National Histories: Oceania

Oceania native boys
Figure 1.--The history of Oceania is still not well understood because the people who colonized the various islands were pre-literate peoples. Here we have an unidentified image of the Melanesin people who colonized the islands east of New Guinea and Australia as far east as Fiji. Historians have had to rely on linguistic asessments and general racial types as well as oral legends and traditions and arciological evidence like pottery. DNA is now bringing another power tool to working out the region's history.

Oceania is a geographic term coveing a huge area of the Western Pacific, most but not all south of the Equator. The area is commonly referred to as the South and Central Pacifiv, but is all locted in the Wesern Pacific--except for Easter Island. Oceania includes Australia commonly given continental status. There are also two huge archepolgical nations--Indonesia and the Philippines. In additn are a smll number of island nations. The largest islands are New Guinra, Borneo, and the two main New Zealand islands. Many other islands and island groups are included in Micronesia and Melonesia. Most of these islands, except for southern Australia and New Zealand are located in the Tropics. The proples of Oceania are a diverse mixture . We find aboregines in Austrlia as well as primitive proples ion isands like New Guinea and Borneo. Much of the area ws settled by Poynesian peoples originting in Southeast Asia. To the originl peoples have been added an extrdunary mixture of Indian Hindus, Arab traders, and European colonists, including the Dutch, English, French, German, Portugese, and Spanish. And finally in the late-19th century, the Americans. And finally the Japanese for a brief period of the 20th century leading to World War II. Many of the islands of Oceania achieved independence in the de-colonization period following the War.


Australia's great heritage must be its unique flora and fauna. And the aborigenes or a living remanent of the eastern-most movement of man's first foray out of Africa. Until recently it was assumed that man moved out of Africa into Asia, Europe, and ultimately Australia at about the same time. We now know that Australuan aborignees are the remanents of an Afrucan migratiin that began fare earlier thanb the migration that woukd later people Asia ad Euope, pribably moving east by hugging tge shore line. Australia's modern history is largely an apendage of English history transplanted to Oceania. The original settlers were of course convicts--the susposed dregs of English society. The success of those convicts is testimony to the injustices in English society at the time. And they have given Australis a democratic, informality that is a characteristic of the national character. Australians played an important role in assistng Britain in the two World Wars of te 20th century, but played a heavy price. Germany made the mistake twice of making military calculations without considering the Dominions and Amnerica. Because Australia was ssisting Britain when the Japnese struck, it was virtually defenseless. It was saved, however, by the American Pacific Fleet. This transformed the national outlook and essetially cut the umbilical cord with Britain.


Brunei is a today a small Muslim kingdom located along the northern coast of Borneo on the South China Sea. Brunei is the remnate of the powerful Sultanate of Brunei which was a major power in Oceania (15th-17th centuries). The Sultanate controlled an area extensing from extending from northern Borneo to the southern Philippines. The Brunei Sultans played a major role in spreading Islam into what is now the southern Philippines, Indonesia, and Borneo. The Portuguese seized Malacca (1511). This had been a major rival power. Eventually the Dutch and British split Borneo. Brunei became a British protectorate (1888). The Brunei Revoly against the monrchy was supressed with British help (1960s). Brunei decided not to join the Malaysian Federation, in part because of the Brunei Revolt (1963). The British granted independence (1984).

Cook Islands

The Cook Island archipelago consists of 15 small islands located in the South Pacific northeast of New Zealand about midway between New Zealand and Hawaii. The Cook islanders are a Polyenesian people. Tradition credits Ru from Tupua'i in what is now French Polynesia with leading the first people to the islands. He landed on Aitutaki (about 800 AD). The Islands are of course named after Captain James Cook, who was the first European to site the Islands (1773). Europoean missiinaries converted some of the high chiefs who establishedca unified monarch (1858). The different islands in the group was united as the Kingdom of Rarotonga (1858). Britain established a protectorate and created a federal parliament (1888). As New Zealand began to become a more independent Dominion, Britain transfrred authority for the Cook Islands (1901). The Islands were beyond the area conquered by the Japanese in World War II and thus escaped the damage expeienced by other South Pacific islands to the west. The Cook Islands today are a self-governing parliamentary democracy, freely associated with New Zealand.

