National Geographic : 1948 Jul
Pacific Wards of Uncle Sam BY W. ROBERT MOORE With Illustrations from Photographsby the Author WE anchored in early morning off a coral atoll in the blue Pacific. A trim outrigger canoe came skim ming across the reef and drew alongside our Navy LCI. In it sat four paddlers, their bare brown bodies glistening with perspiration. Perched in the prow was a young Adonis, broad of shoulder and powerfully muscled. His Puluwat atoll costume was a scarlet striped loincloth and odd ornaments (Plate I). About his bushy black hair he had rakishly looped two headbands, one of flowers and one of small shells. A strand of seeds and a silver chain encircled his neck. Small earrings dan gled from slit ear lobes. His arms were tattooed and marked by scars-cuts or cigarette burns raised to per manent bumps of scar tissue. Between his eyebrows and on his temples he had smeared red ocher. Two companions, squatting amidships, also were gaily decorated. A toothless grandpa steered from the stern. All four shouted native greetings. "Good Morning, Sir" Even at Night On a Main Street in the United States such a quartet would seem strange. Yet today these islanders are wards of Uncle Sam. Wherever I went, some brown-skinned islander was always spreading a mat for me to sit on, opening a fresh coconut for me to drink, and trying to speak my language. "Good morning, sir," was a smiling greeting as likely to be heard at dusk as at daybreak, but eloquent of friendliness. Today, as an outcome of war, the United States governs some 51,000 of these gentle Pacific island folk. On July 18, 1947, by agreement of the Security Council of the United Nations and approval by Congress, our Government officially took over control of the islands of the former Japanese Mandate as the United States Trust Territory of Pacific Islands. Before the war few persons had visited these islands, as the Japanese maintained jealous control over the region. Much of the mystery of Micronesia ended when our amphibious forces stormed ashore on Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Saipan, Tinian, Pele liu, and other islands, and our planes pounded such targets as Ponape, Yap, Koror, and the Japanese naval base of Truk. Scores of other islands missed the news headlines. Consider such musically named places as Ailinglapalap, Pingelap, Puluwat, Satawan, Babelthuap, and Kapingamarangi! As its name implies, Micronesia is made up of small islands. More than 2,000 land spots cluster about 60 atolls or lie apart as indi vidual units within the three groups, the Mar shalls, Carolines, and Marianas, which are embraced by our Trusteeship.* All the land spots gathered into a single mass would have an area of only 687 square miles, little more than half the size of Rhode Island. That total excludes Guam, which has belonged to the United States since 1898. These small islands are spread over an area considerably larger than the whole United States. They are scattered over roughly 3,500,000 square miles (map, page 77). From the easternmost atoll of the Mar shalls westward to the islands off the Palaus is 2,800 miles. Between the most northerly outpost of the Marianas and Kapingamarangi, just north of the Equator, is a span of more than 1,300 miles. On the larger islands many natives favor Western clothes (Plate XVI). But on the more remote dots of land the people are as primitive in appearance as the canoeists who greeted us at Puluwat. Their women folk are clad in short wrap-around skirts woven of wild hibiscus fiber (Plate VII). Scamper ing youngsters wear "aprons" of breadfruit leaves or nothing at all (page 81). New Growth Covering War's Scars I had been on some of the islands during the war. Then some were busy forward bases for which we still were fighting. Now, three years later, I roamed among them by plane, naval craft, and native canoes, at the invitation of the Navy, which has in terim charge of civil administration of the Trust Territory. Several military installations were already abandoned. New growth concealed many battle scars. Vines clambered over deserted camps and wrecked equipment. Native inhabitants, whom I had seen living in jerry-built shelters after their villages had *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Hidden Key to the Pacific," June, 1942, and "Mys terious Micronesia," April, 1936, both by Willard Price, and "American Pathfinders in the Pacific," by William H. Nicholas, May, 1946.