Melanesia is a tropical region and a part of a larger culture area called Oceania that includes Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia, and Australia.
The Melanesian people mostly inhabit the East of Papua New Guinea, they are also popularly called Papuans. Melanesia is made up of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (the former New Hebrides), New Caledonia, the islands of New Guinea, and some smaller neighboring islands.
Melanesians presently speak over 1,000 languages, which include pidgins and creole languages adapted from trade and socializing even long before the European occupation, however, history has it that they are of African origin. Between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago, they emigrated from Africa occupying regions across the southern edge of Asia.
Among Melanesians, a good number of them are referred to as Melanesian blondes because of a unique trait they possess; blond hair, dark skin.
Uncertainties about the blonds on black skin have been expressed through questions like “Are Melanesians black?”, “Are Melanesians Africans?”, “why do Melanesians look black?”
From historical accounts, the black blondes are actually Africans, and from scientific proofs, they didn’t derive their unique traits from inter-marriage with Caucasians as was initially believed by genetic experts and scientists until lately.
This initial belief comes as no surprise because, in the 19th century, Germans governed the Islands, in 1893, the United Kingdom declared the Southern Solomon Islands a protectorate, and not long the rest of the Island was taken by the British and Australians who would turn huge land masses to coconut plantations in the long run. It was only natural to believe that the unique trait was derived from mixing with white foreigners.
On the other hand, the locals insisted that they got their blond hair and black skin from fish-rich diets and exposure to the sun.
In 2012, research would howbeit prove these theories wrong. It turns out that the unique traits occurred as a result of a single genetic mutation.
“The human characteristic of blond hair arose independently in equatorial Oceania,” study researcher Eimear Kenny, a postdoctoral scholar at the Stanford University School of Medicine stated. “That’s quite unexpected and fascinating.”
Sean Myles, presently a professor at Nova Scotia Agricultural College and Nicholas Timpson who are both Kenny’s colleagues traveled to the Solomon Islands, where Myles, had earlier noticed an astonishing number of blonds.
“They have these very dark skin and bright blond hair. It was mind-blowing,” Myles stated. “As a geneticist on the beach watching the kids playing, you count up the frequency of kids with blond hair, and say, ‘Wow, it’s 5 to 10 percent.”
“That’s not very far off from the proportion of blond-haired people in Europe”, Kenny said.
The researchers had gathered saliva from 43 blonds and 42 dark-haired Solomon Islanders to examine for answers to the variation in the genes behind the different hair colors.
After a genome-wide analysis, surprisingly, the result is one which is rare in the world of genetics. It turns out a single trait can be influenced by dozens or more genes.
A gene called TYRP1, which resides on the ninth chromosome of human’s 23 pairs of chromosomes, is responsible for 46.4 percent of the variation in the Islanders’ hair color. The researchers found that a mutation in this gene affects an enzyme known to be involved in human pigmentation.
After another analysis of genomes from 52 humans from around the world, it was discovered that this mutation doesn’t appear in European genomes, in contrast, it seems to have developed independently and remained in the Melanesian population.