Federated States of Micronesia
The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is a grouping of 607 small islands in the Western Pacific about 1022 miles southeast of Guam and 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii, lying just above the Equator. Generally speaking, the FSM comprises what is known as the Western and Eastern Caroline Islands.
While the country’s total land area amounts to only 270.8 square miles, it occupies more than one million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, and ranges 1,700 miles from West (Yap) to East (Kosrae) . Each of the four States centers around one or more “high islands,” and all but Kosrae include numerous atolls.
Yap State is made up of 4 large islands, 7 small islands and 134 atolls, with a total land area of 45.6 square miles. Chuuk State has a total land area of 49.2 square miles and includes seven major island groups. Pohnpei State has 133.4 square miles of land area, of which 130 is accounted for by Pohnpei island, the largest in FSM. Kosrae is essentially one high island of 42.3 square miles.
The islands of the FSM are the result of volcanic activity millions of years ago resulting in islands and atolls of incredible variety. Some are tips of mountain peaks thrust above the surface and now surrounded by fringing reefs. Others are atolls — islands that have sunk beneath the surface, leaving a ring of coral barrier reef and tiny island islets encircling a coral and sand lagoon. And, still others, are mixtures of atolls and high rigged islands within a lagoon.
The FSM enjoys a tropical climate, with relatively even, warm temperatures throughout the year. The climate in the FSM averages 80°F/28°C year round, with highs in the high 80s and lows in the high 70s. Rainfall is heaviest during the summer months.
The rainfall on each island varies, however, so check with the local visitor authority for anticipated dry and wet seasons. Trade winds come mainly from the northeast from December through June. Light tropical clothing is the norm year ’round in the FSM.
Pohnpei reputedly is one of the wettest places on Earth, with some locations on the interior of the island receiving up to 330 inches of rain per year. The trade wind season generally occurs from December to March.
Geological landforms in the FSM are diverse, beautiful and pristine. Visitors will find a wide range of natural features, including 2,000-foot mountain peaks, deeply gorged river valleys and waterfalls, rolling hills, lush mangrove forests, protected lagoons, and secluded pristine sandy beaches.
Recognizing the beauty and abundance of the land and the sea, the inhabitants of the FSM have developed settlement patterns in keeping with their surroundings. Each inhabited island is divided into municipalities, villages (sections of municipalities), and farmsteads (smallest land holding unit within a village). The manner in which the people have arranged over the landscape varies from dispersed settlement to neatly clustered, but not overcrowded, villages.
Special importance is attached to land in Micronesia both because of its short supply and its traditional importance. Many parcels of land are held by families or clans. Still, visitors are able to access areas of interest in the country, and along the way they are afforded a glimpse into the daily activities of the people of the country.
English is the official language of the government and of commerce.
Eight major indigenous languages are spoken: Yapese, Ulithian, Woleaians, Chuukese, Pohnpeians, Kosraeans, Nukuoro, Kapingamarangi. Many elderly people are fluent in Japanese.
Some common phrases for each of the main languages are available below:
|Kut fwa osun
|Kalangen en Komwi/Menlau
|I don’t like
|Ih sohte pereniki
|Iah wen pweine?
|Mahkongie / Kupwur Mahk
The people of the FSM are classified as Micronesians, although some inhabitants of Pohnpei State are of Polynesian origin. They are actually a heterogeneous mixture with different customs and traditions bound together by recent history and common aspiration.
The cultural diversity is typified by the existence of eight major indigenous languages, although English remains the official language of commerce. The cultural similarities are indicated by the importance of traditional extended family and clan systems found on each island.
Each of the States has developed unique cultural characteristics which are important to the potential outsiders especially those interested in visiting or investing in the islands. In Kosrae State, the Congregational Church plays an extremely important role in everyday life while in Chuuk, clan relationships remain an important factor. Yap continues as the most traditional society in the FSM with a strong caste system.
Over the last 15 years Pohnpei has rapidly developed as the most westernized state in the nation. This results in large part because the national government is located here. At the same time, traditional leadership continues to play an important role.
