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Island group, scattered across a huge triangular area of the east-central Pacific Ocean. A subdivision of Oceania, Polynesia includes New Zealand, Hawaii, Samoa, the Line Islands, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, the Phoenix Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna, Pitcairn Island, and Easter Island. Fiji is sometimes included because of its Polynesian population. The islands are mostly small coral atolls; some are of volcanic origin. Most of the inhabitants are Polynesians, some of whom might be related to the Malay. Their languages belong to a subfamily of the Austronesian languages. Contact with European culture began in the late 1700s with the arrival of Spanish explorers, which radically altered life in Polynesia. Colonizers, imposing Western belief systems and cultural ways, effectively wiped out local traditions and customs. Present-day Samoa and Tonga retain more of the traditional culture than the other islands.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Polynesia, visit Britannica.com.