American Samoa, comprised of five volcanic islands and two coral atolls, is home to 55,000 people, whose primary language is Samoan. More than 90 percent of the land is communally owned. American Samoa is a self-governing territory of the U.S. headed by second-term Governor Lolo Letalu Matalasi Moliga. In 2008, the country hosted the 10th FESTPAC, with the theme, “Suʻigaʻula: Threading the Oceania `Ula.”
The Commonwealth of Australia, the largest nation in Oceania, is made up of the continent of Australia, the island of Tasmania and many smaller islands. The country is a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy, headed by Queen Elizabeth II and governed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Governor-General Peter Cosgrove. In 1988, Australia hosted the 5th FESTPAC in Townsville, with the aim of making “Dreamtime” a rebirth for all Pacific peoples. The Aboriginal peoples of Australia are believed to have the oldest continuous culture on Earth.
The Cook Islands encompass 15 islands in the South Pacific. With a population of 17,000, this self-governing parliamentary democracy, headed by Prime Minister Henry Puna, has a free association relationship with New Zealand, where a large community of Cook Islanders reside. The country’s official languages are English and Cook Island Maori. Named for British explorer Captain James Cook, who visited in the 1770s, Cook Islands is seeking a name change that would better honor its indigenous roots. In 1992, Cook Islands hosted the 6th FESTPAC, which celebrated the ocean-voyaging heritage of Oceania.
Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, which is made up of three extinct volcanoes, is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world. Renowned for its more than 900 moai, or monumental stone statues carved by its original inhabitants, Rapa Nui was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995. A territory of Chile, with 7,800 people, Rapa Nui is headed by Governor Tarita Alarcón Rapu. Spanish is the official language but the indigenous Rapa Nui language is undergoing a revitalization.
FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA (FSM)
The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is an independent republic comprising the states of Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap, which share long-standing economic and cultural ties. The country, headed by President Peter Christian, encompasses 607 high islands and coral atolls. Although English is the country’s official language, Chuukese, Kosraean, Pohnpeian and Yapese are also recognized. Beginning in the 1970s, the late Mau Piailug, a pwo (master) navigator from Yap, helped Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders revive their remarkable traditions of oceanic navigation and voyaging.
The Republic of Fiji hosted the first FESTPAC in 1972 and will welcome it again in 2024. Fiji is made up of 332 islands in Melanesia, 110 of which are permanently inhabited. Fijian, English and Hindustani are the official languages of this parliamentary republic, headed by President Jioji Konousi Konrote and Prime Minister Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama. The University of the South Pacific, an international center for teaching and research on Pacific cultures and environment, has its main campus in the Fijian capital of Suva.
FRENCH POLYNESIA (TAHITI)
French Polynesia is made up of 118 islands and atolls, divided into five archipelagos – the Society Islands, Tuamotu Archipelago, Gambier Islands, Marquesas Islands and the Austral Islands. Tahiti, in the Society Islands, hosted the 4th FESTPAC in 1985. It is the country’s largest and most densely populated island. French Polynesia is an overseas collectivity of France, headed by President Edouard Fritch, with French as its official language.
Guam hosted the 12th FESTPAC in 2016, with the theme, “What we own, what we have, what we share, united voices of the Pacific.” Guam’s indigenous people, the Chamorro, settled in the region approximately 3,500 years ago. English and Chamorro are the official languages. The Governor of Guam, Lou Leon Guerrero, is the first Pacific Islander woman elected to serve as a U.S. state or territorial governor.
Hawaiʻi is the host of the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture (FESTPAC). Hawaiʻi’s theme, “E kū i ka hoe uli,” encourages all to steer their own course. Hawaiʻi’s population resides on the eight main islands of the Hawaiian archipelago comprised of more than 130 islands and coral atolls. Governor David Ige is the head of this 50th state. In the 1970s, Hawaiian cultural traditions underwent a transformative revival in music, dance, navigation and language. Hawaiian and English are the official languages of the state.
The Republic of Kiribati, a sovereign state in Micronesia, includes 32 atolls and reef islands, as well as a raised coral island. It is the only country in the world that straddles all four hemispheres. The majority of Kiribati’s 116,000 residents live in the capital of South Tarawa. The official languages of Kiribati, a parliamentary republic headed by President Taneti Mamau, are Kiribati and English. The country is exceedingly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Each year, its islands are swamped by King tides. In 1999, two uninhabited islets disappeared into the ocean.
