1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Caroline Islands

CAROLINE ISLANDS, a widely-scattered archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, E. of the Philippines and N. of New Guinea, included in Micronesia, between 5° and 10° N., and 135° and 165° E., belonging to Germany. They fall into three main groups, the Western, Central and Eastern Carolines, the central being the most numerous, while the western include the Pelew group. The total land area is about 380 sq. m., and out of this, 307 sq. m. is covered by the four main islands, Ponape and Kusaie in the eastern group, Truk or Hogolu in the central, and Yap in the western. These islands are of considerable elevation (the highest point of Ponape approaches 3000 ft.), but the rest are generally low coral islets. The climate is equable and moist, but healthy; but the islands are subject to heavy storms. The total population is estimated at 36,000. The natives, who are Micronesian hybrids of finer physique than their kinsmen of the Pelew Islands, have a comparatively high mental standard, being careful agriculturists, and peculiarly clever boatbuilders and navigators. The Germans divide the whole archipelago into two administrative districts, eastern and western, having the seats of government at Ponape and Yap respectively. The principal article of export is copra. The islands were discovered (at least in part) by the Portuguese Diego da Rocha in 1527, and called by him the Sequeira Islands. In 1686 Admiral Francesco Lazeano, who made further explorations, renamed them the Carolines in honour of Charles II. of Spain. The islands were subsequently visited by a few travellers; but the natives have only in modern times been reconciled to the presence of foreigners; an early visit of missionaries (1731) resulted in one of several murderous attacks on white men which darken the history of the islands; and it was only in 1875 that Spain, claiming the group, made some attempt to assert her rights. These were contested by Germany, whose flag was hoisted on Yap, and the matter was referred to the arbitration of Pope Leo XIII. in 1885. He decided in favour of Spain, but gave Germany free trading rights; and in 1899 Germany took over the administration of the islands from Spain, paying 25,000,000 pesetas (nearly £1,000,000 sterling).

Ancient Stone Buildings.—In Ponape and Kusaie, massive stone structures, similar to those which occur in several other parts of the Pacific Ocean, have long been known to exist. They have been closely explored by Herr Kubary, Mr F. J. Moss, and later Mr F. W. Christian. None of the colossal structures hitherto described appears to have been erected by the present Melanesian or Polynesian peoples, while their wide diffusion, extending as far as Easter Island, within 400 m. of the New World, points to the occupation of the Pacific lands by a prehistoric race which had made some advance in general culture. The Funafuti borings (1897) show almost beyond doubt that Polynesia is an area of comparatively recent subsidence. Hence the land connexions must have formerly been much easier and far more continuous than at present. The dolmen-builders of the New Stone Age are now known to have long occupied both Korea and Japan, from which advanced Asiatic lands they may have found little difficulty in spreading over the Polynesian world, just as in the extreme west they were able to range over Scandinavia, Great Britain and Ireland. To Neolithic man, still perhaps represented by some of the more light-coloured and more regular-featured Polynesian groups, may therefore not unreasonably be attributed these astonishing remains, which assume so many different forms according to the nature of the locality, but seem generally so out of proportion with the present restricted areas on which they stand. With the gradual subsidence of these areas their culture would necessarily degenerate, although echoes of sublime theogonies and philosophies are still heard in the oral traditions and folklore of many Polynesian groups. In the islet of Lele, close to Kusaie, at the eastern extremity of Micronesia, the ruins present the appearance of a citadel with cyclopean ramparts built of large basaltic blocks. There are also numerous canals, and what look like artificial harbours constructed amid the shallow lagoons.

In Ponape the remains are of a somewhat similar character, but on a much larger scale, and with this difference, that while those of Lele all stand on the land, those of Ponape are built in the water. The whole island is strewn with natural basaltic prisms, some of great size: and of this material, brought by boats or rafts from a distance of 30 m. and put together without any mortar, but sustained by their own weight, are built all the massive walls and other structures on the east side of the island. The walls of the main building near the entrance of Metalanim harbour form a massive quadrangle 200 ft. on all sides, with inner courts, vault and raised platform with walls 20 to 40 ft. high and from 8 to 18 ft. thick. Some of the blocks are 25 ft. long and 8 ft. in circumference, and many of them weigh from 3 to 4 tons. There are also numerous canals from 30 to 100 ft. wide, while a large number of islets, mainly artificial, covering an area of 9 sq. m., have all been built up out of the shallow waters of the lagoon round about the entrance of the harbour, with high sea-walls composed of the same huge basaltic prisms. In, some places the walls of this “Pacific Venice” are now submerged to some depth, as if the land had subsided since the construction of these extensive works. Elsewhere huge breakwaters had been constructed, the fragments of which may still be seen stretching away for a distance of from 2 to 3 m. Most observers, such as Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge and Mr. Le Hunte, agree that these structures could not possibly be the work of any of the present Polynesian peoples, and attribute them to a now extinct prehistoric race, the men of the New Stone Age from the Asiatic mainland.

Stone Money.—The inhabitants of Yap are noted for possessing the most extraordinary currency, if it can be so called, in the whole world. Besides the ordinary shell money, there is a sort of stone coinage, consisting of huge calcite or limestone discs or wheels from 6 in. to 12 ft. in diameter, and weighing up to nearly 5 tons. These are all quarried in the Pelew Islands, 200 m. to the south, and are now brought to Yap in European vessels. But some were in the island long before the arrival of the whites, and must consequently have been brought by native vessels or on rafts. The stones, which are rather tokens than money, do not circulate, but are piled up round about the chief’s treasure-house, and appear to be regarded as public property, although it is hard to say what particular use they can serve. They appear to be kept rather for show and ornament than for use.

See F. W. Christian, The Caroline Islands (London, 1899); G. Volkens, “Über die Karolinen Insel Yap,” in Verhandlungen Gesellschaft Erdkunde Berlin., xxviii. (1901); J. S. Kubary, Ethnographische Beitrage zur Kentniss des Karolinen-Archipel (Leiden, 1889–1892); De Abrade, Historia del conflicto de las Carolinas, &c. (Madrid, 1886).