Centenary of German Annexation of the Carolines
by Dirk H.R. Spennemann

Pohnpei, October 12th, 1899.╠"From now on, the flag of the German Empire shall fly over these islands for all time, to the honour of the Empire and as a warning towards the enemy. It shall bring the desired happiness and the long missed peace to these lands under German administration. It shall perpetually remind the population of this land to be faithful subjects to our beloved Emperor and King. At this solemn occasion let us join in the call to his honour: His Majesty, the German Emperor and King Wilhelm II, hooray!"

With these words the Eastern Carolines, comprising Kosrae, Pohnpei and Chuuk, were formally annexed by Rudolf von Bennigsen, Governor of German New Guinea and the Islands Territory. Earlier, ending several hundred years of Spanish 'possession' of Micronesia, the Spanish flag had been hauled down and the German flag raised. The ceremony was witnessed by the Spanish garrison, a detachment of German soldiers from the warship Jaguar and the outgoing Spanish and incoming German administrators. 'In addition, a considerable number of Europeans and natives had assembled as onlookers,' as the hand-over report states.

Hand-over Ceremony on Pohnpei, 12 October 1899 (Photo: Micronesian Seminar)

The story begins after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, after Guam had been annexed by the USA and the Philippines had fallen. Germany had been neutral in the conflict, but had expressed to Spain its interest to acquire any 'left-overs' of the Spanish colonial empire that the USA would not demand. A secret treaty had been signed on 10 September 1898 with Spain agreeing that Germany would acquire Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap. After the peace agreement between the USA and Spain, there was little sense for Spain to hang onto a few tiny islands which were hard to administer since the administrative centre of Philippines had been taken from her. Germany offered to buy the rest of Micronesia as well, with the exception of Guam, which was to remain in American hands. After some haggling about the price, the sale was finalised on 12 February 1899. For 25 million pesetas (or 16.6 million Imperial Marks) Germany bought the Carolines, Palau and the Marianas. The German Emperor, Wilhelm II., was particularly delighted about his new 'place at the sun.' Needless to say, that the Micronesians on these islands had no say in the change-over of their colonial masters, let along any choice in the matter.

What remained, was to work out an administrative structure for the new area, and to actually take possession of the islands. The first was somewhat tricky. Germany's other Pacific colonies, the Protectorate of the Marshall Islands and the Protectorate of New Guinea, had been administered by concession companies. That is, the German Empire provided political and military protection, but the day-to-day management was handled by a German trading conglomerate, which also paid for and housed the German civil servants administering the territory. Not surprisingly, this system was particularly prone to conflict of interest and some of the actions of the administrators bizarre and at best erratic. The German colonial office had already discontinued the concession for New Guinea; it was in no mood to create in Micronesia a kind of administration that was, in effect, a run-out model.

Thus, Micronesia was made subordinate to the German New Guinea. To avoid the new acquisition being swamped by the larger administration in New Guinea, a Vice-Governorship was created, with seat in Pohnpei. The 31-year old Dr. Albert Hahl was appointed Vice-Governor. A civil servant in the Colonial Section of the Foreign Office since 1895, he had distinguished himself as Imperial Magistrate and Deputy Governor of German New Guinea from 1896 to 1899.

Coming from Germany via Singapore, the German administrative centre in Herbertshřhe (on New Britain, New Guinea), Jaluit, and Kosrae the German contingent landed on Pohnpei. It was agreed with the Spanish hand-over commission that a separate formal hand-over ceremony should be conducted for the Eastern Carolines (on Pohnpei 12 October), for the Western Carolines and Palau (on Yap, 3 November) and for the Marianas (on Saipan, 17 November).

Immediately after the hand over was completed, the German administration decreed a large range of regulations, including the prohibition of the sale of firearms and alcohol to the local population. While this may strike as unnecessary eagerness to create German law in Micronesia, it was actually a necessity, required to fill the administrative power vacuum that had been created by the hand-over.

Dr. Albert Hahl

With regard to the high hopes of Rudolf von Benningsen quoted in the opening paragraph, let us just say that the flag of the German Empire did not fly not forever, but for 15 years, until the outbreak of World War I. As to the 'happiness and the long missed peace'╠that was shattered in 1910 with the Sokeh's rebellion, when German rule tried to push dramatic social change in Pohnpei at far too fast a rate. Without doubt, Germany left its marks on Micronesia: in the Marshalls the copra industry; in the Marianas a reaffirmation of the Chamorro identity; in Palau and Nauru a phosphate economy; in Yap a continuation of traditional powers; in Chuuk a cessation to incessant internecine warfare; and in Pohnpei deep political change. Unbeknown to most, many of the changes set in train one hundred years ago still prevail.

Bibliographic citation for this document

Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (2000). Centenary of German Annexation of the Carolines.
URL: http:/marshall.csu.edu.au/Marshalls/html/German/Annex.html

Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.
e-mail: dspennemann@csu.edu.au

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