MICRONESIA (from Gr. /u<cp6s, small, and vjjam, island), one of the three great divisions of the oceanic islands in the central and western Pacific. Lying to the north of Melanesia, it embraces the following groups: Mariana, Pelew, Caroline, Marshall and Gilbert. See articles under these headings, and PACIFIC OCEAN (section on Islands).
The Micronesian islanders form in the main a branch of the Polynesian race, but distinguished from it by well-marked differences in appearance, language and institutions. Many of the islanders, however, show signs of hybridism. The proximity of Japan and the Philippines 1 on the west, and of the Papuan 'There are authenticated instances of Japanese junks, with living people in them, having been found in various parts of North Pacific. In 1814 the British brig " Forester " met with one off the coast of California (about 30 N. lat.), with three living men and fourteen dead bodieson board. In December 1832 a Japaiw junk arrived at the Hawaiian Islands with four of the crew living. If these junks could cross the Pacific in the latitude of Hawaii it is not at all unlikely that others running in a south-easterly direction would reach some of the many atolls which stretch over about 35 of longitude, forming the Caroline and Marshall archipelagoes.
The traditions of the Gilbert Islanders tell us that their islands and South Polynesian islands on the south and south-east, suggests, what in fact is found, a combination of races. In some places the oblique Mongolian eye is noticed, and (together with certain Indo-Chinese customs) there is often a scantiness of beard and general " Malay " look, which increases westwards, and seems to imply relations with the archipelago subsequent to the departure thence of the pure Polynesians. In the Gilberts the traces of Polynesian (Samoan) influences are evident, and are confirmed by tradition. Among the Carolines and the Marshalls darker and more savage communities are found, suggesting a Melanesian element, which is further traceable in the Ebon (Marshall) and other languages.
Each of the four main groups, viz. the Caroline, Marshall, Gilbert and Ladrone (Mariana), from long isolation, has developed ethnological peculiarities of its own. The most advanced folk were the " Chamorros " of the Ladrones, owing to the greater natural resources of the islands, and perhaps more frequent contact with influences from the west; but as a separate people they no longer exist, having been nearly exterminated by the Spaniards in the i;th century. Next in advancement come the Caroline islanders. The general Micronesian type is a well-proportioned rather slightly built figure, with small and regular features; head high and well proportioned, but forehead rather retreating and narrow at the temples; cheek bones and chin slightly prominent; straight black hair, lanker than that of the Polynesians, colour somewhat darker than the Polynesians, the Marshalls being darker and more vigorous than the Carolines, while the Gilbert type, though smaller than the latter, is still darker and coarser. The upper class greatly surpasses the common people in physique and intelligence.
There is a division of society into septs or clans, the membership of which constitutes the closest tie. Persons of the same sept must not intermarry, and when two islands or communities meet in war the members of one sept, however widely separated by distance of space or time, will not injure or fight with each other. Each community is usually composed (but there are local differences) of (i) an upper class of chiefs, from among whom the head (tamol or iros) is chosen; (2) a lower but still noble class; and (3) common people, mostly without rights of property. These last are only allowed one wife. Here and there are traces, as in Tonga, of a spiritual sovereign, the descendants probably of a conquered dynasty. Succession is through the female side, which assures to women a certain position, and leads besides to some curious results (see paper by J. S. Kubary in Das Ausland, 1880, No. 27). The upper class are the keepers of traditions, boat-builders, leaders of expeditions; tattooing is generally done by them, the amount increasing with a man's rank; the custom here still has definite religious associations. Both sexes are tattooed.
The Marshall Islanders are the boldest and most skilful navigators in the Pacific. Their voyages of many months' duration, in great canoes sailing with outrigger to windward, well-provisioned, and depending on the skies for fresh water, help to show how the Pacific was colonized. They have a sort of chart, medo, of small sticks tied together, representing the positions of islands and the directions of the winds and currents. A two-edged weapon, of which the blade is of sharks' teeth, and a defensive armour of braided sennit, are also peculiar to the islands; a large adze, made of the shell of the Tridacna gigas (the largest bivalve known), was formerly used in the Carolines, probably by the old builder race.
