Florentino Rodao



In the early period of exploration and rivalry between SPAIN AND PORTUGAL IN THE PACIFIC (1519-1605), contacts with Pacific islanders were limited to trade, occasional landings and shipwrecks which introduced the survivors to some knowledge of Pacific cultures. From mid 17th century until 1819, however, the Philippines became a major outpost of Spanish influence, with the dual roles of sending Asian goods to Spanish colonies in the Americas, and fostering the conversion of the population //p. 232//to Christianity. For more than two centuries, the Manila Galleon crossed the Pacific Ocean between Manila and the port of Acapulco in Nueva España (Mexico), on an annual basis. Contacts with Chamorros became regular as the ships anchored in GUAM on the way to Manila, and made occasional expeditions into Micronesia from the Philippines.

The first Order of Jesuits mission in the Pacific was established on Guam in 1668. Father Sanvitores played a key role in pushing Spain to claim the islands which became known as the Marianas, when he convinced Queen Mariana of Austria and won her sponsorship for the conversion of Chamorros. Sanvitores’ failure and death led Spain to establish a permanent presence, embarking on a conquest in 1672 which was achieved by 1685. Continued resistance to the foreign rulers decided Spain to concentrate all Chamorros in Guam for strategic reasons, leaving the Northern Marianas almost uninhabited until the mid 19th century, when Chamorros and BEACHCOMBERS found their own way to the islands. A combination of sporadic fighting and introduced illnesses also diminished the population, leaving only a handful of pure-blooded Chamorros.

Remoteness from Spain and the slowness of communications left Guam in a state of quasi-independence, however. The so-called Gobernador Político-Militar, who combined all civil and military responsibilities, took his salary and his authority from Mexico. He issued edictos or bandos and acted as judge and chief of police. Under the governor, the highest authorities in the districts (each defined by having a church) were the alcaldes. Missionaries (the Jesuits were followed in 1679 by the Augustinian Recollects) held considerable power among Spaniards as well as Chamorros, and acted as intermediaries through their mastery of language as well as their length of residence. There was some trade with the Philippines, mainly in the grass mats (petates) and ships’ sails made in the Marianas.

Spanish colonization in the Caroline Islands was planned, with Francisco Lazcano following Sanvitores’ example to the extent of naming the islands after King Carlos II in 1686. However, the attempt was unsuccessful. Missionaries were unable to convert significant numbers of islanders to Christianity, partly because the Manila authorities failed to set up any authority. Developments in Easter Island (Rapanui) were similar; am expedition from Peru claimed possession for the Crown in 1770, but insufficient attention was paid to subsequent colonization.

From1820-1898, after the Americas won their independence, the Spanish empire was widely dispersed, with colonies in Latin America (Cuba and the Dominican Republic), Africa (Morocco and Equatorial Guinea), Asia (Philippines) and Oceania (Micronesia). Mexican independence ended the voyages of the Manila Galleon and thus also the significance of Guam and Micronesia on a route though the Pacific. They remained linked to Manila  but offered Spain no more than prestige. In the 1850s and 1860s, when Spain felt strong enough to expand from the Philippines, expeditions set off for Indochina with France –the opposite direction from Micronesia. Only at the end of the century was Micronesia to acquire fresh strategic importance for the Spanish empire, once the Panama Canal opened a route between Cuba and the Philippines.

The Berlin Conference of 1884, relating to sovereignty over territories not yet colonized, provoked Spain to confirm its right to the Micronesian islands with formal occupation at the same moment Germany moved to add new territories to its empire. Two ships arrived at the island of Yap almost simultaneously to take formal possession for two different empires.  The technicalities –the Spanish ship San Quintín arrived four days before the German Yltis, but the Spaniards had still not planted their flag when the Germans did- created lively discussions and even demonstrations in Europe, through not in Micronesia. The conflict was resolved through the mediation of the Pope, in an agreement which gave Spain formal sovereignty but the Germans (and later the British) won total economic control.

Madrid established two divisions in Micronesia, Yap for the western Carolines and Pohnpei for the eastern islands, both headed by naval officers and directly dependant on Manila. The Spanish imperial regime collected no taxes, but extracted its colonization expenses in the form of compulsory native labour. Herein lay the origins of difficulties in the //p. 233//occupation of the Eastern Carolines, where there was an already established copra trade –mainly in the hands of the German company, JALUIT GESELLSCHAFT- and a strong Methodist church presence, the AMERICAN BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS FOR FOREIGN MISSIONS. Rebellions sprang up soon after the arrival of Spanish and Filipino troops; the governor, Posadillo, was killed and Spain was unable to complete its occupation of Pohnpei, much less to start establishing contact with other islands in the area, such as Kosrae. The Western Division in Yap was more peaceful, and regular contact was set up between Yap and Palau, albeit with fewer appointed personnel. Spanish officialdom, paying more heed to strategic defence than to economic development, banned immigration from Japan, although no action could be taken against the influx of Germans and other westerners.

Governor Cadarzo, 1887-1891


After the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Treaty of Paris gave Washington control of Guam and the Philippines, while the remaining Micronesian islands were sold by Spain to Germany for 25 million pesetas. From 1899 Madrid ended its official involvement in the Pacific region. From this time, the only visible presence was the activities of the Jesuits in Micronesia after the German period, the Capuchins in Guam, and the Benedictines in Australia.

The Spanish period in the Pacific has left different legacies. In the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau, there remain only a few family names and the Catholicism of part of the population. In the Marianas, where the Spanish language was retained by some inhabitants until the Pacific War, Chamorros have embraced the Catholic religion as their own and it may be said that traditional Spanish customs such as the praying novenas are more vividly adhered to than in present-day Spain. (Arguably, this reflects the decisive role of the religious motivations of Spanish decision makers.)  The larger role on Mexico in cultural links with Micronesia has not been considered. FRG.



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