REPUBLIC OF MARSHALL ISLANDS
29 atolls, encompassing 1,156 islands and islets, make up the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The islands include Bikini atoll, where the U.S. conducted 23 nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s, and Enewetak, where the U.S. dropped its first hydrogen bomb in 1952. The country’s official languages are Marshallese and English. The Marshall Islands, which operates under a mixed parliamentary-presidential system in free association with the U.S., is headed by President Hilda Heine, the country’s first female president. In 2011, the Marshall Islands designated the world’s largest shark sanctuary, comprising 768,000 square miles, an area four times the size of California.
The Republic of Nauru, an 8.1 square mile island in Micronesia, was originally rich with phosphate minerals, but rampant strip mining led to its eventual depletion. Mining also devastated Nauru’s land and oceans, leaving the island more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. President Baron Waqa heads Nauru, a unitary parliamentary republic, whose official language is Nauruan. The indigenous people of Nauru come from 12 different tribes, symbolized by the 12-pointed star on its national flag.
New Caledonia in Melanesia is a special collectivity of France. The archipelago is home to the indigenous Kanak people, who account for 40 percent of the country’s population of 278,000. New Caledonia has exceptional biodiversity in its flora and fauna, such as the iconic nautilus, found in its offshore waters. The country, whose official language is French, is headed by President Philippe Germain. “Words of yesterday, today, tomorrow” was the theme of the 8th FESTPAC hosted by New Caledonia in 2000.
NEW ZEALAND (AOTEAROA)
New Zealand hosted the 2nd FESTPAC in 1976, with the theme “Sharing Culture.” The sovereign island country is made up of two main islands and 600 smaller islands in the southwestern Pacific. Known as Aotearoa in Māori, New Zealand is a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy, headed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. English, Māori and New Zealand sign language are its official languages. The nation’s geographic isolation gave rise to a number of endemic species, such as the flightless kiwi bird and tuatara reptile. New Zealand is at the forefront environmental conservation, developing innovative ways to combat the threat of invasive species. In 2019, it expanded Kahurangi National Park by 14 percent, to better protect species such as the kaka bird, bats and giant land snails.
At 104 square miles, Niue is one of the largest coral islands in the world, with an estimated population of 1,600. It is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand, where the majority of Niueans live. Premier Toke Talagi heads the Cabinet of Ministers that governs internal affairs. Agriculture plays a central role in the economy, and Niue has patented its distinctive species of pink taro, which it exports to New Zealand and Australia. By 2020, Niue aims to become the world’s first fully organic nation.
Norfolk Island is one of Australia’s external territories, located between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. The country harbors a bounty of native animals and plants, including the Norfolk pine, one of its key exports. The official language is English, but residents speak Norf’k, a creole of 18th-century English and Tahitian, which traces back to its 1856 settlement by Pitcairn Islanders. The Administrator of Norfolk Island, appointed by the Governor-General of Australia, is Eric Hutchinson. There is a growing movement on Norfolk to become fully self-governing due to its roots in the Polynesian language and culture.
COMMONWEALTH OF THE NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS
The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), is made up of 14 islands, forged by underwater volcanoes along the Marianas Trench. CNMI, with Guam, constitutes the westernmost point and territory in the U.S. The majority of residents live on the three main islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota. Researchers have discovered that Southeast Asians settled on Tinian 3,500 years ago, establishing the first human settlement in the Pacific. Governor Ralph Torres is the territorial head of CNMI, and its official languages are English, Chamorro and Carolinian.
The Republic of Palau comprises around 340 islands and atolls, and has a population of 20,000. The country’s official languages are Palauan and English. A presidential representative democratic republic in free association with the U.S., Palau is headed by two-time President Tommy Remengesau. In 2004, the country hosted FESTPAC, with the theme, “Oltobed a Malt – Nurture, Regenerate, Celebrate.” Palau is a global leader in marine conservation. It created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, and designated nearly 80 percent of its territorial waters as a marine preserve.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Papua New Guinea, which includes the eastern half of New Guinea and its neighboring islands in Melanesia, has a population of 8.25 million. While the country’s official languages are English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu, more than 850 languages are spoken there. In 1980, the nation hosted the 3rd FESTPAC, “A Celebration of Pacific Awareness.” Papua New Guinea is a constitutional monarchy and member of the Commonwealth of Nations, headed by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. The nation is considered one of the most biologically and culturally diverse countries in the world. Scientists estimate that half of Papua New Guinea’s plants and animals have yet to be discovered.
