The islands known as Melanesia lie to the north and east of Australia. Together the three independent nations and two dependant colonies form one of the most culturally complex regions in the world, with some 1,293 languages spoken across the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and New Guinea. It is also a region of great antiquity with New Guinea having been settled for about 45,000 years, the Solomon Islands 35,000 and Vanuatu and New Caledonia for about 4,000 years.
Throughout Melanesia, people still live as they always have, in small scale societies often without strong leadership systems. Instead, communities are bound by family ties and that of complex trade and exchange networks. Trade routes link distant communities, and trading canoe voyages can cover extensive distances. The daily round of crop growing, hunting, and in coastal areas, of fishing, is enriched by many rituals. These often involve the production of intricate carvings and body decorations. Melanesians do not worship gods in a general sense, but acknowledge their ancestors, spirits and other beings that share their landscape.
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