Melanesia is a term describing Pacific islands inhabited by black skinned people. It includes the islands of the Torres Straits, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji. The long chain of islands is highly volcanic and is also known as the "ring of fire". The people who inhabited these rugged volcanic islands thousands of years ago established small isolated village communities that persist to this day.The communities are genetically and linguistically diverse, with over 400 languages, often as different from one another as French is from Russian. People sharing the same language are known as "one talks" and are considered extended family (which they are). Although culturally and linguistically diverse, Melanesian people share a common bond in a sense of identity with their island. The people of the island of Tikopea, for example, speak of themselves as "we the Tikopea" a term that encompasses the people, island, trees, gardens, and coral reefs as one living entity. Melanesians are masters at social harmony. You can understand why they have to be when you consider that 90 percent of them live in small, very isolated villages that have been in exactly the same location for thousands of years. Melanesians tend to stay where they were born until they die - generation after generation. If they failed to achieve social harmony they would not survive long. A person unable to "adapt" was (and still can be) banished from the village. Until the mid 1900's this usually was a death sentence as the concept of social harmony generally extended just to the boundary of the tribal lands and inter-tribal warfare and cannibalism was common. Melanesia is one of the few places on our planet where one can see truly ancient custom dances and rituals performed with utter sincerity and cultural importance. Almost all of the Melanesian people are Christians but there are many who are Muslims and still a few who cling to their custom religions. But even dressed up in Christian clothes, their spirits remain one with their ancestors and their land. It is a fascinating part of our world, rich in powerful images.