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one of three large divisions of Pacific islands, 1840, from a continental language, from melano- + nesos "island" (see Chersonese) + -ia. Modeled after Polynesia and meant to signify "the islands inhabited by blacks."
La Melanesia comprende la grande isola Australia, e quelle degli arcipelaghi di Salomone, di Lapèrouse, di Quiros, e dei gruppi della Nuova Caledonia, di Norfolk, e della Diemenin. A cagione dei Neri Oceanici, che, quasi esclusivamente, ne popolano le regioni, questa parte della Oceania ebbe dai moderni geografi e viaggiatori (il Graberg, il Rienzi, il d'Urville, ec.) il nome di Melanesia. ["Corso di Geografia Universale," Firenze, 1839]
the beliefs and practices of the indigenous peoples of the ethnogeographic group of Pacific Islands known as Melanesia. From northwest to southeast, the islands form an arc that begins with New Guinea (the western half of which is called Papua and is part of Indonesia, and the eastern half of which comprises the independent country of Papua New Guinea) and continues through the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides), New Caledonia, Fiji, and numerous smaller islands. The Andesite Line, a geological feature of extreme volcanic and earthquake activity, separates Melanesia from Polynesia in the east and from Micronesia in the north, along the Equator; in the south, Melanesia is bounded by the Tropic of Capricorn and Australia. Melanesia's name was derived from the Greek melas 'black' and nesoi 'islands' because of the dark skin of its inhabitants. In the early 21st century, the population of Melanesia was approximately 10 million.