Introduction
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1 Introduction Micronesia—“the tiny islands,” as they were labeled by a nineteenthcentury French naval captain—live up to their name. A couple of the largest are about one hundred square miles, but most are far smaller, the smallest with a land area of no more than a few acres. There are close to two thousand of them in all, but only about one hundred are inhabited. They include mountainous volcanic islands, slabs of continental shelf, and coral atolls that rise only a few feet above sea level. The islands stretch in a long arc more than two thousand miles across the northwestern Pacific close to the equator. The term “Micronesia ,” as we will use it here, includes Palau in the extreme west, the Marshall Islands at the eastern end, and everything in between—that is to say, what is now called the Federated States of Micronesia, which includes the four states of Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae. There are other island groups that might be called part of Micronesia in the broad sense of the term—Guam and the Mariana Islands, Kiribati and Nauru—but we will not be discussing them in this book. Let me note, however, that much of what is written here would probably also apply to these groups. The History Micronesia was first settled a century or two before the Christian Era by seafarers who had worked their way from Taiwan down the islands off East Asia and moved into the Melanesian islands to the south. Even before they sailed north to occupy the uninhabited islands of 4 Introduction eastern and central Micronesia, others from offshore Asia settled in Palau and Yap. It wasn’t until the 1500s, when Spanish ships began crossing the Pacific in search of the highly prized goods from the “Spice Islands” and the Orient, that the islands of Micronesia began appearing on western maps. The sporadic visits to these islands during the Age of Discovery were followed by a two-hundred-year lull in European voyages to the Pacific, while Europeans attended to their own wars. In the 1800s contact between the West and Micronesian islanders resumed, as China traders and whaleships crisscrossed the Pacific on commercial voyages and European and American naval expeditions set about mapping the region. In the early 1850s the first missionaries, American Protestants, arrived in the islands. They were followed thirty years later by Catholic missionaries. By the end of the century Christianity was well established throughout island Micronesia. So was the copra trade, which allowed islanders to acquire basic western goods such as iron cooking utensils, steel tools, cloth and clothing, guns, and select imported foods. During the century Micronesians had adopted a western religion , hosted a number of resident beachcombers and traders, learned a smattering of English, acquired some foreign goods, and picked up some familiarity with western ways. Still, their basic island cultural system remained intact. A century of colonial rule over the islands began in 1885 when Spain laid claim to the Caroline Islands and Germany annexed the Marshall Islands. It was the age of colonization when western powers were carving up the developing world and seizing colonies as status symbols if not for their raw materials. The United States acquired its own first colonies at about this time: Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines , and American Samoa. In 1899, following the Spanish-American War, Germany took over Spain’s holdings in the Carolines and so laid claim to just about all of Micronesia. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Japan seized the islands from Germany and later legitimized its rule when Micronesia was recognized as a League of Nations mandate at the end of the war. Japan established the first public education system in the islands. It also undertook large-scale development projects that included phosphate mining, sugar cultivation, fishing, and pearling. To provide the labor 6 Introduction needed for all this, Japan brought in so many of its own citizens that Japanese outnumbered islanders in Micronesia even before the start of World War II. The islands were surrendered by Japan to the United States at the end of the war. (For the third time colonial rule had passed from one power to another as a result of a war.) Just as Japan had exercised authority over the islands with the blessings of the League of Nations, the United States now administered the islands as a trust territory of the United Nations. Soon the trappings of western democracy...