Over much of the last 40 years, the growth rate of population in the FSM has exceeded 3% per annum and the current rate of national increase remains high. However, since the Compact of Free Association was signed, out-migration of about 2% of the population occurs each year, effectively lowering the growth rate to about 1%.
The population structure is heavily weighted in favor of the youth, and it is expected that the 15-24 age group will account for 50% of the population increase in this decade.
The people of the FSM are culturally and linguistically Micronesian, with a small number of Polynesians living primarily on Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi atolls of Pohnpei State. The influence of European and Japanese contacts is also seen.
It can be said that each of the four States exhibits its own distinct culture and tradition, but there are also common cultural and economic bonds that are centuries old. For example, cultural similarities are evidenced in the importance of the traditional extended family and clan systems found on each island.
Although united as a country, the people are actually a heterogeneous mixture with different customs and traditions bound together by recent history and common aspirations. The cultural diversity is typified by the existence of eight major indigenous languages, and its peoples continue to maintain strong traditions, folklore and legends.
The four states of the FSM are separated by large expanses of water. Prior to Western contact, this isolation led to the development of unique traditions, customs and language on each of the islands.
English is the official language, and there are eight major indigenous languages of the Malayo-Polynesian linguistic family spoken in the FSM: Yapese, Ulithian, Woleaian, Chuukese, Pohnpeian, Kosraean, Nukuoro, and Kapingamarangi.
There is a rich oral history. Part of this history is a unique musical heritage. The traditional music is carried forward from generation to generation, although upon tuning into the local radio station the visitor is far more likely to hear the distinctive sounds of Micronesian pop music, which has also developed its own character from state to state. Influenced obviously by traditional music, the FSM’s pop music also draws from influences as diverse as American country and western, reggae, and modern europop.
The basic subsistence economy is based on cultivation of tree crops (primarily breadfruit, banana, coconut and citrus) and root crops (primarily taro and yam) supplemented by fishing. Small scale agriculture and various traditional fishing practices continue today.
Sharing, communal work, and the offering of tributes to the traditional leaders are fundamental to the subsistence economic system and the culture of the island societies of the FSM. The basic economic unit is the household, which consists primarily of extended families. Larger solitary social groups found on most of the FSM islands are matrilineal clans. Traditional political systems, such as the Nahnmwarki Political System on Pohnpei and the Council of Pilung on Yap, continue to play an important role in the lives of the people of the FSM today.
Religion is predominantly Christian, divided between Roman Catholic and Protestant -other churches include Latter-Day Saints, Seventh-Day Adventist, Assembly of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Baha’i Faith.
Churches of many denominations can be found throughout the islands.
50 percent is Roman Catholic
47 percent is Protestant
3 percent is others:
- Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)
- Assembly of God
- Seven Day Adventist
- Appostolic Church
- Pentecostal Church
- Jeovah’s Witnesses
- Victory Chapel
- Every Home
- Christ for All
The FSM has a rich history dating back several thousand years. The islands were originally settled by ancient people sailing east from Asia and north from Polynesia. Later discoverers and settlers included the Spanish, Germans, and Japanese and evidence of their former presence is found throughout the islands.
Following the trusteeship under U.S. administration after W.W. II, the FSM is now independent and self-governing. Most linguistic and archaeological evidence indicates that the islands were first discovered and settled between two and three thousand years ago. The first settlers are often described as Austronesian speakers possessing horticultural skills and highly sophisticated maritime knowledge. These first settlers are thought to have migrated eastward from Southeast Asia to Yap. From there, some migrated south to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and New Caledonia, and later to Kiribati and the Marshall Islands.
The oral histories of the Micronesian people indicate close affiliations and interactions in the past among the members of the island societies comprising the present-day FSM. The Lelu ruins in Kosrae (1400 AD) and the Nan Madol ruins of Pohnpei (1000 AD) are impressive reminders of the accomplishments of these early people.
In 1525, Portuguese navigators in search of the Spice Islands (Indonesia) came upon Yap and Ulithi. Spanish expeditions later made the first European contact with the rest of the Caroline Islands. Spain established its colonial government on Yap and claimed sovereignty over the Caroline Islands until 1899. At that time, Spain withdrew from its Pacific insular areas and sold its interests to Germany, except for Guam which became a U.S. insular area.
