Category Archives: Pacific

Perils of Pago Pago Bay, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle p. 54:

ON the 10th of October we came to anchor in Pago Pago Bay, on the south side of the island of Tutuila. This is another rendezvous of our whalers and South Pacific traders. Ships seldom enter or leave Pago Pago Bay without a great deal of “going about,” “tacking,” “wearing,” “luffing,” “letting go,” and “hauling.” Then one must be very careful, or the ship will get “in stays or irons.” If this happens, the alternative will be to “box her off” or to “wear her round on her heel.” Entering this harbor is something like beating up the Straits of Balambangan, when the ship’s yards have to be braced chock up in the wind’s eye to keep the monkey’s tails from getting squeezed in the brace blocks.

One of the most frequent bits of nautical jargon in this book is “splice the mainbrace,” which has its own article on Wikipedia giving a detailed account of its evolution and current usage.

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Doubling Cape Horn, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 33-34:

On the 30th of January a strong land-breeze began to blow, which obliged us to get under way and beat out to sea. The weather now began to grow cold, the thermometer ranging from 50° to 45°. Our ship glided through the water like a thing of life. For several days many whales, seals, and porpoises showed themselves on the surface of the water. The porpoises differed from any I had ever seen before, in having a stripe around their necks. We captured several of them, and this made a fresh mess for all hands round. The next night at midnight we had a view of the rugged peaks of Terra del Fuego, and at twelve o’clock we entered the Straits of La Maire. The land here presents rather a dreary appearance. The high peaks on either hand are covered with snow, even in midsummer.

At sunset we passed the straits and again entered the open sea. We doubled Cape Horn in our shirt-sleeves, with studding sails set on both sides, below and aloft, and left it under close-reefed top-sails, with our pea-jackets on. We had but just rounded the cape and arrived in the South Pacific, or summer seas, when the wind suddenly shifted to the south, blowing a perfect gale from the regions of perpetual ice and snow. The change of temperature was sudden and keenly felt, and made us hug our pea-jackets closely about us. Such is the life of a sailor — from one extreme to another. Cape Horn is in latitude 55°48′ south, and sometimes vessels are driven as far as 60°, in order to get round into the Pacific. Cape Horn is called the “stormy cape.” It takes its name from the peculiar hornlike shape of its rocky mountain heights, which terminate the land. Be it fair or foul, rain or shine, in all weather and at all seasons, Cape Horn is a terror to the sailor, and many a long yarn is spun in the forecastle by poor Jack as this much-dreaded point is approached.

On the 18th of February we came to anchor in Orange Harbor, Terra del Fuego, or, as the name implies, the “land of fire.” This is the first harbor on the western side of Cape Horn. The cape was discovered by Magellan in the year 1519. It was at this spot that the celebrated circumnavigators, Captains Cook, King, Fitzroy, Laplace, d’Urville, and others used to make their rendezvous and lay in a supply of wood and water. The harbor is land-locked, and is the safest on the coast. It has many small bays, the best of which is Dingy Cove. Here boats may enter to obtain wood, and from its banks game and fish may be taken in great abundance. Everything about has a bleak and wintry appearance and is in keeping with the climate, yet the scenery is pleasing to the eye.

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Filed under Argentina, Chile, Pacific, science, travel, U.S.

Islands Seeking Hawaiian Protection

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. c. 2340ff:

Unsurprisingly, one of the key elements of this reassertion of Hawaiian political, cultural, and spiritual identity during Gibson’s premiership was a public reiteration of the concept of Hawaiian primacy in the Pacific. In late 1880, still dealing with the aftermath of the Moreno affair and preparing for his voyage around the world, Kalākaua had received a request by Tonga’s King George Tupou I to enter negotiations for a friendship treaty with Hawai‘i, modeled after those Tonga had already concluded with Germany in 1876 and Great Britain in 1879. The Hawaiian king had responded enthusiastically. Tonga did not follow through on it, however, likely because it experienced domestic instability throughout the 1880s (Rutherford 1996, 143). Against this backdrop of renewed interest in the South Pacific for engagement with Hawai‘i, shortly after the king’s return from the world tour, Gibson had once more written an editorial urging that “the policy of this kingdom should be to assist, in every way that is practicable, to preserve the independence of all those communities of Polynesian race which have not already been driven by circumstances to seek the protection of foreign Powers.” He went on to mention “the significant fact that twenty years ago the Hawaiian Government had been thus represented in the South Pacific by a Commissioner, Mr. St. Julian, whose assistance had been gladly availed of by the inhabitants of the islands.” When this proposal was ridiculed by the Missionary Party press, Gibson had provided a lengthy Hawaiian-language rebuttal, written as a fictional discussion between a Hawaiian diplomat and the minister of foreign affairs of the island of Rarotonga. As the new head of the foreign office, Gibson had now full access to the department’s archives and further studied St. Julian’s earlier correspondence with Wyllie (Bailey 1980, 200–201). Being of like mind with the king on this matter, the two men now intended to bring those visionary ideas to fruition at last.

