No region of the Pacific is more diverse in terms of languages, ethnic groups, and culture than Melanesia. The islands of Melanesia comprise the largest islands in the Pacific, and in the case of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and West Papua, the second largest island in the world.
In terms of language it is estimated that PNG contains 12% of the world’s languages which includes about 848 Indigenous languages, Tok Pisin, a creole language; and English. Other island nations such as Kanakay New Caledonia have 30 Indigenous languages as well as French; Vanuatu has about 100 Indigenous languages, the creole language Bislama, French, and English; the Solomon Islands contains about 120 Indigenous languages, their own Tok Pisin, and English; while in Fiji the local language is Fijian, there are many dialects, and because of its location at the crossroads of Polynesia and Melanesia there are communities from different parts of the Pacific, additionally Fijian Hindi is spoken by the Indian population, and English is also an official language.
With the exception of Fiji and Kanaky New Caledonia, most historical papers in the Pacific collection came from the early to mid-twentieth century. This may reflect a couple of realities. One: the colonization of Melanesia and introduction of mass printing occurred toward the end of the nineteenth century beginning of the twentieth century and two: collection of papers from this part of the Pacific on the part of the Pacific collection began in the 60’s and 70’s.
Weakness of holdings:
What this diversity has meant in terms of publishing newspapers, or at least those collected by Hamilton library’s Pacific collection, is that most newspapers are published in the colonial/administrative language of the island group. There are exceptions, such as PNG’s paper Won Tok, published in Tok Pisin or historic papers from Fiji published in the Fijian language.
This diversity of languages shouldn’t overshadow questions of power and money as they relate to who has access to publishing. This, combined with the regions linguistic diversity, and colonial history have made it more likely to see newspapers published primarily in colonial/administrative languages, which ironically (or not) can serve as a lingua franca for diverse language communities.
Strength of holdings:
With all of this in mind these papers provide a valuable insight into different Melanesian island groups/nations at particular points in history from pre-independence to the present, or in the case of West Papua and Kanaky New Caledonia, continued colonization. While little has been written about the history of newspapers in Melanesia, or their role in society, the holdings in the Pacific collection remain a rich source of information and context.