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Melanesia is a subregion of Oceania extending from the western side of the West Pacific to the Arafura Sea, north and northeast of Australia. The term was first used by Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1832 to denote an ethnic and geographical grouping of islands distinct from Polynesia and Micronesia.

Today, d'Urville's racial classification is known to be inaccurate in some ways because it obscures the very great cultural, linguistic, and genetic diversity in the area and combines two quite distinct groups, the (cultural) Melanesians and the Papuans (who themselves comprise a number of separate groups). The Melanesians live on the islands and coasts of Melanesia, where the Papuans live further inland. The term Melanesians is used for Austronesian speaking peoples of the coasts and islands.

In contrast, there is a widely used geopolitical conception of Melanesia. For example, the Melanesian Spearhead Group Preferential Trade Agreement is a regional trade treaty governing the states of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji. Melanesia is also current as a geographic term, used as a reference to the area when national, ethnic, and linguistic distinctions are not relevant.

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