Easter Island (Chile)

Easter Island's history has been shaped by geography. I tioday belongs to Chile. Located 2200 miles off the coast of Chile, it is the world’s remotest inhabited island. ThecIsland is volcanic in origin. It was before the arrival of Polynesian seafarers lushly covered with vegetation and a haven for migratory birds. Polynesian from the Marquesas (Society Islands) populated the island (4th century AD). Some authors suggest various later dates, some much later. The relatively small number of migrants thrived on the Island whic they called 'Te Pito o Te Henua', meaning The Center of the World. This would be the eastern limit of Polynesian migration in the South Pacific. The population increased in the untouched paradise they setlled. The settlers brought with them a rich Polynesian culture. The most visible element in the culture thatcdeveloped onthe Iskand was the creation of massive moai that were part of the traditional ancestral worship. The population increased, however, beyond the ability of the Island ecosystem to support it. Details are sketchy became the Polynesians were a preliterate people. The Islanders cut down the forrests, stripped the native vegetation, and practiced poor farming methods. The result was utimately a collapse of the economy, falling agriculktural yields, famine, internecine wars, and even canabilism. As the peole had deforested the Island, there was no way off it or to suplement farming with fishing. This was the situation when Dutch sea captain Jacob Roggeveen landed on the island (1722). It was Easter and the Island has since been known as Easter Island. The people who has survived famine and war were next subjected to furthervhorrors--slave raiding, primrily from the Spanish colonies in what is now Chile and Peru. The last Easter Island king and his family is said to have died a slave in Peruvian mines (1860s). The spanish also introduced European diseases which further devestated the Island population.


Fiji is a group of volcanic islands in the South Pacific lying between Vanuatu and Samoa. The principal island is Viti Levu. Melanesian and Polynesian peoples settled the Fijian islands about 1,500 BC. The indigenous Fijians are related to the Lapita peoples, a seafaring group from wha is now eastern Indonesia or the Philippines. Melanesians from the west and Polynesians (Lapita descendants) from the east reached the Islands over time. The indigenous name of the islands was Viti, an Austronesian word which meant 'east' or 'sunrise'. Until the arrival of the British, the main island of the Fiji group, was split between the coastal and inland people. The coastal people were hierarchical while the inland oeoole were more egalitarian. European traders and missionaries came to the island (early-19th century). They found the native Fijian confederacies waging wars with each other. Cakobau, a Ratu (chief), became the dominant force in the western islands (1850s). Continued conflict and unrest, however, convinced him and a convention of chiefs to accept British rule (1874). Under British rule, the countryside was finally pacified. During the Pacific War, Fiji was eyed by the Japanese as it epanding the empire in the first 6 months of the Pacific War. It proved to be just outside the area conquered by Japan. Fiji became an important base and staging area for the United States. A constitutional conference in London agreed that Fiji should become a fully sovereign and independent nation within the Commonwealth. Fiji became independent (1970).

French Polynesia

French Polynesia is an overseas country (pays d'outre-mer) of France. It consists of several groups of Polynesian islands in the South Pacific. Ffench Polynesia are some of the most easterly South Pacific Islands, located between American Samoa and Easter Islansd, the furthest eastern expansion of the Polynesian people. Polynesians first reached the Marquesas (300 AD). And then the Society Islands (800 AD). There was not central Polynesian state, but rather loose often warring chieftainships, but a recognition of a common culture. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan sighted Pukapuka in the Tuāmotu-Gambier Archipelago (1521). Dutch explorer Jakob Roggeveen encountered Bora Bora in the Society Islands (1722). British explorer Samuel Wallis landed on Tahiti (1767). French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville visited Tahiti (1768). British navigator James Cook visited islands in the group (1769). Christian missions were established by Spanish Catholic priests who began work in Tahiti (1774). The London Missionary Society began working on the islands (1797). The island groups that now comprise French Polynesia were not united in a political sense the French established a protectorate (1889). Colonial authorities on French Polynesia were among the first French colonial officials during World War II after the fall of France (June 1940) to afirm loyalty to the Free French who were committed to fight the Germans (1940 ). Many Polynesians served with French forces in the War. Soon after the fall of France, the Japanese Konoe Cabinet added French Polynesia among the many South Pacific island territories which were to added to the empire (September 1940). After the Japanese launched the Pacific War, they added many of the targeted islands to their Empire, but the U.S. Navy victory at Midway (June 1942) made it impossible to expand into the central Pacific. Thus French Polynesia remained beyond the range of Japanese expansion, but provided the U.S. Navy important rear area supply bases.

