Agriculture is the basis of the economy of most of Oceania. Coffee, cocoa and copra are the main products. Tourism is expanding, whereas the once important phosphate industry is declining.
The greater part of the Oceania lies in the tropical belt of the trade winds, and the equatorial calms into which these blow. As the wind and pressure belts migrate, there is everywhere a long season of trade winds, followed by a shorter season of westerly winds and heavy rains.
The trade and anti-trade winds being blowing over the wide stretches of ocean, bring heavy rainfall, especially in the hilly and mountainous areas.
Such areas are covered under dense tropical forest of fern and other equatorial varieties. The hilly areas receive over 500 cms (200 inches) of rainfall.
In the Society Islands, the average annual rainfall is about 175 cms at sea level, while the island groups farther north, especially in Micronesia, suffer occasional but severe droughts.
The coastal areas are occupied by mangrove swamps. The temperature remains around 24°C and the climate in general very equable. The important contrasts are not in temperature but in humidity which varies from month to month and season to season.
These islands have very limited species of trees and vegetation. The only plants whose seeds can float without damage in sea water or can be carried by birds have been able to penetrate far into Oceania.
So far as the animal life is concerned Oceania lies east of the famous divide running between Bali and Lombok and Borneo and Celebes. This is known as the Wallace’s Line. Beyond this line, the higher mammals could not penetrate into Australasia and the Pacific Islands.
As stated above, Oceania has long been divided into the three main regions as discussed below:
The islands of the western Pacific consisting essentially of the arc of island chains from New Guinea to Fiji which swing round from New Guinea roughly parallel to the Australian coast up to about 1,600 kms to the east
Melanesian society consists at characteristically small independent groups headed by a headman—a self-made political leader who gained power by aligning followers.
Melanesia receives its name from the appearance of its native inhabitants, who are darker and more Negroid in appearance than the people of South-East Asia or of Polynesia.
The Polynesians are short-statured, with very dark brown skins and crinky hair, but their noses are in general less broad and lips less averted than those of most African Negroes, and it is generally agreed that they are mixed stock.
Polynesia lies to the east of Malenesia, extending from Hawaii in the north to New Zealand and Eastern Island in the south. Polynesia differs from Melanesia in the greater homogeneity of its peoples, the less fluid and more hierarchical structure of its society, and the more enduring and formalized nature of its art objects.
Though there is undoubtedly a varying sub-stratum of Negroid race, the Polynesians are an amalgamation of the Mediterranean, Brown Race of South-West Asia and Southern
Europe. They are rather tall, often quite pale in complexion. Their wavy hairs are always black and eyes dark. Their appearance, however, varies from islands to islands.
Micronesia lies to the north and north-east of Melanesia and Polynesia, but its inhabitants are more closely related to the Polynesians.
The close proximity of Micronesia to the Asiatic mainland has influenced the physical traits of Micronesians, who resemble to the peoples of China, Thailand and Vietnam. In some island groups, there is marked Mongoloid strain in the racial composition of the population.