Federated States of Micronesia






Culture Name

Micronesian

Alternative Names

FSM

Orientation

Identification. Formed in 1978, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is an island nation in the Caroline archipelago of the western Pacific Ocean. Between 1947 and 1986, these islands were administered by the United States as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. The United Nations trusteeship was terminated in 1986, when the FSM and the United States entered into a Compact of Free Association that guaranteed financial assistance to the FSM in exchange for U.S. authority over matters of security and defense through the year 2000. Communities throughout the FSM are culturally and linguistically heterogeneous. A shared national identity has been important for economic and political negotiations with outsiders, but sociocultural diversity within the FSM is more often the hallmark of islander identity.

Location and Geography. The Federated States of Micronesia consists of 607 islands with a total land area of 270 square miles (700 square kilometers) scattered across more than one million square miles (2.6 million kilometers) of the western Pacific Ocean. The islands are grouped into four geopolitical states: from west to east, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae. The capital of the FSM is Palikir, which is located in a mountainous region of the main island of Pohnpei. Each state features both mountainous volcanic islands and low-lying coral atolls, with the exception of Kosrae, which has one mountainous island. Coral atolls consist of several small islets within a fringing reef, arranged around a central lagoon. Volcanic islands have a greater diversity of ecological zones, including an interior of dense rain forest and soaring mountains, a coastal plain of ridges and winding valleys, and thick mangrove swamps crowding the shoreline.

Demography. Virtually all of the islands in the FSM suffered severe depopulation following the introduction of diseases by the Europeans in the mid-1800s. Since the late 1800s, population figures have risen steadily. The 1999 population, estimated at 116,268, is up 19 percent from 1990. The annual growth rate of the nation's population is at 2 percent, down 1 percent from the growth experienced between 1950 and 1980. This drop in the population's growth rate can be attributed, in part, to emigration and the free movement of citizens between the FSM and the United States and its territories allowed by the Compact of Free Association. Despite international migration trends, the rapidly growing population of the FSM is expected to double in the next 36 years.

Linguistic Affiliation. English, the official language, is taught in schools and is widely known throughout the region. It is, however, a second language for most Micronesians. Virtually every inhabited island in the FSM is associated with a distinct language or dialect from the Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) language family. With the exception of a few Polynesian outliers, the languages spoken among the islanders of Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, and the coral atolls of Yap State are classified as Nuclear Micronesian. Yapese mainlanders speak a Western Micronesian language. The linguistic diversity among citizens of the FSM is a testament to the importance of local communities.

Symbolism. On the FSM's national flag, four white stars on a sea of blue represents the four unified states in a vast expanse of the western Pacific. The flag symbolically acknowledges that although each state is composed of a diversity of cultures over many miles of ocean, they are joined, not separated,

Federated States of Micronesia
Federated States of Micronesia
by the sea. The sea and maritime themes associated with fishing and voyaging are employed as symbols of a pan-Micronesian identity. Island food and the land on which it is grown also figure prominently in discourse on national identity. Even so, gatherings of ethnically distinct Micronesians during national events feature performances and associated symbolism that highlight the rich cultural diversity of the nation. Dance forms are highly regionalized, often expressing the unique cultural histories of the performers. Images employed in paintings, decorations, and publications often emphasize the cultural heritage of individual states.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. At the end of World War II, the United States assumed control over Micronesia. Prior to this time the islands were governed successively by Spain, Germany, and Japan. In 1947 the entire region became known as the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), a geopolitical entity administered entirely by the United States. The establishment of the Congress of Micronesia in 1964 was the first sign of the Micronesian movement towards autonomy. Dissatisfaction with the TTPI administration's inadequate development strategies and their own lack of control over economic planning compelled members of the congress to press for self-government. Micronesia's strategic location at the threshold of the Asian mainland gave the islanders leverage in their negotiations with the United States, which began in 1969.

A draft constitution for the FSM was crafted by delegates from each of the TTPI districts during the constitutional convention of 1975. The hope was to forge a national identity and unite all districts under a single, constitutional federation. The relatively greater U.S. military interests in the Marshall Islands, Northern Marianas, and Palau, however, provided leaders of these districts with the incentive to pursue separate negotiations. In a referendum held in 1978, the voters from the remaining four central districts (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae) approved the constitution and became the FSM. The new government formally commenced operations in 1979, yet remained under the authority of the United States until 1986 when the Compact of Free Association took effect. The United Nations welcomed the FSM as a sovereign nation in 1991.

