Adaptive radiation of partulid land snails in the tropical Pacific has produced an extraordinary array of distinctive morphological, ecological and behavioural types. Here we use part of the nuclear ribosomal RNA gene cluster to investigate the relationships within and between the three partulid genera, Partula, Samoana and Eua. The genera cluster separately, with Samoana and Partula forming monophyletic groups. With one exception, the molecular data generally support the previous generic classification based on genital morphology, even in species that show a number of characteristics otherwise atypical of the genus. Convergent evolution explains morphological similarities between members of different genera. The phylogeny suggests that Samoana has colonized the Pacific from west to east, originating in the area where Eua, believed to be the most ancient partulid genus, is found. An unexplained anomaly is the reported occurrence of a single species of Samoana in the Mariana Islands of the western Pacific. The genus Partula has a disjunct distribution, encompassing islands both to the east and west of the range occupied by Eua. Partula seems to have spread both eastward and westward after the splitting of the Partula lineage.