Hawaiian Islands

The first humans to reach the islands were were voyagers from the Marquesas Islands (about 500 AD). They were followed by Tahitians that ventured out from the Society Islands (1000 AD). The islands were thus well settled at the beginning of the Second Melinium. There is no written record of Hawaiia's Polynesian history. Oral legends kept by Kahunas provide colorful accounts, but it is difficult for historians to separate fact from these legendary accounts. Modern Hawaiian history begins with the arrival of Spanish (16th century). The Spanish did not colonize the islands, but the encounter introduced European diseases resulting in a collspse of the Polynesian population. Captain James Cook death on the Islands was a pivotal event in Hawaiian history (1779). Chief Kamahameha is the towering figure in Hawaiisan history. He brought all the islands under central control. The Hawaiian Islands are well watered and have fertile, volcanic soil. This and their strategic position meant that it was only a question as to which of the great naval powers would seize the islands. It proved to be the United States. American planters on the Islsnds staged a coup. The queen who was still reigning at the time was deposed and a republican government was set up. Congress did not approve annexation, however, until several years later (1898). It was the Japanese carrier strike on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II (1941). Hawaii became the 50th state of the Union (1959).


The history of Indonesia dates back to Java Man (Homo erectus) who after migrating from Africa reached Oceania (half a million years ago). He was followed by the ancestors of the present-day Papuans (about 60,000 years ago) and eventually reached New Guinea and Australia as well (30-40,000 years ago). Finally Malayo-Polynesian groups reached Java and Sumatra (fourth millennium BC). This group is today the primary ethnic group in Indonesia. Trade contracts with India, China and Southeast Asia introduced advanced cultures and religions to what is now Indonesia. Indian traders intoduced both Hinduism and Buddhism. They were largely overwealmed by Islam ibntroduced by both Indian and Arab traders (8th and 9th centuries). Indonesia's abundant spices attracted Portuguese traders who were the first Europeans to reach Asia (16th century). Indonesia was eventually colonized by the Dutch and became known as the Dutch East Indies (17th century). As in the rest of Asia, nationalist stirring in the early 20th century began to challenge European rule. Nationlist figures like Sukarno were inprisoned by the Dutch. Oil made the DEI a valuable colonial assettt and Japan needed oil to continue its war in China. The Japanese at the onset of World War II in the Pacific invaded and occupied the DEI (1942). Indonesian nationalist figures like Sukarno largely collaborated with the Japanese who offered, but never granted independence. The Japanese occupation proved to be a disaster. Largely because the Japanese ceased food stocks, anoyt 4 million people died, largely new to famine. The Japanese demonstrated, however, the fragility of Dutch colonial rule. Nationalist groups launchef a 4-year guerilla war on Java follwing the War. Indonesia officially achieved its independence (1949). General Sukarno dominated the country for two decades a period during which the Communist Party (PKI) grew in strength. Sukarno appears to have been involved in a Communist coup (1965). The coup was supressed by the Army commannded by General Soeharto who launched a bloody campaign to eliminate the PKI and its suporters. General Soeharto replaced Sukarno and dominated Indonesia for three decades. Oil exports became a mainstay of the ecomomy . The Asian financial crisis devestated the Indonesian economy (1997). The economic crisis led to violent riots and other disturbances forced Soeharto to resign (1998). This made possible democratic elections the establishment of a democratic regime.

Kiribati (Gilberts)

Kiribati consists of a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean straddling the equator, about half way between Hawaii and Australia. It is primarily made up of the Gilbert Islands, but includes the Line Islands and Phoenix Islands. It was part of the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. Spanish explorer Pedro Fernandex de Quiros discovers Butaritari and names it Buen Viaje (1606). Other islandsxwerecdiscivered (18th abd early-19th centuries). Russian hydrographer Krusensten names the Gilbert Islands (1820), European traders and missionaries begin visting the Gilvers (mid-19th century). The British appoint a Governor of Fiji as High Commissioner for the Western Pacific (1877). This gave the governor jurisdiction over British subjects; authority is exercised through British naval commanders. Captain E. H. M. Davis on the HMS Royalist proclaims the Gilberts group a British protectorate at Abemama. After the British flag is also raised over Tuvalu, a new protectorate is established at Butaritari (1892). The British annexed Bnaba after the discovery of ohosohate (1900). The Banaban phosphate are so important that the British transfer the Protectorate's headquarters to the island. After consulting with the native king duringWorld E. Britain annexed Gilbert and Ellice Islands by an Order-in-Council (1915). Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese occupy the Gilberts (early 1842). After the United States stopped the Japanese advance in the Pacific War at Midway (June 1942) and then launced the first offensuve of tgecWar in the South Pacufic--Guadalcanal (August 1942). The U.S. Navy then opened another front--the Central Pacific. This began in the Gilberts. The Japanese heavily garisoned Tarawa and believed that such a heavily defended bastion could fight off an amphobious attack. They were nearly correct. The heavily maulded Imperial fleet did not intervene. The Battle of Tarawa was a shocking affair, but proved the U.S. Marines could take even a heavily fortified islsnd. The military believed that photograohs of the battlefield carnage was too shocking for the public to see. President Roosevelt decided that it was important for the public to know what was happening. The Navy used Tarawa as a learning experience and future landings were much better orcestrated. The Ellice Islands separated and became the independent nation of Tuvalu (1978). Britain granted self-rule to the Gilberts (1971) and complete independence as Kiribati (1979).


