Melanesians, a dark-skinned people as compared with the brown Polynesians to the east, are blackest in the Solomons and other islands in the extreme southwest of the Pacific. In Buka and Bougainville in the Solomons their skins are as black as those of the blackest African negroes. Contacts of Melanesians with people from the outside world before the Second World War varied from almost none on islands like Buka to everyday associations of Fijians near the ports with Europeans and Asiatics.
The natives of eastern Melanesia are in general farmer-fishermen. Perhaps the most striking thing about these occupations is the sameness of the products and the similarity in ways of obtaining them. In the volcanic islands, taro, breadfruit, and bananas are staples. On coral atolls the same foods are raised, but with more difficulty, and the people there depend more on coconuts and pandanus. Of course there are other crops of local importance: cassava in Fiji, and yams in various islands.
On volcanic islands the forest-clearing type of agriculture is practiced. In an open space, hacked in the forest with long bush knives, taro, cassava, or some other crop is planted with a pointed, hardwood stick or similar native implement. Two or three crops are generally raised in about two years, at the end of which time the soil has been so depleted of its plant nutrients that the land is abandoned. A new clearing is hacked in another part of the forest, and the agricultural process is repeated.