At the same time, during 1882 and 1883, petitions were received from Butaritari and Abaiang in the Gilbert Islands, asking for Hawaiian protection or outright annexation by the kingdom (Horn 1951, 62). One such petition had already been received in 1878 from Tabiteuea in the same archipelago (60), which had led to detailed discussions in the English-language press, referring to Wyllie’s and St. Julian’s earlier project. Replying to these requests, Kalākaua refused outright Hawaiian annexation but declared his intent to establish closer political relations with the islands’ leaders and unsuccessfully invited them to attend his coronation (63). In May 1883, the king of the Tokelauan atoll of Fakaofo also wrote Kalākaua, requesting him to bring back his people who had left the island. To follow up with the Gilbertese chiefs, in July 1883, Gibson commissioned Alfred Tripp, a ship captain involved in recruiting Gilbertese laborers who had been a member of Kalākaua’s privy council since 1874, as special commissioner for Central and Western Polynesia. Tripp’s mission was cut short because his ship was wrecked in the Gilbert Islands, but he communicated with all major chiefs of that archipelago and brought home more petitions for Hawaiian aid or protection.

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Filed under Britain, Germany, Hawai'i, Micronesia, migration, nationalism, Polynesia, U.S.

Sources of Samoan Legal Terms

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. c. 3412ff:

What is also intriguing about the Samoan constitutional system is that despite the absence of classical state-like political structures, the vocabulary created for concepts of modern statecraft was remarkably traditional, much more than the equivalent terms in Tongan and Fijian. For instance, the Samoan term for law is tulāfono, a concept clearly grounded in classical concepts of governance. Other terms for innovative institutions were literal translations, such as failautusi (someone doing writing or accounting) for secretary (that is, cabinet minister). Very few words, however, were direct borrowings from foreign languages comparable to Tahitian ture and basileia or Tongan lao and minisitā.

In the end, however, the Constitution failed to produce a stable government, but this was due to antagonistic foreign interests, agitation by settlers, and naval intervention. In early 1876, Steinberger was arrested and deported by a visiting British warship due to a conspiracy of the US and British consuls who objected to the premier’s pro-Samoan policies, especially his commitment to examine fraudulent land sales in the past and prevent further such sales (Gilson 1970, 321–331).

In the resulting chaos, the Ta‘imua deposed Laupepa, who then set up a rebel government. Although all parts of the Constitution were not fully in force, the Ta‘imua continued to run at least the external affairs of the government quite successfully for a while. This included sending High Chief M. K. Le Mamea on a diplomatic mission to the United States to sign a Samoan-American treaty in 1878 and concluding similar, albeit unequal, treaties with Germany and the United Kingdom in 1879. After multiple crises and hostilities between the rivaling parties, Malietoa Laupepa was restored to the throne in 1880—Mata‘afa Iosefo, another paramount title holder, serving as premier—but the government’s authority remained tenuous (Gilson 1970, 332–382; So‘o 2008, 39–41). Nonetheless, the Samoan government published a new set of laws, a copy of which was sent to the Hawaiian government (Kingdom of Sāmoa 1880).

In the absence of Steinberger or another trusted European, the position of premier was abolished and a more extensive executive cabinet created instead. By the mid-1880s, this cabinet included a failautusi sili (secretary of state), failautusi mo Sāmoa (secretary of interior, literally secretary for Sāmoa), failautusi teu tupe (secretary of treasury), failautusi o taua (secretary of war), failautusi o fanua (secretary of lands), failautusi o galuega (secretary of works), the faamasino sili (chief justice), and a failautusi faamau-upu (registrar). The American-derived terminology for these offices reflected the continuing legacy of Steinberger’s political ideas.

In Samoa, Robert Louis Stevenson was called Tusitala ‘Write-story’.

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Filed under Fiji, Hawai'i, language, nationalism, Polynesia, Samoa, U.S.

