Modern History of the Ulithi Atoll, Part II

This is the second in a series of blog entries chronicling the modern history of the Ulithi Atoll. For background information see Part I which covers 1529 to 1730.

Fathers Contova and Walter, as well as a small contingent of Spanish soldiers, sailors, and alter boys arrived in on Ulithi in 1731. They remained on Mogmog a short while, but chose to set up shop on Falalop due to the greater space and more ready availability of fresh water. They had brought within them a young man from Ulithi, who had arrived on Guam when his canoe veered far off course. He had taught the Fathers his tongue, and was assumed to be an essential component of their conversion efforts. In fact he spoke to the Ulithians fearfully of the things he had seen in Guam, of the manner in which the Chamorro were oppressed by their captors. When the bulk of the Spanish had left to secure additional supplies from Guam, those remaining behind, including Father Cantova, were killed by the Ulithians.

Father Cantova's Map of the Outer Islands. Reproduced in History of Micronesia: A Collection of Source Documents, Volume 13, complied and edited by Rodrique Lévesque, Lévesque Publications, 1992.

Father Spilimbemgo, who authored a contemporary biography of Walter explained how after stabbing and then accusing the Jesuit of destroying their customs, the “barbarians attacked him with two more spears, to finish him off: one pierced him in the chest and the other one went through his left side again.” Spilimbemgo, who likely heard a third hand tale, goes on to point out the symbolic value of three (recalling the trinity) sheddings of blood demonstrating his “charity” , and then explains that all this occurred on the shore of Mogmog, with the rest of the Spanish contingent on Falalop being killed later in the same day.

Although the Spanish may have reached Yap Proper as early as 1527 (Alvardo di Saaverdra Ceron), and most certainly did by 1542 (Ruy Lopez de Villalobos), they did not come to remain in a formal capacity or create a permanent presence until 1885. During this period the Germans were increasingly active in the region, primarily interested in the Copra trade, and they attempted to make a claim on Yap as well. Pope Leo XII settled the dispute by assigning the Marianas and Carolines to Spain, while allowing the Germans control of the Marshall Islands to the east . Although they created a station in Yap Proper, the Spanish did not construct any significant or permanent presence in the outer islands.

Chiefs and leaders on the Island of Mogmog. Photographer unknown. Reproduced in Lessa, Willam A. Ulithi: A Micronesian Design for Living, Holt, Rhinehart and Winston Inc. New York, 1966.

Dave Bird, in his Yap Regains Its Sovereignty explains how Yap State (meaning Yap Proper itself as well as all the outlying atolls and islands which collectively make up the contemporary political state – see map section) as a whole, and Yap Proper in particular, saw “relatively few changes” during the period of Spanish rule. The Spaniards introduced Catholicism (this time it held foot) as well as literacy to a limited degree by teaching Spanish as well as creating a Yapese Orthography. Changes on the Outer Islands were even less significant, and Bird outlines his account of the “outer island link in the old ‘Yap Empire’” which the Spanish did not alter .

Part III will cover the period from 1899 (when the Germans took possession of the Caroline Islands) through to the Japanese acquisition (after WW 1) and then loss (in WW2) of the islands.

The Habele Outer Island Education Fund is a US-based non profit organization dedicated to promoting educational opportunities and accomplishments in Micronesia's remote Outer Islands.