National Identity. The creation of a national identity has not been easy considering the differences between island sociocultural practices, languages, and resources. The continuing importance of the FSM's economic and political relationship with the United States and other foreign powers, however, has contributed to the emergence of a national identity. The identification of FSM's citizenry as a nation is largely a response to the economic and political dependency fostered by the United States. This supralocal identity is of recent origin and rarely supersedes the importance of local communities in day-to-day activities. Citizens of the FSM value their identity as members of distinct ethnic groups with diverse cultural traditions and values. This sense of "unity in diversity" is embedded in the preamble to the FSM constitution: "To make one nation of many islands, we respect the diversity of our cultures. Our differences enrich us. The seas bring us together, they do not separate us. Our islands sustain us, our island nation enlarges us and makes us stronger."

Ethnic Relations. Numerous ethnic groups are gathered within the FSM. Although these groups have, at times, assumed a pan-Micronesian identity when dealing with external powers, individuals maintain strong ethnic affiliations and a diversity of interests. The high degree of circular migration brings diverse cultures together and often contributes to the reification of ethnic identities. Ethnic differences are often at the heart of political contention between the states and also contribute to local disputes. Even so, other distinctions, including village, class, kinship, and religious affiliation, often take precedence over ethnicity in defining islander identity.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Architecture in the FSM is a mixture of indigenous designs, colonial influences, and Western models. Open-sided houses made of wooden posts with thatch roofs and earthen floors have largely been replaced by homes made of cement block or poured concrete with corrugated steel roofs. In the urban centers, many homes feature modern kitchens, bathrooms, separate bedrooms, and driveways for automobiles. In rural areas, separate cook-, bath-, and boathouses are still the norm, but Western building materials are increasingly used in construction. Traditional feast houses and meetinghouses are still important places for social interaction in many rural communities, although churches are often the most prominent buildings.

The use of space is related to the relative importance of subsistence production in island communities. Urban residents who rely on the cash economy are settled in close proximity to government offices and places of employment. They generally own little arable land, though they often tend small gardens on house plots. Rural villages on high islands are located within a short distance of both the sea and extensive family gardens devoted to taro, yam, sweet potato, or cassava cultivation. Communities on the coral atolls are usually concentrated along the leeward shoreline of lagoons, not far from more centrally located taro pits, providing protection from storms and access to both marine and terrestrial resources.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The social and symbolic significance of food is one of the most salient aspects of life in Micronesia. Sharing food is an expression of solidarity that validates kinship ties and defines a host of rights, duties, and obligations between people. Meals usually consist of a starchy carbohydrate, and fish or chicken, and may include a variety of fruits. Taro, breadfruit, yams, sweet potatoes, and cassava are the primary starches. Meat, usually fish, is also considered to be an essential part of Micronesian meals. Hundreds of edible fish species are available to fishers in addition to an abundance of marine turtles, shellfish, and crustaceans. Locally-raised livestock, including chicken and pigs, is usually reserved for feasting. Fruits accompany mealtime, and are casually eaten throughout the day, or are incorporated into recipes; fruits include coconut, banana, papaya, pandanus, mango, and a variety of citrus.

Production and consumption of locally harvested produce has diminished throughout the FSM as a result of an increasing reliance on the cash economy and imported foods. Today, boiled rice, fried or baked bread, pancakes, and ramen noodles

Maritime and voyaging themes are major cultural symbols in Micronesia; the sea is viewed as joining the islands together, rather than separating them.
Maritime and voyaging themes are major cultural symbols in Micronesia; the sea is viewed as joining the islands together, rather than separating them.
often constitute the starch component of meals. Canned meats have made similar inroads, but atoll residents and rural high-islanders still rely heavily on subsistence fishing.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Food is the focal point of most ceremonial occasions. Feasts involving the distribution of enormous quantities of food are integral to religious ceremonies, government celebrations, and secular parties marking life-cycle events and changes in status. The distribution of food takes place in accordance with culture-specific rules of hierarchy and etiquette, and is often a sign of the host's wealth and generosity. Certain foods assume a special status during feasts and are considered essential. In Pohnpei, for example, pigs, yams, and sakau (a beverage, with psychoactive properties, made from piper methisticum root) are the most prestigious foods featured during feasts. Elsewhere, taro, sugarcane, and coconuts figure prominently. Although subsistence produce and "traditional" recipes are highlighted during feasts, foreign food imports are gaining currency as markers of wealth among those participating more fully in the market economy.

Basic Economy. The cash economy is almost entirely dependent on the flow of funds from the United States. Since 1986, the nation has received roughly $100 million per year from the United States in Compact of Free Association funds and supplementary grants. Sixty percent of compact disbursements support administrative costs of the government including salaries and benefits, and 40 percent are funneled into infrastructure projects and economic development. Thus, the FSM's public sector drives the cash economy and supports the small, service-oriented private sphere. The subsistence economy is based on small-scale horticulture, fishing, and the exploitation of resources in kinbased island territories. Participation in these two spheres of the economy is not mutually exclusive and many subsistence farmers and fishers move in and out of the cash economy. Remittances from family members participating in the cash economy also supplement the income of households primarily engaged in subsistence production. The prestige economy, based on indigenous forms of status, reciprocity, and exchange, intersects these two dimensions of the economy.

