In this essay, I examine the dominant representations of Melanesia as a place and Melanesians as peoples and how these have influenced understandings of and responses to contemporary developments in this subregion. I begin with an overview of the discourses that influenced the mapping of Oceania and the negative representations of Melanesians. These have, in turn, framed and influenced discourses about and relationships with Melanesia and Melanesians, including Melanesian perceptions of themselves and their relationships with others.
Against this background, my focus is on how Melanesians have recently appropriated the term “Melanesia” and are using it in positive, empowering, and progressive ways to mobilize, redefine, and re-present themselves. In the process, they have constructed a pan-Melanesian identity that embraces and celebrates the subregion’s ethno-linguistic and cultural diversities. This is manifested through the concepts of “the Melanesian Way” and “wantokism,” intergovernmental organizations such as the Melanesian Spearhead Group, the arts, and popular culture. Through all of these, Melanesians are “altering” the native and “re-presenting” what might be called the “ignoble savage.” This process and discourse constitute “Melanesianism.”