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Build your guide

Select your chapters, build your own digital guide to Oceania: Early encounters, and then download or email it.

Start now

People of the sea

The first people arrived in Australia and New Guinea more than 40,000 years ago – the beginning of human exploration of the Pacific Ocean. Many millennia would pass before anyone developed the knowledge and technology to journey further across the vast sea.

Then, about 5,000 years ago, seafaring peoples began to move eastwards, probably from South-east Asia. Over the next several thousand years, they gradually settled almost every habitable island of the Pacific. With them, they took their beliefs, cultural practices, languages, animals, and plants.

From these closely related peoples developed the many diverse, and interconnected, societies that live in the Pacific today.

In this chapter:

  • Model drua (sailing canoe)
    Epic voyages

    Thousands of years ago, when most seafarers were hugging the world's coasts, Pacific peoples were exploring a watery wilderness.

  • Malangan mask
    Living ancestors

    Throughout time, Pacific peoples have traced their lineage back to ancestors and gods, honouring their memory with beautiful carvings.

  • Civavonovono (Breast plate)
    Pacific made

    After a 3,000 year history, Pacific peoples are culturally similar and yet distinct – as reflected in their arts and technologies.