The Pacific, 700-1980 CE General Concepts

Topic 1: General Concepts

  • The Pacific Ocean covers one third of the earth's surface and contains approximately 1,500 inhabited islands, many widely separated from one another. Humans migrated eastward into this vast region from Asia. Papuan-speaking peoples entered the region via a land bridge as long as 30,000 years ago. People of the Lapita culture began their migration eastward across the ocean from the region of Vanuatu approximately 4,000 years ago. The cultural areas now known as Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia all share ties to this culture, as seen through the movement of plants, animals, and pottery styles. As their ability to cross the ocean demonstrates, Pacific cultures possessed highly developed navigational skills; the navigational charts made from wood and plant fibers in the Marshall Islands reflect this tradition.

  • The cultures of the Pacific traditionally produced art objects using natural materials such as wood, bone, feathers, shell, and plant fibers, as well as stone. Some objects were created to embody the history of a community or group, or to proclaim the status of the owner or maker. The meaning or context of these objects often relates them to ancestors, leaders, or culture heroes.

  • Many art objects were produced for wear - as in the case of costumes and tattoos - or for use in displays or performances; these may involve many art forms used in combination, such as dances and chants, even scents. In these cases it is generally the performance or display that carries meaning, rather than the individual object. The exchange and even destruction of objects may play a role in these performances.

  • The concept of mana, referring to the vital force or spirit of a community or individual, is important in Pacific cultures. Mana is protected by elaborate rules, as well as by the practice of tapu, the use of ritual coverings to shield or protect the mana of a person or object.

Related Links:
The Pacific Quiz
Architecture and Monumental Sculpture
AP Art History Quizzes
AP Art History Notes