The dialects of Micronesia, though grammatically alike, differ widely in their vocabularies. They have the chief characteristics of the Polynesian, with Malay affinities, and peculiarities such as the use of suffixes and inseparable pronouns and, as in Tagal, of the infix to denote changes in the verb; in the west groups there is a tendency to closed syllables and double consonants, and a use of the palatals ch, j, sh, the dental th, and s (the last perhaps only in foreign words), which is alien to the Polynesian. These letters are wanting in the Gilbert language, which differs considerably from all the others, and has much greater affinities with the Polynesian. Most words take the accent on the penult. In some of the dialects there appears to be no true article, but in the Gilbert Islands the Polynesian te is used for both definite and indefinite article. Gender is sexual only. Number in the noun is either gathered from the were peopled from the west and also from the east. Those who came from the east are expressly said to be from Samoa. Those from the west were more numerous than those from the east There are also traditions of the arrival of other strangers at some of these islands. On the island of Peru, in the Gilbert group, in 1869 there was still the remnants of a large proah which, from the description given, appears to have been like those used in the Indian Archipelago.
equirement of the sense or is marked by pronominal words or minerals. Case is known by the position of the noun in the senence or by prepositions. In the language of Ebon, one of the stands in the Marshall archipelago, nouns have the peculiarity which is characteristic of the Papuan languages: those which indi:ate close relationship as of a son to a father, or of the members if a person's body take a pronominal suffix which gives them the appearance of inflexions. Many words are used indiscriminately as nouns, adjectives or verbs, without any change of form. In some languages the personal pronouns are singular, dual and plural. In others there are no special dual forms, but the numeral or two is used to indicate the dual. In the Ebon language there re inclusive and exclusive forms of the personal pronouns which, so far as has been ascertained, do not occur in any of the other anguages. The verbs usually have no inflexions to express reations of voice, mood, tense, number of person such distinctions jeing indicated by particles. In the Ebon language, however, the tenses are sometimes marked; but in that the simple form of the /erb is frequently given. All have verbal directive particles. In 3 onape, one of the Caroline Islands, many words of ceremony are used in addressing chiefs, as they are used in Samoa. The custom of tabooing words is also found there as it is in the Polynesian anguages.
The religious myths are generally identifiable with the Polynesian, jut a belief in the gods proper is overshadowed by a general deification of ancestors, who are supposed from time to time to occupy certain blocks of stone, set up near the family dwelling, and surrounded by circles of smaller ones. These stones are anointed with oil, and worshipped with prayer and offerings, and are also used for purposes of divination, in which, and in various omens, there is a general belief. In the Marshalls, in place of these stones, certain palm trees are similarly enclosed. The spirits also sometimes inhabit certain birds or fishes, which are then taboo, as food, to the family; but they will help to catch them for others. Temples are very rare, though these blocks of coral are sometimes surrounded by a roofless enclosure opening to the west. The bodies of the dead, and sometimes even of the sick, are despatched to sea westwards, with certain rites; those of the chiefs, however, are buried, for the order has something essentially divine about it ; their bodies therefore are sacred, and their spirits naturally assume the position above described. Such a belief greatly strengthened the king's authority, for the spirits of his ancestors were necessarily more powerful than any other spirits. Thus too it comes that the chiefs, and all belonging to them, are taboo as regards the common people. There are various other subjects and occasions of taboo, but the institution has not the oppressive and all-pervading character which it has in Polynesia. Its action is often economical or charitable, e.g. the ripening coco-nuts are taboo as long as the breadfruit lasts, thus securing the former for future use; or it is put on after a death, and the nuts thus saved are given to the family a kindness to them, and a mark of respect for the dead.
The houses in the Gilberts and Marshalls (much less elaborate than in the Carolines) consist merely of a thatched roof resting on posts or on blocks of coral about 3 ft. high, with a floor at that level, which is reached from an opening in the centre. On this the principal people sleep, and it serves as a storehouse inaccessible to rats, which infest all the islands.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)