Polynesians - Orientation

Identification. Polynesia is the culture area of the Pacific Ocean that lies roughly between 170° and 110° E and 40° to 20° S. It is a vast area with a relatively small population occupying a number of coral and volcanic islands. Only the Hawaiian and Line islands are north of the Equator. Despite the large area and geographical spread of the islands, traditional Polynesian cultures were similar linguistically and culturally. The major island groupings, most of which were and are now distinct political entities, are American Samoa, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, the Hawaiian Islands, Niue, Pitcairn Island, Tokelau, Tonga, Wallis, Futuna, and Western Samoa. In some classification schemes, Fiji and the Ellice Islands are included in Polynesia, but more often they are classified in Melanesia. Most Polynesians who have immigrated to and settled in North America have done so in the last thirty or so years and live almost exclusively in the United States. They are mainly from American Samoa, Western Samoa, Tonga, and Hawaii.

Location. Polynesians in North America live mainly on the West Coast. The major Samoan communities are in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, with smaller Communities in San Diego and Seattle. There are also several thousand Samoans in St. Louis and Salt Lake City, most of whom are Mormons. Tongans live mainly near Los Angeles and San Francisco with a smaller community in Salt Lake City. Hawaiians live mostly in California.

Demography. Estimates for 1982 indicate that in the United States there were 24,000 American Samoans, 20,000 Western Samoans, 10,000 Tongans, 1,200 French Polynesians, and 510 Cook Islanders, Niueans, and Tokelauans. In 1981 there were 515 Polynesians in Canada.

Linguistic Affiliation. Because of the long political and economic affiliation with the United States and the British Empire, most Polynesians enter North America already speaking English as well as their native language. There are language education programs in both the Samoan and the Tongan communities designed to maintain the native Language in North America, although the majority of U.S.-born Polynesians speak only English fluently.

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