Pitcairn Island is the only inhabited island among the Pitcairn Islands and the only British overseas territory in the South Pacific. Its 50 residents are largely descended from the British mutineers and Tahitian men and women from the HMS Bounty that settled there in 1790. Residents today speak English and Pitkern, a creole with roots in 18th-century English and Tahitian. In 2015, the British government designated one of the world’s largest marine protected areas in the waters around the Pitcairn Islands.
The Independent State of Samoa is made up of two main and four smaller islands. Upolu, the main island, is home to the capital of Apia, and to nearly 75 percent of Samoa’s 198,000 people. In 1996, Apia hosted the 7th FESTPAC, with the theme “Tala Measina, Unveiling our Culture, Arts and Traditions.” This unitary parliamentary democracy, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, is headed by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Maleilegaoi, with Samoan and English as its official languages. The majority of Samoaʻs electricity comes from renewable resources, and the country aims to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2021.
Solomon Islands hosted the 11th FESTPAC in 2012, with the theme “Culture in Harmony with Nature.” The country encompasses six major islands and more than 900 smaller islands in Melanesia. It is a constitutional monarchy, with Governor-General Frank Kabui and Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela representing Queen Elizabeth II. English is the official language, but the majority of people speak Solomon Pijin, a creole. Solomon Islands also includes some islands with distinctly Polynesian cultures.
Tokelau is the first nation to be fully powered by renewable energy. The self-administering territory of New Zealand is comprised of three coral atolls in the southern Pacific. Its official languages are Tokelauan and English. Tokelau is headed by Administrator Ross Adern and Head of Government Afega Gaualofa. About 1,500 people call Tokelau home, but many Tokelauans live and work in New Zealand.
Tonga is an archipelago of 169 islands in Polynesia. The country has remained a sovereign state throughout its history and is taking steps to become a constitutional monarchy. Tonga is ruled by King Tupou VI, a direct descendant of the country’s first monarch, and governed by Prime Minister ʻAkilisi Pohiva. The official languages are Tongan and English. The state religion is the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, which exerts a powerful influence on everyday life. The majority of the country’s 107,000 people live on Tongatapu, the main island, while a growing number live abroad, primarily in the U.S., Australia or New Zealand.
Tuvalu consists of three reef islands and six coral atolls. Approximately 11,000 people live in this parliamentary democracy, headed by Governor-General Sir Iakoba Italeli and Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga. The official languages are Tuvaluan and English. Tuvalu is especially vulnerable to rising oceans, with its highest point measuring just 15 feet above sea level. The country has become a global leader in highlighting the devastating impacts of climate change on its low-lying islands.
The Republic of Vanuatu is an archipelago of 82 volcanic islands in the south Pacific. The country encompasses several active volcanoes along with lush rainforests, designated as a distinct terrestrial ecoregion. Vanuatu’s marine life is especially abundant, with more than 4,000 species of marine mollusks. The country is a parliamentary democracy, headed by President Tallis Obed Moses and Prime Minister Charlot Salwai. The official languages are Bislama, an English-based Melanesian pidgin, along with English and French. There are 113 indigenous languages spoken in the country. A large majority of Vanuatu residents live in rural villages and rely on subsistence agriculture.
WALLIS & FUTUNA
The Territory of Wallis and Futuna Islands is an overseas collectivity of France, comprising three main volcanic islands and numerous small islets. Wallis Island is named for British Captain Samuel Wallis, who landed there in 1767; Futuna derives from “futu,” the name of a toxic tree (Barringtonia asiatica), whose ground seeds were used to stun and capture fish. Wallis and Futuna is a parliamentary democracy, headed by David Verge, President of the Territorial Assembly. The country also elects two regional kings – the king of Sigave and the king of Alo – to serve alongside the French governmental authorities. French is the nation’s official language.
Taiwan is home to 16 recognized indigenous tribes, each with its own traditions and language. These aboriginal peoples, with an estimated total population of 500,000, are Austronesian, tracing their roots to Southeast Asia. Many historical linguists consider Taiwan to be the cradle of the Austronesian language family, making its original inhabitants the linguistic cousins of Hawaiians. Taiwan’s indigenous tribes are seeking to preserve their language and traditions amid mounting pressures to assimilate. While nominally represented in government, they have taken the lead on environmental issues, such as protesting the overharvesting of native timber.