The Marianas is an important archepeligo in rhe central Pacific. The Northern Marianas consists of 14 tropical islands stretching across 400 miles. They are adjacent to the Marianas trench which is the deepest point in the ocean. Saipan is the most populated island in the group. Rota is much less developed. The Northern Marianas were settled around 1500 BC by Chamorros who have cultural ties with the indigenous people on Guam. Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to discover the islands (1521). He named them the Islas de los Ladrones (Islands of Thieves) because of his experiences with the Chamoros. Spanish Jesuit Luis Diego Sanvitores renamed the islands Las Marianas in honor of the Spanish queen Maria Ana of Austria (1668). He and five other priests established a mission in the Marianas. The Spanish effort to Christanize and control the islands set off two decades of often brutal hostilities between the Spanish and the Chamorros who violently resisted them. The Spanish had to commit a substantial military force to gain control of the islands. Because of lingering resistance, the Spanish rounded up most of the the Chamoros on Saipan and trasported them to Guam. The Spanish had more trouble doing this on Rota where most of the Chamoros managed to hide in the island's caves and mountains. The Spanish permitted Caroline islabders to move to Marianas where they tended cattle for the Spanish. Pope Leo XIII confirmed Spanish sovereignty over the Marianas (1885). Spain began encouraging the Chamoros on Guam to move to the Northern Marianas. The Guam Chamoros were now throughly Hispanicized. The Spanish saw a larger Chanoro population on Saipan and other islands in the Northern Marianas as a way of strengthening Spanish control. The Carolinians had by that time settled much of the most productive coastal areas. The United States seized the Philippine Islands and Guam during the Spanish-American War (1898). The Spanisg decided that there was not benefit in having the Northern Marianasa. The decided to seel the islands to Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm II at the time was building a new high seas navy and anxious to acquire colonies. The Northern Marianas and other Pacific Islands acquired by the Germans provided useful facilities for the new German Navy. The Germans also hoped to develop copra production.


Micronesia (Carolines)

The country was basically formed out of the Spanish colony of the Caroline Islands which in fact Spain made little effort to colonize. The Caroline Islands in the Central Pacific covered a huge oceN area of the western Pacific, the largest area of any of the small island groups. They were located between the Marianasa and New Guinea and east of the Philippines. The principal components included the Hall Islands, Kapingamarangi, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Truk Islands, and Yap Islands A Spanish captain, Francisco Lazcano, named the islands which had already been disciovered after King Charles II who funded the expedition (1686). There was no attempt by the Spanish or other European country to colonize the islands. An early group of missionaries were attacked by the islanders (1732). Spain did not formally claim the islands until much later (1875). The Caroline Islands were part of the Spanish East Indies. They were also called Nuevas Filipinas (New Philippines) and administered from the Philippines. Germany in the mean time had occupied the Yap Islans in the east as part of its expanding empire, disputed the Spanish claim. The issue was arbitrated by Pope Leo XIII (1885). He decided in favor of Spain, but compromised by grabnting free trade rights to the Germans. The Spanish did not actually occupy any of the islands until after this ruling (1886). The Spanish American War (1998-99) radically changed the situation as Spain lost the Philippine Islands, in primary colony in the area. Spanish authorities concluded that there was no benefit to retaining the small islands like the Carolines that it still held. The German-Spanish Treaty followed (1899), Spain sold the islands to Germany for 25,000,000 pesetas (about 1 million pounds sterling), which maintained the Spanish name, Germanized as Karolinen. They were administered from the larger German colony of New Guinea. Japan occupied the islands during World War I. After the War they were granted a League of Nations mandate (1920). Yap was an important communications center. The Japanese built a huge naval base at Truk becauce of its large protected lagoon. Japanese forces from Truk played an important role in the Japanese offensive that carved out a huge empire after Pearl Harbor. They referred to Truk as the Gibraltar of the Pacific. It was in the first year of the war along with Rabal the principal forward operating base of the Imperial Fleet. Following the launch of the American Central Pacific campaign and the seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls, the Japanese braced for an American assault on Truk. The Imperial Fleet withdrew most of its combat units, hopeing that the large garrison and substantial air contingent could defend Truk. The Americans instead of launching a costly invasion, bypassed Truk. Instead they carried out devestating carrier air attacks on Truk and its defenses--Operation Hailstone. These attacks devestated Truk as an effective base. Without command of the sea, the Japanese could not resupply Truk. And without supplies Truk was rendered ineffective, unable to support efforts to defend the Marianas--the critical battle in the Central Pacific campaign. By the time the Japanese surrender at the end of the War, the Truk garrison was near starvation. The United States seized the islands from Japan after the Japanese surrender and administered them as a United Nations Trust Territories. The Unites States granted independence (1986/1994).


