UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Spanish Micronesia

Spain asserted and consolidated control over two of the Micronesian Island groups, the Caroline and Mariana Islands, during the 19th century. European explorers -- first the Portuguese in search of the Spice Islands and then the Spanish -- reached the Carolines in the 16th century, with the Spanish establishing sovereignty. On the 6th March, 1521, the illustrious navigator Magellan discovered the Mariannes to which he gave the name Ladrones.

In 1528, Alvaro de Saavedra discovered the Uluthi or Mackenzie group, and took possession of them in the name of Spain. A little later he sailed into the wide lagoon of Hogolu, or Ruk, and in the September of the next year he found Ualan, or Kusaie. After him Villalobos and Legaspi, on their way to the Philippines from New Spain, made fresh discoveries in these waters, of which Yap was the most important. The islands were discovered by Drake, who sighted the Pelews in 1579.

In 1686 the Spanish Admiral Francesco Lazeano rediscovered the islands and gave them their name after Charles II of Spain. Missionary teaching was begun by the Spaniards in the eighteenth century, but was soon abandoned. The Spaniards in the Philippine and Ladrone Islands had some intercourse and trade with the Pelews, Yap. and the other islands in the western part of the archipelago. ln Yap a Spanish mission was established in 1856. The islands were visited by whalers and occasional traders, but the trade was insignificant. The natives drank no spirits, but were eager purchasers of fire-arms and ammunition, as well as of pipes and tobacco, axes, saws, and other tools, fish-hooks, etc.

Until the development of the trade in copra, or dried eocoanut, there was little to attract traders in the Caroline Islands. The oil of the cocoanut is extensively used in soup-making. it produces the only soap that can be used with salt water. The oil was extracted in Europe and the residuum is used to feed cattle.

The Spanish East Indies (Spanish: Indias orientales españolas; Filipino: Silangang Indiyas ng Espanya) were the Spanish territories in Asia-Pacific until 1899. They comprised the Philippines, the Mariana Islands, the Caroline Islands (also known as the New Philippine Islands), and briefly also included Spanish Formosa and parts of the Spice Islands.

In the absence of any contending claims, the Caroline Islands, or at least the Central Carolines and the Pelews, had usually been considered as forming a part of the colonial empire of Spain. They were discovered by Spaniards; they lie near Spanish colonies; until recent times the Spaniards alone held communication with the islanders; and they had been marked on the maps as Spanish territory since their discovery in the days when Spain and Portugal were the only colonizing powers, and when the whole New World was divided between them in a bull issued in 1594 by Pope Alexander VI, who drew a line across the map as the boundary of their respective dominions.

The Caroline Islands came into the Spanish orbit following the arrival of Francis­co Lezcano from Palau (1686) and also later when the Jesuits settled there (1710). These initiatives laid the foundations for the creation of Spanish Micronesia. These domains were halfway between Mexico and the Philippines, at a point along the extremely long route from Seville to Manila.

The Spanish Government had exercised authority over the islands by such acts as carrying off the entire population of some of the smaller ones to the Ladrones. Its sovereignty was never contested until the question was raised by the English and German Governments in 1875 in connection with an attempt of the Spanish consul at Hong-Kong to perform ofiicial acts with reference to the Carolines.

In the spring of 1885, after Germany had planted her flag in Papua and New Britain, and had laid down the doctrine at the Congo conference that the efiective exercise of sovereignt y alone confers sovereign rights, the Spanish governor of the Philippines published a decree ordering the naval authorities to make arrangements, for the pur ose of taking effective possession of the islan , to send war-vessels to Yap to hoist the Spanish flag.

In August 1885 the gunboat Iltis raised the German flag at Yap. There was great excitement at Madrid, with the German Consulate assaulted. On the evening when the official telegram reporting the German occupation of Yap reached Madrid, September 4, a concourse of people rushed to the German legation, tore down the imperial arms and flag-staff, and publicly burned them in the Puerta del So], with cries of “Down with Germany!”

When Germany tried to take possession of the Caroline Islands, west of the Marshall Islands, between the equator and 10° south and 143° and 165° east longitude, Spain suddenly claimed older rights on the islands; and after some long discussions between the two Governments concerned, it was agreed to leave the decision with Pope Leo XIII, who declared that those islands belonged to Spain, but Germany should be allowed to establish a naval and coaling station there, and German merchants acquiring land and residing there should have the same political rights as Spanish subjects.

On July 27, 1886 the Spanish flag was raised at Ascension Bay in Ponape. The was followed on April 19, 1887 by the founding of the Colony of Santiago, and formal proclamation of Spanish rule at Ascension Bay.

Spanish Micronesia, according to the treaty made with Germany in 1885, lay between the Equatorial line on the south and the eleventh northern parallel, and between 139° and 170° E. longitude. The great island of New Guinea lies about 1000 miles to the southward. A long chain of 652 islands lie scattered over this wide stretch of sea, some 1400 miles in length. The inhabitants number some 50,000. The Caroline archipelago contains thirty-six minor groups.

Trouble was always going on between the various tribes, and a firm hand was needed to keep things in order. Captain Butron of the Spanish cruiser Velasco (lost in the naval battle at Manilla), who visited the group in 1885, gave these natives a good name. Captain O'Keefe, of Yap, who knows the Pelews very well, described the people as regular pirates. In olden time there was great commercial activity in the Western Carolines. The Yap and Pelew natives used to go on long voyages of trading and conquest.

There was no Spanish garrison or mission school or trading station in the Pelews. Nothing is done at all to show that these islands belong to Spain. A fringing reef, fifty-three miles long from north to south, surrounds the Pelews—a menace to navigation which has destroyed many a China-bound vessel.

Hogolu had a population of about ten thousand, composed of two distinct people. The hill tribes are dark in color and the people on the coast light reddish-brown. There was generally some small civil war on hand, and the national game of head-hunting interfered a great deal with business, for the Spanish let the islanders do just as they like.

A trifling skirmish on the Chapalap River and a few assassinations of stray Manilla soldiers wandering outside the Colony, varied the monotony of affairs until the arrival of Don Jose Pidal in 1894. His conciliatory policy seemed successful, and the natives regretted his departure in 1896. His successor, Don Miguel Velasco, a distinguished naval officer, perished in the massacre caused by the imprisonment of Henry Nanapei of Ronkiti, one of the principal chiefs, who held strong American sympathies, and was head of the Protestant Mission schools established in his district.

The Spaniards were determined to sell the Pelews, the Mariannes, and the Carolines to some foreign Power, but neither America, Great Britain, nor Japan need apply — and these the very nations best of all qualified for colonising these fierce and intractable islanders. In her business relations in Pacific islands Great Britain would do well to take heed of the saying of Horace, "Tarde venientibus ossa" — "Those who come late to dinner only get bones."

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 28-07-2017 14:43:51 ZULU