Land Tenure and Property. On the small islands in the FSM, land is scarce. Complex, diverse, and often competing tenure systems governing ownership and access rights to the precious land have developed throughout the islands. Many of these systems include aboriginal and postcolonial elements. On most islands access to land may depend upon membership in a lineage or clan. With the exception of Yap and a few atolls in the state of Pohnpei where patrilineal affiliation governed inheritance of land rights, matrilineages traditionally controlled estates in Micronesia. These estates were often subject to chiefly authority and control. In most cases, the oldest male member of the matrilineage managed the estate. After a century of colonial rule, systems of land tenure followed the path away from corporate, descent group ownership toward individualization of tenure. Furthermore, the nuclearization of the family and greater individual self-interest accompanying Westernization are weakening systems of land tenure based on lineage affiliation.

Commercial Activities. Commercial production, conducted on a very small scale in the FSM, is centered on subsistence produce. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish are sold in roadside markets throughout the region. The commercial sale of merchandise and food imports is the mainstay of the many mom-and-pop shops scattered across the islands and the larger retailers and wholesalers. Handicrafts made from local materials are also sold on a limited scale to tourists.

Major Industries. The FSM economy suffers from the impoverished state of the industrial sector. There are only two small garment factories in the entire nation. The agricultural industry is limited by the high costs of transshipment and a shortage of arable land. Fishing is the most successful and potentially lucrative industry in the FSM. The nation's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) contains 2.5 million square miles (6.5 million square kilometers) of ocean and vast schools of tuna. To date, local fishing companies and joint ventures have had limited success, but the sale of fishing licenses and access rights to the EEZ account for over half of the nation's internal revenue. Tourism attracts more than 20,000 visitors a year, but occupancy rates average only 30 percent throughout the FSM. Lack of infrastructure, inadequate hotel facilities, and limited air transportation hamper the development of a mass tourist market.

Trade. Import dependence is high in the FSM, and the trade balance deficit is equivalent to roughly 60 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The export sector of the economy is small, averaging 5 percent of the GDP. Niche agricultural produce, including gourmet pepper, sakau (kava), betel nut, and citrus fruit, is exported in limited quantities. Copra (dried coconut flesh), once the region's main export, is now produced in limited supplies due to falling prices and competing markets. Marine products account for approximately 80 percent of the nation's commodity export market. Tuna, the principal marine export, is shipped to Japan, Guam, Taiwan, Korea, and the United States.

Division of Labor. Education is one of the principal bases upon which the division of labor in the cash economy is built. Employees of the state and federal governments are typically high school graduates and many hold postsecondary degrees. Mastery of the English language is another trait of salaried workers in the government sector. Among participants in the subsistence economy, labor is primarily divided on the basis of gender. Age and ability also influence the assignment of tasks. Children begin performing domestic chores at an early age, assisting in child care and other gender-specific work. In addition, experts with specialized knowledge may perform specific tasks related to healing, building, or divining.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Social hierarchies in the Caroline Islands are a complex amalgam of indigenous ranking systems and income-centered socioeconomic stratification. Traditional ranking systems across the islands are diverse, but the greatest differences in status are typically found on the high islands where status is primarily determined by descent group affiliation, seniority, and the relationship between people and the land. Age, gender, achievement, and specialized knowledge, in addition to kinship affiliation and land claims, are typically important for determining status on the more egalitarian coral atolls. Achievement in the market economy, however, constitutes another dimension of stratification in the FSM that has, in some instances, eroded indigenous status distinctions.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Traditional hierarchies and income-based class distinctions are evident in behavior, language, and consumption practices. High ranking, in genealogy, age, or title, is acknowledged by acts of deference and displays of respect by those of lower rank. Respected elders or title holders may receive the first share of food at a feast, or may be seated in an honored position. Traditional stratification may be marked by the use of a special honorific language reserved for people of high title, the observance of taboos and ritual proscriptions, or displays of generosity that accompany

Men gather for a meeting outside the men's house, a community building where men eat, sleep, and store their canoes. Meetinghouses and feast houses are important places for social interaction among Micronesians.
Men gather for a meeting outside the men's house, a community building where men eat, sleep, and store their canoes. Meetinghouses and feast houses are important places for social interaction among Micronesians.
feasts. The accumulation of goods and conspicuous consumption, hallmarks of income-based class distinctions, is growing in importance among participants in the market economy. Automobiles, appliances, food imports, and Western-style houses and dress have become symbols of economic success throughout the FSM.