Nauru was settled by Micronesian and Polynesian peoples about 1,000 BC. The Nauruan settlers lived on coconut, pandanus fruit, and other plants from their liush new island home. They are believed to have invented an early form of aquaculture. They caught juvenile ibija, acclimated them to freshwater conditions, and raised them in Buada Lagoon. This was easier than actual fishing. This was all done by men. Women engaged in agriculture. Primarily due to its isolation, Nauru was able to avoid European colonization longer than most Pacific islands. The first Europeans visited Nauru named it Pleasant Island (1798). The initial Western presence was whalers using the island to resupply. A deadly tribal war followed which was only ended with European occupation. An Anglo-German Convention signed in Berlin divided Pacific areas between Britain and Germany (1886). Germany occupied the island (1888). The Germans developed the island's only important natural resource--phosphate. The Australians seized the island at the onset of World War I and after the War were granted a trusteeship by the League of Nations. Nauru was one of the few plces attacked by both Germany and Japn during the War. German raiders, disguised as Japanese merchant ships, operated out the Caroline and Marshall Islands before America entered the War. They shelled the island (December 1940). The phophate mining faciities were damaged, disrupting shipments to Australia and New Zealand. After Pearl Harbor (Devember 1941), Most of the European and Chinese workers were evacuated (February 1942). The Japanese did not get around to seizing the island until 9 months after Pearl Harbor (August 1942). The invasion was unopposed. As far as we know this was the last island seized by Japan in the Pacific War. The Nauruans were mistreated by the Japanese occupation forces. They killed 49 leppers by forcing them on a boat which they towed out to sea and sunk. A group of 1,500 Japanese and Korean laborers constructed an airfield. Some 300 Nauruan and Gilbertese were conscripted to assist in the construction work. It was operational (January 1943). The Japanese hoped to resume phosphate mining, but in the deteriorating military situation, this proved impossible. The American bombed the airfield and shore instalations (March 1943). The raid destroyed 15 Japanese aircraft parked and damaged various Japanese installations. In retaliation, the Japanese executed five British prisoners. By this time it was becoming increasingly difficult for the Japanese to supply their island bases because of the growing strength of the U.S. Navy. The Japanese transported 1,200 Nauruans to work as slave labor in the Chuuk islands--Part of the Carolines. Only about half would survive working for the Japanese.The Japanese naval bastion of Truk was located there. Food became increasingly short even with many of the Naruans removed. The United States decided to bypass Nauru raher than invade it. The Japanese were unable to resupply the island and as it was crammed with Japanese soldiers and Korean laborers thec food situatuin becane ibcreasingly strained. Some 300 of the occupiers died of starvation before the War ended. Conditions deteriorated to the point that some of the survivors reportedly resorted to canibalism. [Haden] The Japanese occupied so many Pacific islands that it took the Allies soime time to get tobthem to accept their surrender. The Japanese surrenderd the island to he Royal Australian Navy (September 13, 1945). The Allies reptriated 3,745 Japanese and Koreans. Some of the Japanese occupiers were troed forcwarc crimes because they execution Europeans and Nauruans. The Nauruans who had survived working for the Japaese on Chuuk were repatriated (January 1946). Nauru became a U.N. trusteeship (1947) and achieved its independence (1966). Nauru today is one of the smallest nations on earth. Australia helped set up a refugee camp on the island.

