Foreign Land holdings in the German Marshall Islands

by Dirk HR Spennemann




Historical Background

The Imperial German Government purchased the Caroline and theMarshall Islands from Spain in 1885, at the cost of (then) $4.5milion, and had established a district administration office on Jaluit. The German government regulated the trade and passed land regulations which restricted the sale of locally owned land to Europeans in order to protect the property held in private indigenous land from a total sell-out.

The archives of the German Colonial administration regarding its South Seas possessions show a wealth of data and communications between the German district administrator in Jaluit and the Governour General in Rabaul on the legal transactions regarding the possession and the purchase of Marshallese land. These files had been formerly kept in Rabaul (New Britain, Papua New Guinea), and are now accessible inthe National Archives of Papua New Guinea, with copies in theAustralian Archives ( Canberra, Australia)

The ownership of the land held in Foreign hand prior to the establishment of the German Protectorate was confirmed and entered in a property Register, the Grundbuch.

The Fate of Foreign Property

After declaring war against Imperial Germany, and using only limited military force, Japan seized the German Micronesian Islands in early October 1914. Following the capitulation of Imperial Germany in 1918, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 [1] and the subsequent negotiations in the Washington Naval Treaty for limitations in naval tonnage (1922) [2] and on the status of Yap [3] brought about agreement that Japan be given the former German Colonies in Micronesia north of the Equator [4] as a class "C" mandate by the League of Nations . [5]

Based on the principle of international law that a succeeding souvereign is entitled to rely upon and respect official acts of the preceding administration [6], the Imperial Japanese government took over all German Government property in the Mandated Territory as government land ("State domain") [7] and considered land confiscated and then subsequently owned by the Imperial German government also as (Japanese) government land. [8] The government chose to give ("lease") most of the government land to Japanese commercial companies, such as the Japanese trading firm NBK [9], for administration and exploitation. [10] Over time, the NBK expanded its holdings always legally obtaining or leasing land, apparently without undue pressure on the landowners, as far as this can be ascertained.

Any land and/or property owned solely by German commercial companies, such as the Jaluit Gesellschaft, was not forfeited and remained in the possession of the company after the end of World War I. [11] However, as the German companies were no longer permitted to operate in the Mandated Territory , the Japanese Government facilitated the sale of German business interests to Japanese companies. [12] The business interests and the property holdings of the second generation traders, such as the Capelle and the deBrum , who had partially owned the Jaluit Gesellschaft , remained unaffected.

During the period of their rule, the Japanese government also confiscated land under the principle of eminent domain, [13] possibly without adequate or proper compensation. [14] The Japanese Government had serious problems with the Marshallese concepts of property ownership [15] and finally, using the vacancy in an Irooj laplap position on Majuro Atoll , promulgated some innovative land management and land transfer rules which deviated from traditional Marshallese custom but eased the execution of the Japanese form of land management. [16] Where active, the Japanese surveyors were given broad powers, which they exercised in approving the division of lands, confirming title, and in settling disputed boundaries. [17]

Following military defeat in the Marshall Islands in 1944, [18] and the conditionless surrender of Japan in 1945, Japan ceased to exercise any authority in the Mandated Territory , which was placed under U.S. military administration ; [19] after the establishment of the United Nations the Micronesian Islands were declared a strategic trust and placed under the trusteeship of the United States. [20] The U.S. government validated all Spanish, German and Japanese laws, ordinances, regulations etc. still in existence throughout the area covered by the Trust Territory unless replaced by T.T.P.I. law. [21] Following the vesting of the trusteeship over Micronesia on the United States, the U.S. regarded themselves as a suceeding souvereign and thus as the successor to all title previously held by the Japanese government . [22] For the determination of landownership the U.S. Trust Territory government used December 1, 1941 as the cut-off date. [23] All law "concerning ownership, use, inheritance, and transfer of land in effect in any part of the Trust Territory ... shall remain in full force and effect" [24] and the T.T.P.I.Court rejected appeals against Japanese land management decisions. [25] All Japanese government -held land, however, was declared public land [26] and was vested with the Area Property Custodian , [27] while title to all Japanese non-Government property was vested with an Alien Property Custodian . [28] Over time, the T.T.P.I. government divested itself of some of the Public land. [29] By regarding as valid all land titles and transfers prior to December 1, 1941, the U.S. Trust Territory Government effectively reconfirmed some of the innovative Japanese management rules. [30] With the signing of the Compact of Free Association in 1986 the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands and all its applicable laws ceased to exist [31] as far as the USA and the Republic of the Marshall Islands were concerned [32] and all rights of the U.S. administration went over into the hands of the Republic of the Marshall Islands

With the Compact of Free Association coming into effect in 1986, "[t]itle to the property of the Government of the United States situated in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands or acquired by for or used by the Government of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands on or before the day preceding the effective date of this Compact shall, without reimbursement or transfer of funds, vest in the Government ..... of the Republic of the Marshall Islands ... as set forth in a separate agreement which shall come into effect simultaneously with this Compact. The provisions of this Section shall not apply to property of the Government of the United States for which the Government of the United States determines a continuing requirement" [33]

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Bibliographic citation for this document

Spennemann, Dirk HR. (2000) Foreign Land holdings in the German Marshall Islands. A preliminary listing of leased and purchased land until World War I. Second edition.
URL: http:/

Dirk H.R. Spennemann The Johnstone Centre, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.

(c) Dirk H.R. Spennemann 2000