Political Life

Government. The structure of the FSM's national government is modeled on U.S. political institutions. The president, head of the executive branch, is elected to a four-year term by the National Congress from among its members. The unicameral National Congress constitutes the legislative branch of the government and is composed of fourteen senators. The Supreme Court, consisting of trial and appellate divisions, is headed by a chief justice and no more than five associate justices appointed for life by the president with the advice and consent of the National Congress. Each of the four state governments includes executive, legislative, and judicial branches, while municipalities within each state govern at the village level.

Leadership and Political Officials. There are no political parties in the FSM. Elected officials represent a great diversity of cultures and interests. The tendency of leaders to vote in the interests of their state's constituents has, at times, hampered consensus and fostered a sense of disunity. Leadership on the national, state, and municipal levels is interwoven with a strong attachment to traditional forms of local leadership. Today, there is some crossover between traditional leadership and elective office. For example, two councils of chiefs constitute a fourth branch of the Yap State government. In Chuuk and Pohnpei many district magistrates also hold titles based on descent, and elected officials often have genealogical ties to traditional leaders.

Social Problems and Control. The structure of courts in the FSM is patterned after the judicial system of the United States with federal trial and appellate divisions and state supreme and district courts. Law enforcement is handled by both municipal and state police officers. Despite the existence of formal legal mechanisms, crime is often handled by local communities in accordance with customary practice. Societies throughout the FSM feature a variety of formal and informal social control mechanisms. Formal control may be conducted by a council of elders or persons of chiefly status who mediate between parties and levy fines. Informal control stems from the avoidance of actions that cause shame and embarrassment and the need to maintain one's personal and family status through honorable and respectful behavior. A sense of corporate responsibility among kin, coupled with the interdependence of island societies, curbs disruptive behaviors.

The most pressing social problems in the FSM are related to the sociocultural transformations occurring as a result of Westernization. The high rate of suicide among young males is related to the erosion of traditional authority, the declining significance of the extended family, and the displacement of young men seeking education and employment away from home communities. These factors, coupled with alcohol consumption and the lack of clearly defined roles, also contribute to the high frequency of youth violence and delinquency. Alcoholism and the declining influence of extended kin on nuclear family relationships appear to be factors in the increasing incidence of physical and sexual domestic abuse.

Military Activity. Under the provisions of the Compact of Free Association between the FSM and the United States, the United States is granted full authority and responsibility for the nation's security and defense. The FSM is obligated by the "Military Use and Operating Rights Agreement" to provide specified locations for the establishment of U.S. military sites.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The FSM has a generous system of social welfare. Health services are provided and medications dispensed for a nominal fee to all citizens. The government absorbs most costs, including the high cost of overseas referrals. Grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cover the cost of many immunization and disease prevention programs. Education is compulsory through eighth grade and is freely provided through twelfth grade. Free public education is made possible through direct U.S. financial assistance, grants from the U.S. Department of Education, and compact funds that also provide scholarships for college study in the United States. The nation also operates a social security system that provides monthly income to retirees.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Activity of NGOs in the FSM is curtailed by the strong financial presence of the United States and its supporting agencies. Millions of dollars in grants are funneled into the FSM by a host of U.S. bureaucracies including the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Interior, Health and Human Services, and Labor. Relief from typhoons, droughts, landslides, and other natural disasters is provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Among those who participate in the subsistence economy, gender is a major organizing principle in the division of labor. Women are the primary child-care providers and gardeners. They are responsible for many domestic chores including meal preparation and laundry. Women also harvest subsistence produce, weave mats, tend livestock, glean shellfish, and fish inshore. Men are the primary builders and carpenters. They do much of the heavy labor associated with subsistence horticulture and conduct the more dangerous fishing activities beyond the reef. High status positions in religious and traditional political hierarchies are primarily held by men, although women's church organizations provide a separate system of ranking among the women in some societies.

Participation in the market economy has blurred the strict demarcation of gender roles associated with subsistence production. Across the FSM, 52 percent of females 15 years of age and older participate in the cash economy compared to 66 percent of males. Men still hold the higher status jobs in government, but the increasing frequency of female employment in the labor force often requires men to perform domestic tasks traditionally performed by women.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. With the exception of Yap and a few coral atoll societies in Pohnpei, Micronesian societies emphasize matrilineal descent. Women, therefore, are the channels through which identity, titles, land rights, and property are acquired. This provides women with a level of status that is not found in more patriarchal societies, allowing women to exercise considerable influence over the conduct of domestic affairs, and even the allocation of use rights to land. Men typically control the political and economic affairs in the public sphere and have ultimate authority over domestic decisions, but the complementarity of tasks provides males and females with valued roles in society. The shift towards a market-oriented economy, however, has unsettled traditional gender relations. In many societies, the patrilineal emphasis of Western cultures is eroding matrilineal inheritance