New Caledonia

People reached the western Pacific about 50,000 years ago. The first people were Austronesians. The next peoples to settle arrived much later. The Melanesian archipelagos was settled by the the Lapita. They reached New Caledonia and the Loyalty islands (about 1500 BC). The Lapita were skilled navigators and farmers and settled a large area of the Western Pacific. Polynesians also reached the islands (11th century AD). They mixed with Lapita population. European explorers encountered New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands (1766). The famed Royal Navy explorer Cpt. James Cook sighted Grande Terre (1774). He named it New Caledonia becuse it reminded him of the Scottish highlands. The Roiman name for Scotland was Caledonia. British and American whalers found the islands useful foir resupply. The native sandalwood was a valuable trading commodity. Tensions developed with the local people. They used alcohol and tobacco amongst other things to barter for the desired commodities. Contact with the foreigners introduced European diseases, devestating the local population. Tensions continued to fester and the Pouma clan captured the crew of the Cutter and ate them (1849). Europeans operating sugar cane plantations in Fiji and Queensland needed labor. They comenced slaving raids on South Pacific islands (New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands) which was called blackbirding. This continued until the turn of the 20th century. British and French settlers began to arrive (early 19th century). Christian missionaries first arrived in the 19th century. They set out to introduce European culture as well as religion. Much of the idgenous populatin wen naked in the tropical climate. The missinaries insisted that the people wear at least some clothing. They even introduced cricket and tea. They also banned many local practices and traditions. France annexed the islands (1853). The French colonial era proved to be represive. The French began enforcing what the miisionaries at first had only encouraged. The French used the colony as aenal colony. Settlers seized land resulting in a revoly (1878). the Kanak Revolt resulted in a year long guerilla campaign lasting for more than a year.This resulted in even more repressive measures. New Caledonia was an imprtant Allied base during World War II. New Caledonia is on the United Nations list of territories to be decolonised. The Islands became a French Overseas Territory (1946). The Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak Socialiste (FLNKS) began demanding independence (1985). The FLNKS want anindependent state of Kanaky. Rising tention led to a bloody hostage taking in Ouvéa (1988). France has granted increased autonomy through the Matignon Accords (1988) and the Nouméa Accord (1998). The majority of Kanaks (Melanesians) now support the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS).

New Guinea

Britain and the Dutch in the final era of colonial expansion divided eastern New Guina between Germany which received the northern sector and Britain which received the southern sector (1885). Britain transferred responsibility for its sector to Australia in (1902). Substantial areas of the island well into the 20th century remained largely unexplored. Australian forces occupied the German northern sector during World War I (1914-18) and in the peace settlement the Germans lost all of their Pacific colonial posssions, some of which were transferred to Japan. Australia retained resonsibility for the former German northern sector which became a Laegue of Nations mandate. New Guinea was the scene of bitter fighting during the Pacific War (1941-45). Japan seized the norther sector (1942), but after a series of stunning victories, a Japanese naval taskforce heading to seize Port Moresby in the south was turned back by the U.S. Navy at the Coral Sea (May 1942). Heavy fighting continued on the island throughout 1942-44. The longest campaign of the Pacific War. It was united with the sounthern sector after the War as Papua New Guinea. Australia continued to administer Papua New Guinea after the War until independence (1975).

New Zealand

New Zealand was discovered and settled by the Maoris as early as the 10th Century from their legendary "Hawaiki". New Zealand is the last significant land area of the world to be settled by humans. The first settlers are commonly referred to as the Moa-hunters, the people encounted by the seafaring Maoris in the ?th century. To these early voyagers, New Zealand must have looked like steaming banks of mist and cloud emerging from the ocean, and so they named the new land "Aotearoa"--the land of the long white cloud. The isolated Aotearoa of lengend continues in our modern day to be one of the isolated countries in the world--at least in a gepgraphic sence. Europeans did not arrive on New Zeland until the mid-19th cerntury and as in other countries, proceeded to dispossess the native Maoris. New Zealand played a heroic role in the British Empire, along with Australian--helping to save the mother country in two great world wars. Today an independent New Zealand seeks to find its place in an increasingly interdependent world. The country's gepgraphic isolation giving way to the unifying trend of modern tee-comminications. Click here for a general overview of New Zealand history.


