My adventures as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Brief History of Pohnpei

Here’s a short compilation of everything (ie – very little) that I’ve learned about Pohnpeian history in the past few weeks. Sorry if this post is a bit dry – but there are photos!

Archeologists estimate that people came to Pohnpei between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago from Southeast Asia. Until recently, the Pohnpeian lifestyle was made up subsistence farming, fishing, and gathering.

The era between 1000 and 1500 AD is the Nan Madol Phase, when one central leader reigned over the island. The ruins of Nan Madol – the ancient city that was the center of power – are still standing. We went on a little “field trip” last weekend to check out the site. The government is working on getting it listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, which would be great for preservation of the ruins (and spreading awareness of the history)!

For a sense of scale...

Anyway, Nan Madol was mysteriously abandoned around 1500 AD (why are all ancient cities “mysteriously abandoned?”) and the central leadership gave way to various chiefdoms with control over different regions of the island. There are lots of legends as to how these chiefdoms came to be – incest, banishment of younger sons, etc (very juicy stuff). Pohnpei is still divided into five municipalities that correspond with the chiefdoms. The chiefs and “nahnmwarkis” still have ceremonial and social power today.

The recent history of Pohnpei, as with the rest of Micronesia, is a history of colonization. The language are culture are hugely influenced by the various colonizers – most notably the influence of Christianity. (Probably 99.9% of the population is either Catholic or Protestant – now the Mormon missionaries are flocking here to have their try, but I don’t anticipate them having much success.)

Boston missionaries first came to Pohnpei in the 1850s, which was the first time Westerners settled in the region. They were followed by the Spaniards in the 1880s. The Spanish government claimed Pohnpei as their territory. Their major influence: Catholicism. Following Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War, Spain sold the territory to Germany. Germany used the Pohnpeians for forced labor and, following the assassination of a German governor, exiled many Pohnpeians to Palau.

Germany abandoned the island during World War II, which allowed Japan to swoop in to build military bases. Japan held the island until it surrendered at the end of WWII. There are still lots of Japanese WWII artifacts and artillery on the island.

Along with the other islands of Micronesia, Pohnpei was made a trust territory of the United States in 1947.

Pohnpei elected to become separate from the United States and formed the Federated States of Micronesia along with four other states (Yap, Chuuk, and Kosrae) in 1986. Although FSM is technically an independent country, the compact agreement with the United States maintains the tie between the two countries. FSM’s economy is entirely reliant on US foreign aid and the United States has military control over the region (FSM has no military, but many Micronesians serve in the US military).


  1. That's a great success for such a short time living in Pohnpei. Thanks for reminding us who we are and how we came to be who we are today.

  2. That's a great success for such a short time living in Pohnpei. Thanks for reminding us who we are and how we came to be who we are today.

  3. thats a really nice island ..

  4. if you are not a Pohnpeian, i'd say your story is amazing and if you happen to visit again, try and find someone who can tell you more so that you can add on to this...great start thou