A paved road in the coastal village of Kolonia, Pohnpei. Pohnpei is the main island in Micronesia.
A paved road in the coastal village of Kolonia, Pohnpei. Pohnpei is the main island in Micronesia.
practices, while greater female participation in the cash economy is challenging male roles and diminishing the complementarity of tasks performed by males and females.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Although polygamy was practiced traditionally, monogamy has been the norm since the arrival of Christianity in the mid-1800s. Marriages in many parts of the FSM are still arranged by families with the consent of prospective spouses. Marriage unions that create family alliances and concentrate land, wealth, and status, such as preferential cross-cousin marriage, are favored in many Micronesian societies. Clan exogamy is still a very important marriage requirement. A large majority of marriages take place under the auspices of Christian churches, but they are often preceded by common-law unions in which couples co-reside. Formal marriages typically involve the exchange of gifts between the spouses' families and feasting to mark the occasion, and may involve the transfer of land between families. Divorce can be initiated by either spouse, but it is less commonly practiced among couples with children.

Domestic Unit. Households are often composed of extended kin. On average, extended kin account for 18 percent of household membership. This is down from 30 percent in the 1970s, indicating a clear trend towards the nuclearization of the domestic group. Household composition is dependent on a variety of postmarital residence patterns. Where patrilocality is the norm (Pohnpei, Yap), the household may consist of a joint family of brothers, their wives, and children, or a stem family that includes multiple generations of father-son ties. Conversely, matrilocal residence (favored in Chuuk and Yap's outer islands) establishes a household composed of related women and in-marrying husbands. Neolocal residence, which encourages the creation of nuclear families, is gaining popularity due to Westernization and the influence of the market economy.

Inheritance. Customs governing the inheritance of land, corporeal property, and certain skills or lore are complicated by the rapid pace of Westernization. In general, individually owned corporeal property may be disposed of in accordance with the owner's wishes and is usually passed to children or siblings. Specialized knowledge may be owned by descent groups, but it is commonly inherited by children of the possessors who are deemed to be competent and adept students. Land is another issue. Where land is owned by a corporate descent group, usufruct rights are inherited either matrilineally or patrilineally upon birth or adoption into a lineage. Lifelong use rights to specific plots of land may be divided by the male lineage head among his sons (patrilineal) or sister's sons (matrilineal). As Western concepts of ownership and formal inheritance codes become more entrenched, individual ownership of land is becoming increasingly common. Heirship disputes between those claiming individual ownership and those claiming usufruct rights through descent are not uncommon given the competing forms of ownership. Formal legal codes and courts often handle these disputes and govern the disposal of property in cases of intestate succession.

Kin Groups. Kinship in Micronesia extends far beyond the confines of the domestic unit. Systems of descent vary considerably between and within states. On the main island of Yap, people have affiliations with both a localized, patrilineal land estate and a geographically dispersed matrilineal clan. Chuukese and outer islanders of Yap are organized into matrilineal lineages and clans that share rights to land. Matrilineal clans are also found on Pohnpei where their influence has diminished as a result of acculturation. In Kosrae, descent is reckoned bilaterally, creating ego-focused kindreds. Though built on principles of descent, these extended kinship ties are validated and legitimized by performance, including the sharing of land, food, and resources.

Socialization

Infant Care. Children are highly valued in the FSM. They are considered to be a family's source of wealth and insurance for parents in old age. For this reason, parents create a nurturing environment and indulge infant needs. Although mothers are the primary caregivers, fathers and older siblings also tend to infants. They also receive a great deal of attention from extended kin and neighbors. Because of the importance of interaction in small island communities, infants are carried facing outwards, away from the holder. Infants typically nurse on demand and may be breast-fed for a number of years. Cosleeping with parents is the norm.

Child Rearing and Education. The transmission of cultural values and expectations begins early in the socialization of children. Children are taught to be cooperative, generous, sharing, and respectful. Discipline, in the form of shaming and ridicule, is often administered by family members and the community at large, but corporal punishment is the prerogative of parents. Education of children involves a combination of formal schooling and informal acquisition of gender-related knowledge and skills. In the past, the transmission of lore and skills was an important aspect of growing up in a subsistence household. Today, formal education is mandatory and most children attend grade school between the ages of five and fourteen.

