of the earth’s population.

  • There are 14 independent states including, in order of population: Australia, Papua New Guinea, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanatu, Samoa, Kiribati, Tonga, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Nauru and Tuvalu within a total 22 small island countries.

  • There are approximately 1400 distinct languages spoken; a quarter of the worlds languages come from within the Pacific.

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This article is from the free online course:

Confronting Captain Cook: Memorialisation in museums and public spaces

National Maritime Museum