National Geographic : 1936 Apr
MYSTERIOUS MICRONESIA Yap, Map, and Other Islands Under Japanese Mandate are Museums of Primitive Man BY WILLARD PRICE With Illustrationsfrom Photographsby the Author OUR savage visitor sat on his heels and stared at us. "I don't want to go home," he said to our native host. "I want to stay and look at them. I never saw the like!" "Tell him to stay," I said. "We never saw the like, either." The visitor seemed puzzled. Why should we think him strange-comb a foot long projecting from his bushy hair; coal-black teeth; vermilion lips dripping with betel juice; naked body, liberally tattooed; scar let loincloth? He laughed. "Why, every body looks like me!" If the natives of this South Sea isle of Rumung were astonished to see us, we were just as surprised to find ourselves there. It had seemed for a while impossible to get Tokyo's permission to visit the South Sea islands which Japan holds under mandate from the League of Nations.* ISLANDS RARELY VISITED Other gems of the Pacific have been placed on tour routes. Tahiti and Samoa are becoming as well known to the diligent traveler as Hawaii. But Japan's Micro nesia remains a world apart. Japanese officials rarely forbid the would be visitor, but they offer him scant en couragement. He is warned that there are no conveniences for travelers. Hotels are nonexistent. The officials cannot suggest where he might find food and shelter. His brash ideas that he and his wife might ob tain lodging with the natives, or set up a tent under a palm tree, they smile upon with tolerant disfavor. No, if he must go, he is advised to make a through passage, living on the ship and viewing each island only so long as the ship is in port. Our contention that we could not secure the necessary facts and photographs for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE by making only a flying visit to each island was * See "Yap and Other Pacific Islands under Japanese Mandate," by Junius B. Wood, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1921. recognized; and, as a courtesy to THE GEO GRAPHIC, permission was accorded us to so journ for four months in Micronesia. True to its name, Micronesia is made up of small islands-yet it covers no small area. A line drawn around the part under Japanese mandate would enclose an expanse of land-dotted ocean about two and a half million square miles in extent, or nearly five sixths the size of the United States. These widely scattered islands are bounded on the south by the Equator and are spread over most of the vast sea stretch between the Philippines and the 180th meridian. The chief groups are the Marianas, Caro lines, and Marshalls. The total number of islands large enough to be of some impor tance is about 1,400 (see map, page 483). This vast and beautiful island world be longed to Spain in the days of her glory. But Spain lost interest in her Pacific empire when the United States deprived her of the Philippines. To relieve her financial diffi culties following the Spanish-American War, she sold her Micronesian islands to Germany in 1899 for about $4,500,000. The first guns of the World War had hardly been fired in Europe when Japanese warships sailed south and occupied Micro nesia. At the Peace Conference in 1919 the islands were entrusted to Japan as a mandate from the League of Nations. So it is from Yokohama today, not from Bar celona or Hamburg, that you take off for this South Sea adventure. LIKE STEPPING OFF EDGE OF WORLD If it were possible to step off the edge of the world, I believe the sensation would be something like that of embarking for little known Micronesia. As soon as the ship has pulled away from the dock you are a month from Japan. That is, if you should change your mind about the lure of potluck with the natives, it would take you one month to get back to that wharf-by the first return steamer at the nearest port of call.