Higher Education. Greater participation in the market economy places a premium on higher education in the FSM. More and more families are sending children to high school and college with the hopes of providing them greater access to employment. Since the 1980s, the percentage of citizens over 25 years of age with education beyond grade school has increased from 25 to 47 percent. High school enrollment is near 70 percent of both males and females between the ages of 14 and 17. College enrollment lags far behind elementary and high school rates. Only 27 percent of males and females between the ages of 18 and 21 attend college. Most of these students are enrolled at branch campuses of the College of Micronesia, while a limited number receive scholarships to study at colleges in the United States.

Etiquette

Rules of etiquette among Micronesians focus on displays of respect related to kinship, gender, age, political rank, and religious title. Brothers and sisters should avoid one another in public and refrain from telling bawdy jokes or making sexual remarks in each other's presence. Among matrilineal societies, respect for one's mother's brother is marked by the use of polite language and physical avoidance on formal occasions. Women show respect for their husbands by walking behind them in public or serving them first during meals. Although members of the same sex may hold hands as a sign of friendship, public displays of affection between males and females are extremely rare. Further, men and women usually occupy separate social spaces during church services and community gatherings. Older members of society as well as titled persons enjoy an exulted position of respect, and may be given first shares of a feast distribution or special seats during public gatherings.

In addition to demonstrating age, gender, and political status, food etiquette illustrates the importance of generosity in Micronesian cultures. Sharing food with visitors is a must, and hosts take pride in providing sustenance to others. Guests are usually fed first and are expected to eat in moderation. Compliments paid to the host center on the host's generosity and the experience of satiation. In

A man with a small child in front of his house in Kolonia, Pohnpei, Caroline Islands. Fathers and mothers equally tend to children in Micronesian society.
A man with a small child in front of his house in Kolonia, Pohnpei, Caroline Islands. Fathers and mothers equally tend to children in Micronesian society.
general, Micronesian etiquette reflects the emphasis on harmonious, nonassertive, and respectful behavior. In public, people tend to speak cautiously and avoid confrontation with others. Gossip is an ever-present check on disrespectful or inappropriate public behavior.

Religion

Religious Beliefs. Missionization of the region began in the mid-1800s. Prior to the arrival of Christianity, beliefs focused on the activity of ancestral souls, a pantheon of deities, and the numerous spirits, both kind and malevolent, that inhabited the earth, sea, and sky. Today, roughly half of the population is Catholic and half belong to various Protestant sects, most notably the United Church of Christ (Congregational). Although Christianity has largely replaced the traditional animistic systems of belief, elements of pre-Christian belief systems are interwoven with ecclesiastical practice. Many Micronesians still believe in the power of deceased ancestors to influence events and the existence of spirits and spirit possession.

Religious Practitioners. Prior to Christian conversion, island societies relied on a variety of religious specialists to mediate between the natural and supernatural world. The men who held these positions were responsible for a variety of tasks including divination, healing, navigation, weather control, and bringing about propitious events such as victory in battle and abundant harvests. Although specialists with supernatural skills are still employed from time to time, the majority of formal religious practitioners are members of Catholic and Protestant churches. Practitioners in both faiths are ordained by the formal ecclesiastical organizations. Protestant churches feature a hierarchy of religious titles for which members of each congregation compete.

Rituals and Holy Places. The ritual cycle of Christian churches dominates the organization of community activity in many parts of Micronesia. Elements of traditional culture, such as competitive feasting and the harvest of first fruits, have been incorporated into church calendars. People can be found preparing for, or celebrating, a church-related event almost every day. Churches are the primary holy places and are often the most conspicuous buildings in Micronesian communities. Even so, many places associated with legendary or historical events are considered sacred. Such sites may have an inherent power relating to the past, or may be the abode of spirits.

Death and the Afterlife. Death is an occasion for great feasting in all island societies of the FSM. Each culture has specific mourning rites and observances that are integrated with Christian beliefs and rituals. In general, the first feast, associated with intense mourning and the burial itself, lasts between three and four days. The body is usually interred on ancestral land or in the church cemetery. On some islands, formal mourning among close kin and friends may continue for a number of months. At the end of this period another feast may be held by the immediate family to recognize the assistance of those who observed the mourning rites. Death anniversaries are commonly celebrated and may involve community-wide feasts or small family gatherings. The rich diversity of indigenous beliefs concerning the afterlife have largely been replaced by the Christian emphasis on heaven and hell. Even so, many believe in the ability of ancestral spirits to influence events and intercede on behalf of kin.

Medicine and Health Care

In the past, island medical practice was intimately related to religious beliefs. Illness could result from the transgression of taboos, unprovoked spirit attack, or the loss of the soul, or be due to the malevolent work of sorcerers. Depending on the etiology of the illness, treatment by specialists could involve the use of herbal remedies with supernatural powers, massage, or spiritual mediation between human and supernatural domains.

