This question is linked to the post: Climate on an Island world

In that post I've laid out a world that is built entirely of island groups with varied climates and geography to avoid rampant storm cells. As for flora and fauna, there is a similar if not more diverse selection, but fewer large land creatures (cow-size and up) meaning animals (like cows, elephants, lions, tigers, and bears [oh my!] are rarer and more valuable, but that is aside the general point. Assuming their society had existed a similar amount of time to ours, so a similar tech level, etc. what would that do to society?

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    $\begingroup$ You mention in the linked question that Honshu-size is as big as the islands get. What's the average size? Is there a bell curve from largest to smallest? $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Apr 14, 2015 at 12:14

1 Answer 1


The main change would be that distance is considered in a different way.

"Same Island" is close.

"Same Group of Islands" is reasonably close.

"Everywhere else" is further away.

The extra work involved in getting a boat, etc means that people are naturally separated into tribes with defined geographical areas. This also means that there would be a long history of tribes raiding each other (for women, food, spoils, etc) but conquering each other would be harder to manage. One tribe would tend to hold one island and have a long tradition there.

As technology increases this would change, allowing people to start forming both empires and federations. The patterns would be similar to what we see on earth but with one big difference. The natural borders in islands mean that conquest tends to be all or nothing. You either claim an entire island or none of it. Situations like Cyprus which is split between two powers would be unusual.

The other big change is that the sea and water would have a lot of prominence in the culture. You should expect nautical terms and skills to have high social standing, with a skilled fisherman or diver held to high esteem. Ocean travel , navigation and fishing would all be incredibly important as it is the only source of commerce and the main source of food for the inhabitants.

I recommend looking at the culture of places like Hawaii, Japan, the Falkland Islands, and various other island chains throughout the world for inspiration.

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    $\begingroup$ Good answer as far as smaller islands and archipelagos made up of small islands. But I don't think it holds for the larger islands. Honshu is far too large for the single tribe culture you describe, and I expect even an island a fraction of that size would be. So you would still get your city-states and/or feudal societies fighting over resources on a single island. For reference, Honshu is the sixth largest island on Earth, and a little larger than Great Britain, which supported multiple kingdoms at once. That said, if size is a normal distribution, this would be relatively uncommon. $\endgroup$
    – Bryon
    Apr 14, 2015 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ Larger islands might get an advantage when it comes to empire-building, becoming accustomed to both land warfare and larger-scale governance compared to small island tribes. $\endgroup$
    – Bryon
    Apr 14, 2015 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Bryon Yes, I agree on both points. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Apr 14, 2015 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Bryon You're very correct, and that's why the comparison to Japan is important. You can easily have a rich feudal history, but ultimately end with a single powerful government. Or not. Japan was left mostly alone for much of its history, so it had time to sort itself out. England and surrounding countries were part of a "Europe soup" so they had other things to worry about, and ultimately their empire was brought down due to those pressures before it was able to take over everywhere. Plenty of room for variation. $\endgroup$
    – thanby
    Apr 14, 2015 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ Look at the tribal and cultural variations in the pre-European Philippines. The larger islands often had multiple tribes, multiple languages. Still do. $\endgroup$
    – Zither13
    Apr 14, 2015 at 13:54

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