Palau was settled fairly recently. There are no written records, but historians believe humans first reached Palau, probably from the Philippines (about 2000 BC). A pygmy population was reported on the island, but disappeared (about 1100 AD). Linguists trace the modern population to the Sunda Islands (Malay Archepeligo). The Spanish colonized the nearby Philippines (16th century), but showed little interest in Palau. British traders were active (18th century). The Spanish showed more interest (19th century.) Pope Leo XIII claimed Spain’s rights over the entire Caroline Islands to preclude a German seizure (1885). Spanish missionaries (Capuchin priests) established two churches. The Spanish were able to finally end inter-village wars. The Spanish after being defeated by the Americans in the Spanish-American War (1898) sold Palau and most of the rest of the Caroline Islands to Germany which at the time was expanding its Pacific colonial empire (1899). The Germans began exploiting the islands' natural resources. They implemented a forced labor system which required native labor work the phosphate mines in Angaur. The Germans also organized plantation and planted coconuts rather than relying on natural coconut palms. The German colonial authorities also began reforming island culture. They banned the month-long traditional mur feast, seeing is as a waste of time and adversely affecting production at German-owned mines and plantations. The Japanese after joining the Btiish in World War I gained control of Palau and the islands became a League of Nations Trusteeship. Japan also worked on the islands' economic development, but in a more balanced way than the Germans. The Japanese established free public and vocational schools for the Palauans. The Japanese had a huge impct on Oalu. They developed a market economy for the first time. As part of this process, property was transferred from the ckanb to the individual. Palau became important in World War II because of its location off the Philippines. After the American victory in the Marianas (June-July 1944), it became clear that the next American offensive would be to retake the Philippines. The United States in preparation for the invasion of the Philippines wanted a secure logistical base. American forces attacked Peleliu (September 1944). What was anticipated to be a quick campaign turned into horendous, protracted battle (September-November 1944). The Japanese having anticipated an American invasion, heavily garrisoned the Islands and dug into the rugged terraine. The fighting continued for more than 2 months (November 1944). Many military historians judge the invasion to have been unecessary and a costly mistake. More than 2,000 Americans died in the fighting. The 10,000 Japanese garrison on Peleliu fought to the death. After the War, Japanese civilians were repatriated. The United States administerted Palau as a United Nations Trusteeship. Four of the U.N. Central Pacific Trust Territory districts formed a single federated Micronesian state (1979). The Marshall Islands and Palau declined to participate in the Federation. Palau as the the western-most cluster of the Caroline Islands (Kerabati) opted for independent status. (The rest of the Carolines and Gilbert islands became Kerabati.) The Republic of Palau was proclaimed (1981). Palau then signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States (1982). After eight referendums, the Compact was ratified (1993). The U.N. granted Palau independence (1994).

Philippines Islands

The Philippines was one of the big trading centers in Asia because of geographical location before the colonization by Spain. These were important outposts both for spices and the China trade. Since the Spanish conquistadors came, it became a Spanish colony. Charles I (better known as Charles V, commissioned Magellan to find a passage through the Americas to the Spice Islands. Magellan sailed from Seville (1519) and explored the Plate estuary (1520) before crossing into the Pacific through the straits at the tip of South America now named for him. He claimed the Philippines for Spain, but was killed there (1521). One of his ships managed to return to Seville, completing the first circumnavigation of the world (1522). A series of Spanish expeditions followed. The exploers named the Islands the Filipinas, in honor of Philip II, Spain's agressively Catholic monarch.. Spain's colonial empire included the Philippine Islands and the East Indies (the Moluccas and Malaca). Three centuries of Spsanish rule made the Philippines “The Most Numbered Christian Country in Asia”. Roman Catholic became a majority. Spain ceded the Philippines tothe United States as a result of the Spanish American War (1898). Spain also ceded Cuba, Guam and Puerto Rico. After a short period of American rule, the United States in the 1930s began to prepare the Philippines for independence. The Philippines played an important role in World War II. Independence was postponed by the the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent invasion of the Philippines (December 1941). Capture of the Philippine Islands was esential to Japan's effort to control the resources of southeast Asia and Oceania--particularly the oil of the Dutch East Indies. The carrier assault on Pearl Harbor which incaopaciated the American Pacific fleet made possible simultaneous attacks on Malaya, Thailand, Guam and Wake Islands Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Philippines. After nearly 3 years of Japanese occupation, the United Sttes began the liberation of the Ohilippines with the invasion at Leyte Gulf (October 1944). After the World War II, the United States granted the Philippines independence and a republic took power (1948). Developments since independence have proven volitile, including dictatorship, corruption, terrorist attacks and economic problems. The Philippines has not shared the economic success of some of its neighbors such as Singapore, Malaya, and Taiwan.

Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Island may be among the most isolated places on earth. Pitcairn is the Pacific island where in 1790 the HMS Bounty's mutineers landed (1790). The mutiny on the Bounty is one of the most famous episodes in the history of the British Royal Navy. The sensational mutiny raised important questions about discipline aboard naval vessels. Fletcher Christian led the mutineers to this remote island. It was chosen of course because of its remotness and the Bounty was sunk. Christian was a son of the Coroner of Cumberland and of Manx descent on his father's side. He is still remembered as the founder and first leader of the settlement. By 1800 John Adams was the only male survivor of the party that had landed just 10 years before. The community was made up of 10 Polynesian women and 23 children. In 1808 the little colony was discovered by Captain Mayhew Folger, an American sealing captain, but his visit was brief. The HMS Briton and HMS Tagus rediscovered the settlement 6 years later (September 17, 1814). All the Pitcairn inhabitants joined the Seventh Day Adventist Church (1887). Here we see Pictcairn inhabitants (1910). Pictcairn today is one of the remanents of the British Empire still scatered around the world.