Today, Micronesians rely on Western biomedicine in concert with indigenous remedies. Health care is subsidized by the government and provided to citizens for a nominal fee. There is a main hospital in each state and numerous dispensaries are scattered throughout the island communities, but the limited number of trained doctors places a heavy burden on existing services. There are approximately 3,500 citizens per doctor in the FSM. Western medicine is considered indispensable for the treatment of the nation's primary health problems including perinatal infection, tuberculosis, skin disease, venereal disease, intestinal parasites, and diseases related to the high consumption of unhealthy imported foods, including diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Masseurs, midwives, and specialists in herbal remedies, however, are still employed for the treatment of a variety of ailments.

Secular Celebrations

National holidays include New Year's Day (1 January), Constitution Day (10 May), United Nations Day (24 October), and National Day (3 November). Christmas (25 December) is also nationally recognized. In addition to these federal holidays, each state and municipality has its own celebrations. Common among these are dates celebrating the signing of state and municipal constitutions, as well as Liberation Day (11 September), which commemorates the U.S. victory over Japan in WWII.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Arts and literature in the FSM receive very little government or private support. Exhibits of Micronesian art are rare and usually restricted to regional museums and universities. There is a trend, however, towards greater Micronesian participation in Pacific-wide art events, such as the Pacific Festival of Arts, held in various places in the South Pacific, and the Rarotonga Festival of Pacific Arts, held on Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

Literature. Oral literature occupies a special place among the arts in Micronesian societies. Stories told and retold through generations transmit historical understandings, specialized knowledge, and the mores of society. Besides the work of foreign scholars, a number of Micronesians have recorded indigenous histories, myths, and folklore. In addition, regional publications commonly feature indigenous poets and writers.

Graphic Arts. Many of the skills required for the production of indigenous graphic art in the FSM have been lost. Canoe carving, once a highly evolved and valued art form, is largely forgotten among the young men who prefer to fish from fiberglass out-board motorboats. Western models have largely replaced indigenous architectural detailing and design. Tattooing was abandoned as a form of artistic expression in the postcontact era. Many of the more elaborate textiles are no longer produced, although women still fashion a large variety of woven and plaited goods. The Kapingamarangi in Pohnpei and the Chuukese also produce finely carved wooden crafts, mostly for sale to tourists.

Performance Arts. Both music and dance are very important modes of expression in Micronesian societies and often serve to transmit islander identity and commemorate history. Forms of musical expression vary from pre-Christian chants to popular genres such as reggae, hip-hop, and pop. Choral hymns sung in four-part harmony by church choirs are commonly performed during secular and church-related events. Indigenous chants and songs featuring complex rhythms, harmony, and metaphorical language in conjunction with various dance movements are often favored ways of expressing cultural affiliation during public celebrations.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Research conducted in the FSM is typically research on the FSM, funded by U.S. and foreign granting agencies. Three major scientific investigations involving more than 30 researchers were funded during the U.S. Naval Administration's tenure. Since that time hordes of foreign researchers, primarily from the United States, have descended on the islands. Regional physical and social science programs within the FSM are limited by inadequate financial support. The College of Micronesia, the only university in the nation, does not support extensive research programs. College-educated Micronesians often take their talents elsewhere, contributing to what has been called the region's "brain drain."

Bibliography

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Bernart, Luelen. The Book of Luelen, 1977.

Demmke, Andreas, et. al. Federated States of Micronesia Population Profile: A Guide for Planners and Policy-Makers, 1997.

Falgout, Suzanne. "Americans in Paradise: Custom, Democracy, and Anthropology in Postwar Micronesia." Ethnology 34 (2): 99–111, 1995.

Federated States of Micronesia. Statistical Yearbook, 1999.

Fischer, John L., and Ann M. Fischer. The Eastern Carolines, 1970.

Flinn, Juliana. Diplomas and Thatch Houses: Asserting Tradition in a Changing Micronesia, 1992.

Goodenough, Ward H. Property, Kin, and Community on Truk, 1951.

Hanlon, David. Upon a Stone Altar: A History of the Islands of Pohnpei to 1890, 1988.

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Hezel, Francis X. Reflections on Micronesia, 1982.

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Hezel, Francis X., and M. Levin. "Micronesian Emigration: Beyond the Brain Drain." In J. Connell, ed., Migration and Development in the South Pacific, 1990.

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Keating, Elizabeth. Power Sharing: Language, Rank, Gender, and Social Space in Pohnpei, Micronesia, 1998.

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Marshall, Mac. Weekend Warriors: Alcohol in a Micronesian Culture, 1979.

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Petersen, Glenn. One Man Cannot Rule a Thousand: Fission in a Pohnpeian Chiefdom, 1982.

