Micronesia - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

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Federated States of Micronesia, self-governing island country in free association with the United States, located in the western Pacific Ocean, forming, with the Republic of Palau, the Caroline Islands. The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) includes four states. From east to west they are Kosrae, Pohnpei (formerly Ponape), Chuuk (formerly Truk), and Yap. The FSM is north of the equator, located more than 4,000 km (2,500 mi) southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii. Palikir, on Pohnpei Island, is the capital. The largest town is Kolonia, also on Pohnpei. The FSM, along with Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, and Nauru, is part of Micronesia, one of the three major divisions of Oceania.


The FSM consists of more than 600 islands, of which about 60 are inhabited. From east to west, the FSM extends more than 2,700 km (1,700 mi), about twice the length of the country’s north-to-south distance. The contrast between land and sea area is great. The total land area is 702 sq km (271 sq mi), of which the islands of Pohnpei constitute well over one-half. The FSM’s exclusive economic zone, an area of the ocean where the FSM controls fishing and other rights, is more than 2.6 million sq km (1 million sq mi).

Most islands of the FSM are low-lying coral atolls (ring-shaped islands that enclose lagoons), although some of the larger islands were formed by volcanoes. Kosrae, the easternmost state, is usually considered to be one large volcanic island, but it also consists of several offshore islets, including Lelu, which is connected to the large island by a causeway. Pohnpei state contains the FSM’s largest island, the volcanic island of Pohnpei. There are also small offshore islands and outlying coral atolls. Chuuk state contains more than 200 islands and islets, including remnants of volcanic peaks in the lagoon of Chuuk Atoll and outlying coral islands. Yap, the westernmost state, consists of Yap proper (a small cluster of islands, three of which are connected by bridges) and more than 100 outlying coral islands. Unlike most other islands in the FSM, the islands of Yap proper are continental; they were formed by an uplifting of the Asian continental shelf. The volcanic islands have mountainous interiors, while the interiors of the continental islands of Yap have rolling hills. The country’s highest elevation is 790 m (2,595 ft) at Mount Ngihneni on Pohnpei.

The FSM has a tropical climate that is uniformly hot and humid. The average daily temperature range is 22° to 32°C (72° to 90°F). Rainfall varies greatly from one end of the country to the other. Yap receives about 4,570 mm (about 180 in) a year. Pohnpei receives twice that amount. Periodic droughts occur, particularly on the atolls. The FSM lies within the typhoon belt and thus destructive storms are common. They most frequently occur in the westernmost islands.

Vegetation on the volcanic islands is dense, but coconut palms thrive everywhere, including the coral atolls. The volcanic islands have relatively rich soils that support a variety of crops. Included are breadfruit, citrus and other fruits, taro, yams, and other root crops. The atolls have poorer soils and agriculture is much more limited. Although the volcanic and continental islands have rivers, the water is untreated. Thus the only source of drinking water in the FSM is rain collected in catchment systems. Water on the atolls is particularly scarce, and residents there must also rely on coconut milk.

The islands have few land animals. Chickens, pigs, dogs, cats, and rats were introduced by humans. Seabirds are numerous. Like coconuts, marine life is essential for atoll dwellers and it is abundant everywhere. There are no harmful reptiles or insects.


The FSM’s 2008 estimated population was 107,673, indicating a population density of 153 persons per sq km (397 per sq mi). The population is unevenly distributed, however, with Chuuk state having one-half the population and Pohnpei, one-third. Some 29 percent of the population lives in the urban areas on the four main islands. The birth rate is high, but emigration partly offsets the population growth rate. Since the mid-1980s, Micronesians have migrated in sizable numbers to Guam, Hawaii, and the United States mainland.

The native Micronesians are divided among roughly ten language groups with varying cultural traditions. English is the official language of government and business, and most people have some command of it, although the range of ability is great. Many people also know two or more local languages.

The literacy rate is estimated at 89 percent, but educational achievement is very mixed. Elementary and secondary education is free and is compulsory for students between the ages of 6 and 14. Institutions of higher education include the Community College of Micronesia, established in 1987 on Pohnpei. Several hundred students from the FSM also pursue higher education in Guam and the United States.

With few exceptions, the people are Christians. Until recently, they were about evenly divided between mainstream Protestant denominations and Roman Catholicism. However, a number of Evangelical churches and other competing faiths have gained a following in the FSM, and religious differences have added an element of tension to island life.

Extended family life remains strong in the outer islands, but it is being eroded in the urban centers. The movement of people from rural to urban areas has been accompanied by an increased reliance on the money economy. Many basic traditional skills such as canoe making, fishing, and agriculture are being lost. Clothing and housing are increasingly more Western in style. Dependence on imported Western foods is also increasing. Even a basic necessity such as fish (canned) is imported. Many of the imported foods have a higher fat, sugar, and salt content than do the traditional foods they have replaced. As a result, there has been an increase in obesity, hypertension, and heart disease. Overcrowding in urban areas and the declining influence of the extended family have contributed to an increase in a number of social problems, including spouse and child abuse, alcohol abuse, juvenile delinquency, and youth suicides.