Samoa is composed of nine South Pacific islands located northeast of New Zealand. The islands are all volcanic in origin. Human settlement began when Polynesian settlers arrived from Tonga (about 1000 BC). Tongan invaders ruled the islands (950-1250 AD). The Matai (chiefly) system developed on the iwlasnds. The Samoas were united by Queen Salamasina (15th century). The first Europeans reporing the Samoans were Dutch traders (1722). French navigator Louis Antoine de Bougainville landed on the Samoas (1768). Christian missionaries established missiions and converted the islanders (1830s). International rivalries allowed the islands to remain independent during much of the the 19th century. This finally ended in the late-19th century. Germany was particularly interested in the Solomons and attempted to install a puppet regime. A Samoan rebellion prevented this attempt to depose the paramount ruler (1887-89). The Act of Berlin settled many issues in the South Pacific (1889). Germany was granted control of the nine islands of Western Samoa, while the United States was granted control of the eastern part od the Archepelago which becaecknownas American Samoa. Britain received Tonga and the Solomon Islands. when America and Germany agreed in a treaty to divide the Samoan archipelago. The Germans occupied the larger western part of the Archepelago (1900). This thus added Samoa to the expanding German colonial possessions (1900). More than 2,000 Chinese were brought in to work on coconut plantations (1900s). New Zealand occupied the islands during World War I (1914). New Zealand administered the island for several decades underv first a League of Nations and then a United Nations trusteeship. An estimated quarter of the Samoan population died in an influenza epidemic. A nationalist movement, the Mau, adopted civil disobedience tactics (1920s). The Samoan Islands during World War II were one of several islands groups east of Australia targeted by the Japanese as part of their FS Operation. Samoa like neigboring Fiji, however, after Midway proved to be just beyond the reach of Japanese conquest. New Zealand set up a system of local government headed by chief minister Fiame Mata'afa Mulinu'u (1959). The Samoan people after the War in a popular referendum voted for independence (1961). The United Nations General Assembly voted to terminate the trusteeship. Western Samoa became independent (1962). Eastern or American Samoa remains a United states dependency.

(American) Samoa

American Samoa is the eastern half of the Samoan Archipelago. International rivalries allowed the islands to remain independent during the 19th century. This finally ended after the Spanish-American War when the United states formally annexed Hawaii and acquired Guam and the Philippine Islands. America and Germany agreed in a treaty to divide the Samoan archipelago (1899). The US formally occupied the smaller eastern islands with the excellent harbor of Pago Pago and the Germans occupied the western islands (1900). Until the Samoas were divided by the American-German treaty, their history was the same.

Solomon Islands

Archeologists believe that people reached the Solomon Islands (about 2000 BC. Europeans first reached the Solomons in the 16th century. The Spainard Alvaro de Mendana first mentiined the islands (1568). There was initially little interest in colonizing the islands. Britain and Germany divided the islands between them (1886). The British placed the southernn solomons under a protectorate (1893). This wasc extended to the Eastern Solomons (1898). The Germans briefly occupied New Guinea and the northern Soloons during their colonial outreach and naval building effort. The Germans transferred the northern Solomons (except Bougainville and Buka) by treaty to Britain (1900). The British and Austraklians seized the German possessions during World war I (1914-18). The islands since World War I were thus admistered by the British and Austrlaians. As the early phase of the Pacific War played out, the Solomons proved to have a strategic location. And it was in the Solomons that the rapidly mobilizing United States first confronted the expanding Japanese Empire on land, setting off a series of bitterly fought naval engagements.



Vanuatu (New Hebredes)

The Vanuatu islands were settled by melanesian people sailing south from the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (about 1500 BC). The first Europeans to site the islands was Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queiros (1606). The waters around the islands were visited by British explorwr James Cook (1774). He named the archipelago the vNew Hebrides because they reminded him of Scottish islands. Missinaries arrived (19th centurt). The islands were unclaimed by Europeans until the 20th century. The British and French agreed to a condominium government (1906). There were both British and French settlers with the French predominating. The New Hebredes during World War II were just beyond the range of Japanese invasion. The American naval victory at Midway made it impossiblle for the Japanese to move further south than the Solomons. The New Hebredes became an important supply and stagiung area for the Allied South Pacific offesive in Guadacanal and the rest of the Solomons. Major naval engagements were fought just north of the islands. An independence movement gained strength in the post-War era (1970s). The islands became independent as the Republic of Vanuatu (1980).


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Created: 11:55 PM 10/7/2007
Last updated: 9:22 AM 6/18/2019