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Rubenstein, Donald H. "Suicide in Micronesia." In F. X. Hezel, D. H. Rubenstein, and G. M. White, eds., Culture, Youth, and Suicide in the Pacific: Papers from an East-West Center Conference, 1985.

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—B RYAN P. O LES



User Contributions:

Cloe
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Nov 28, 2006 @ 10:10 am
WOW! This is really interesting, i didn't know most of these things but nw, after reading this, i've learned alot.
Henry maliuweluo
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Sep 10, 2009 @ 4:16 pm
WOW!! It's remind me that I'm away from Home.. It is wounderfull!!
George
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Jan 22, 2010 @ 8:08 am
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Pres
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Apr 9, 2010 @ 12:12 pm
WOW, THIS IS INTERESTING!! I LEARNED A LOT BY READING THESE THINGS, THANK YOU!!
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Apr 12, 2010 @ 2:14 pm
I enjoy cultural arts, history, poetry, and family life of individuals that things differently. I learned in school that just because one is different than the other it doesn't change their culture. It is a valued self identity even by it's family name or island. To my opinion however today's youth and family are changing very rapidly. So it is up to the individual to keep up with times but still maintain that value of cultural respect for all.
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May 12, 2010 @ 12:12 pm
this is a very awesome website i love it the next time i need to know about different cultures im coming to this website
Chloe
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Jun 18, 2010 @ 1:13 pm
Thank you to whom ever created this website. I am doing a report on the islands of the pacific and this site has provided me with just about everything that i need to know about micronesia. Thank U!
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Nov 23, 2010 @ 3:15 pm
danm!!! this is the first page that i actually raed all the way through it..so intresting...
Mae Barnabas
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Apr 10, 2011 @ 8:20 pm
There are changes in the island cultures such as in languages, gender roles and family structure as a result of foreign influences in Micronesia. What are the causes and effects of foreign influences in Micronesian culture?
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Jun 12, 2011 @ 5:05 am
I have been invited by Mahi-International to be the first chiropractor on the Island of Pohnpei. I am very excited to introduce this natural, effective, and safe health delivery system as an option that, in fact, aligns more with their pre-western healing arts than the current allopathic system. I respectfully travel as a provider, a teacher, a professional photographer, and a student. I will spend the month of August on Pohnpei and upon my return would be happy to share my experiences and body of photography with anyone interested.

The above information about FSM extremely well thoughtful, lucid, and well written. Thank you for introduction.
Sialik Joe
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Nov 5, 2011 @ 4:16 pm
Wow, I Did'nt Know This Much About Kosrae And The Other Islands. So Much I Learned About Micronesia Heritage.
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Mar 10, 2012 @ 5:05 am
I was doing a reaserch on modes of production of various communities.am happy this article helped me thank you.
Marsha Andrew
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Apr 12, 2012 @ 1:01 am
WOW! Thank God i found this website i didn't know about this...
i;m doing my research on Culture and history of Micronesia (FSM)...
then i came across this website...thankz!!
Zuleika - Uni student, PNG
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Sep 24, 2012 @ 4:04 am
I am writing a critical response on an article about the Social Impact of Television in Micronesia. Information provided here has helped me to identify some changes in local cultures, and social problems resulting from western influence. Thankyou.
Brainard Jim
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Oct 29, 2012 @ 10:22 pm
This is really good for my "History of Micronesia" class I'm taking now. But, can you do some more?
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Dec 18, 2012 @ 9:21 pm
Thanks I have found some details for the "History of micronesia".It's really good.
Bilrose
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Feb 25, 2013 @ 6:18 pm
what are the differences in settlement and household in Palau,Chuuk,and Ulithi and why?
Sarah
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Apr 16, 2013 @ 6:18 pm
Interesting!! Thanks to this page. If I did not read this, I won't know some info. about FSM.
Maphryg
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Oct 10, 2013 @ 9:21 pm
Very nice and perfect to hear my history and culture of my own nation..am so proud of it...
eruenap
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Nov 25, 2013 @ 10:22 pm
Interesting!! Thanks I learn More about different culture in the Micronesia.
Kookier
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Feb 21, 2014 @ 3:15 pm
I was adopted into the US, I was born on pohnpei and I enjoy learning about the islands :)
Daniel
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May 18, 2014 @ 4:16 pm
THANK YOU SO MUCH. This website has helped me a lot in my homework.
noah
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May 30, 2014 @ 9:09 am
Thank You Very Much, I Made A Presentation about this in my school.
Carrol
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Sep 16, 2014 @ 3:15 pm
I want to thank Emily who taught in Micronesia for 2 yrs. as she was passing by my desk I asked her to come and see my research information on obesity. That is when I learned about diabetes being a major health issue in Micronesia. This website has so much informative information about the Country and the Culture thanks so much to you and Emily.

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