The FSM’s economy is relatively simple. United States funds are the only major source of income. By the terms of the Compact of Free Association, the United States provided the FSM with about $1.39 billion between 1986 and 2001. With additional grants from the United States, the FSM’s total income from U.S. funds averages about $100 million a year. Small amounts of aid come from other donors as well. The FSM also receives income from the sale of licenses to foreign fleets to fish in its exclusive economic zone. Copra (dried coconut meat) is the only cash crop but it is of minor value.

The government is the largest employer. It provides all basic services and supports large bureaucracies at both the national and state levels. Even in remote areas, local officials, teachers, and health-care workers are government employees. Most outer islanders, however, still engage in subsistence activities.

Commercial enterprises flourish and provide additional employment in urban areas. Included are businesses that sell foodstuffs, household appliances, and motor vehicles.

Tourism also provides income and in the early 1990s more than 20,000 visitors arrived annually. However, significant growth is hampered by the remoteness of the islands and the country’s poor infrastructure.

The national currency is the United States dollar. The Federated States of Micronesia is a member of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund.

Each state has an international air terminal and port facility. The four main islands have major airline service. Local enterprises manage air transport to some of the outer islands. Several shipping lines provide monthly service from elsewhere in the Pacific, Asia, and the United States. Small vessels shuttle among the islands. Roads are generally poor.

Given the large area that the islands cover, radio is the most important means of communication. Each state operates a station. There are television stations, but service is limited. The national government publishes a newsletter in English.

The production of electricity is also a government function. Diesel-powered generators are the sole source of energy.


From 1947 until 1979, the islands that now make up the FSM were part of the United States-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. That year, the districts of Kosrae, Ponape (now Pohnpei), Truk (now Chuuk), and Yap approved a constitution, establishing the Federated States of Micronesia. The districts are distributed according to population and there are five in Chuuk, three in Pohnpei, and one each in Yap and Kosrae. The country has a unicameral legislature consisting of 14 members. One senator from each state is elected to a four-year term and one senator from each of the country’s ten districts is elected to a two-year term. Voters must be age 18 or older. The president and vice president are chosen by the legislature from among the four state senators. Special state elections are held to replace the senate seats vacated by the president and vice president.

The four states have considerable autonomy. Each has a unicameral legislature, a governor, and a lieutenant governor. All officials are elected. There are municipal governments at the village level. Some village leaders are elected while others are traditional chiefs.

The nation’s supreme court is headed by a chief justice and as many as five associate justices. All are appointed by the president with the consent of the legislature. The states and some municipalities have courts at the local level.

The Compact of Free Association, implemented in 1986, defines the political arrangement between the United States and the FSM. While the FSM is self-governing, the United States has the responsibility for defense. It may establish military bases and deny other nations access to Micronesia. In return, the FSM receives financial support and its citizens have the right of free entry to reside and work in the United States.


Pottery pieces and other archaeological evidence suggest the ancestors of today’s Micronesians settled the islands as early as AD 200. There are ruins in Kosrae state that date back to the 13th or 14th century. The ruins of Nan Madol, near the island of Pohnpei, consist of nearly 100 artificial islets. These stone structures served as the walled fortress of a kingdom that was powerful during the 13th century.

In the early 1500s Spanish explorers became the first Europeans to sight the islands. However, foreign influence was not significant until the early 1800s when American and British whalers began frequenting the islands. Missionary activities and a trade in coconut oil occurred by the mid-19th century. In the 1880s Spain unsuccessfully attempted to extend its control over the Caroline Islands (what is now the FSM and Palau). After the Spanish-American War in 1898, Spain lost its colonial empire in the Pacific and the Carolines came under German colonial rule. With the onset of World War I in 1914, Japan occupied the islands. Eventually, the Japanese-held islands in the region, which included the Caroline Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Marshall Islands, became a League of Nations mandated territory.

Micronesia was a major battleground during World War II (1939-1945). The United States occupied the islands at the war’s end. In 1947 the islands came under U.S. administration, as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, under the authority of the United Nations. United States interest in the trust territory was primarily strategic. American-style political institutions were introduced, but little economic development took place.

Negotiations for self-government in Micronesia began in the late 1960s with the assumption that a single nation would emerge from the trust territory. Fragmentation occurred during the 1970s, however, and differences in culture, history, and self-interest made unity impossible. The three island groups with the greatest strategic value—the Northern Marianas, the Marshall Islands and Palau—demanded to chart their own futures (see Northern Mariana Islands, Commonwealth of; Palau, Republic of). In spite of differences, the districts of Kosrae, Pohnpei (then Ponape), Chuuk (then Truk), and Yap were given little option but to remain together. They ratified a constitution in 1979 that established the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). In 1986 the FSM and the United States signed the Compact of Free Association, officially making the FSM an internally sovereign, self-governing state. Under the compact, the United States assumes full responsibility for the FSM’s defense and provides the FSM with regular economic assistance in the form of U.S. grant funds and federal program assistance. These provisions were set to expire in November 2001. If an agreement for new provisions was not reached by then, the original terms were to be extended for two years. Other provisions of the compact, including the status of free association, continue indefinitely.

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