The German administration encouraged the development of trade and production of copra. In 1914 German administration ended when the Japanese navy took military possession of the Marshall, Caroline and Northern Mariana Islands.
Japan began its formal administration under a League of Nations mandated in 1920. During this period, extensive settlement resulted in a Japanese population of over 100,000 throughout Micronesia. The indigenous population was then about 40,000. Sugar cane, mining, fishing and tropical agriculture became the major industries.
World War II brought an abrupt end to the relative prosperity experienced during Japanese civil administration. By the War’s conclusion, most infrastructure had been laid waste by bombing and the islands and people had been exploited by the Japanese Military to the point of impoverishment.
The United Nations created the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) in 1947. Pohnpei (formerly Ponape), Kosrae (formerly Kusaie, and at the time a part of Pohnpei), Chuuk (formerly Truk), Yap, Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands, together constituted the TTPI. The United States accepted the role of Trustee of this, the only United Nations Trusteeship to be designated as a “Security Trusteeship,” whose ultimate disposition was to be determined by the UN Security Council. As Trustee, the U.S. was to “promote the economic advancement and self-sufficiency of the inhabitants.”
The President of the U.S. appointed a High Commissioner of the TTPI, and he, in turn, appointed an administrator for each of the “Districts” mentioned above. The TTPI remained under the civil administration of the U.S. Navy Department until 1951, when authority passed to the Department of the Interior.
On July 12, 1978, following a Constitutional Convention, the people of four of the former Districts of the Trust Territory, Truk (now Chuuk), Yap, Ponape (now Pohnpei) and Kusaie (now Kosrae) voted in a referendum to form a Federation under the Constitution of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). United Nations observers certified this referendum as a legitimate act of self- determination. Thereby, the people reasserted their inherent sovereignty which had remained dormant but intact, throughout the years of stewardship by the League of Nations and the United Nations.
Upon implementation of the FSM Constitution on May 10, 1979, the former Districts became States of the Federation, and in due course adopted their own State constitutions. Nationwide democratic elections were held to elect officials of the National and four State governments. The Honorable Tosiwo Nakayama, the former President of the Congress of Micronesia, became the first President of the FSM and formed his Cabinet. The new Congress of the FSM convened, elected the Honorable Bethwel Henry as Speaker, and began to enact laws for the new Nation. A judicial system was established pursuant to the National and State constitutions. Thereupon, the United States entered upon a period (1979 86) of orderly transfer of governmental functions consistent with the terms and intent of the UN Trusteeship Agreement.
Upon implementation of the FSM Constitution, the U.S. recognized the establishment of the FSM national and state governments. The FSM, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau each negotiated a Compact of Free Association with the United States. The Compact was signed on October 1, 1982 and approved by voters in the FSM in 1983. After approval by the U.S. Congress, the Compact entered into force on November 3, 1986. On September 17, 1991, the FSM became a member of the United Nations.
The FSM Constitution, like that of the U.S., provides for three separate branches of government at the national level – Executive, Legislative and Judicial. It contains a Declaration of Rights similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights, specifying basic standards of human rights consistent with international norms. It also contains a provision protecting traditional rights. Unlike the U.S. system, however, most major governmental functions, other than the conduct of foreign affairs and defense are carried out by the State governments.
The Congress of the FSM is unicameral with fourteen Senators – one from each state elected for a four-year term, and ten who serve two-year terms, whose seats are apportioned by population. Currently, Chuuk has six seats, Pohnpei four and two each are held by Yap and Kosrae. The President and Vice President are elected to four-year terms by the Congress, from among the four year Senators, and the vacant seats are then filled in special elections.
The Judicial Branch of the National Government is headed by the FSM Supreme Court, currently composed of three Justices who sit in trial and appellate Divisions. At this time there are no other National courts. Justices are nominated by the President for a lifetime appointment and confirmed by the Congress.
The State Governments under their Constitutions are structurally similar, all utilizing three branches, Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Their makeup varies according to their different circumstances.