Significant Spaces: The Role of Marine Ecosystems in Pacific Island Cultures

Paul D'Arcy


Recent scholarship on the collapse of Rapanui (Easter Island) society as a result of self-inflicted environmental degradation has inadvertently raised the international profile of Pacific islands as small, bounded and vulnerable ecosystems. The history of Rapanui is not typical however. Most of the inhabitants of Remote Oceania were not bound by the sea, but rather embraced it as both habitat and pathway to resources and opportunities beyond their home islands.

Academic neglect of the sea as a factor in Pacific history ignores its central role in islander actions and narratives. Before the imposition of colonial rule, islanders spent much time in and on the ocean, drawing sustenance from it, mapping it, fighting over it, and deriving a sense of identity from it. Such a world created a wider sense of community and belonging.

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