Why Japanese Migrated to New Guinea

From Nanshin: Japanese settlers in Papua and New Guinea, 1890–1949, by Hiromitsu Iwamoto (Journal of Pacific History, 1999), pp. 57-58:

Migration in this period reflected Japanese social history. Migrants kept on coming from the rural southwest where underdevelopment continued as industrialisation was entrenched in urban centres. Rural depression intensified, particularly after the Russo-Japanese War, when industrialisation gained momentum with the rapid growth of export-oriented industries such as silk and cotton. The major impact on rural areas was the loss of self-sufficiency as agricultural production was integrated into the development of export commodities. As a result, rural-urban inequality increased, accelerating the tempo of the emigration of the rural people to urban centres and overseas. The statistics verify this. In only 10 years from 1904 to 1914, the number of overseas emigrants increased nearly threefold-from 138,591 in 1904 to 358,711 in 1914. The same tendency was seen in migration to Papua and New Guinea. The number increased from a mere two in 1906 to 109 in 1914, and most came from Kyūshū; 33 from Kumamoto, 28 from Nagasaki, and eight from Saga.

Most migrants were dekasegi-sha (literally ‘people leaving to earn money’) on three-year contracts, the same type of people seen in urban factories. The largest occupational group was artisans: 41 shipwrights, 18 carpenters and 13 sawyers. Many of them were from Goryō and Oniike villages in Amakusa. These villages were famous for boatbuilding from the Edo era, but in about 1907 many shipwrights lost their jobs due to the recession in the shipping industry. Eleven fishermen were another significant group. They came from fishing villages such as Isahaya-chō (Kita-takaki-gun, Nagasaki prefecture) and Jōgashima (Misaki-chō, Miura-gun, Kanagawa prefecture). Fishing villages in this period were also suffering a decline in jobs due to the development of a modern capital-intensive fishery and the resulting decline of small fishermen. Unemployment thus constituted a ‘push’ factor for emigration. It is highly probable that, like the migration to Thursday Island, the high wages in New Guinea became a major ‘pull’ factor.

Moreover the German administration’s different treatment of the Japanese relative to other Asians possibly became a ‘pull’ factor. The granting of European status delighted the Japanese who had been rejected in Australia because they were Asians. The migrants probably felt that the Germans recognised their national identity as subjects of an emerging empire which, they may have thought, was distinctive from other Asian countries. Although in reality the migrants were the victims of empire-building which increased the poverty of rural Japan, the improvement of their status from poor rustics to ‘Europeans’ satisfied their pride. Of course, such pride was merely an illusion which would vanish as soon as they returned to their impoverished villages, but it was a sweet illusion that attracted the migrants to the land of ‘dojin’ [“natives”].

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Filed under economics, Germany, industry, Japan, migration, nationalism, Papua New Guinea

Japanese Status in German New Guinea

From Nanshin: Japanese settlers in Papua and New Guinea, 1890–1949, by Hiromitsu Iwamoto (Journal of Pacific History, 1999), pp. 47-49:

The main characteristics of German attitudes towards Japanese were leniency regarding legal status and caution in granting land grants. The Germans granted the Japanese European status around 1905. Until then they had no legal status. Granting European status was not confined to the Germans, as the Dutch granted the same status in the East Indies in 1899. Threlfall argues that Komine‘s usefulness to the administration as well as the effect of the emergence of Japan in international politics after its victory in the Russo-Japanese War facilitated the granting of European status.

Indeed the administration recognised Komine’s usefulness when Albert Hahl, the Vice-Governor and Governor from 1896 to 1914, met him. According to Hahl’s diary, in 1902 Komine reached Herbertshöhe from Torres Strait; around this time Hahl had been facing a serious shortage of government vessels to perform administrative tasks. The appearance of Komine solved this problem:

A chance incident helped to solve my dilemma. One fine morning there was a small schooner flying the Japanese flag to be seen riding at anchor in the Herbertshöhe Harbour. The skipper, Isokide [sic] Komine, told me that his water and provisions had run out on his voyage from Torres Strait, where he had been engaged in pearl-fishing. He had no money to purchase supplies and asked me to employ him. I inspected his little ship, found it suitable for my purpose, and chartered the vessel.

Hahl used Komine’s schooner for later trips around the Bismarck Archipelago.

However, Komine gave a different account of the encounter. His story appears in his petition for financial assistance to the Consul-General in Sydney in 1916. According to Komine, he reached Rabaul in October 1901 and accidentally met Governor Hahl who had been under siege by ‘little barbarians’:

Nearly at the end of my exploration I anchored at Rabaul in October 1901. At that time the place was German territory and the natives were strongly resisting German rule. The punitive expeditions were suffering failures. When I arrived there, Govern Hahl and his staff had narrowly escaped the tight siege of the little barbarians and they were holding this small place. Their vessels, which were their only resort, were wrecked on the reef. They tried all measures unsuccessfully and were just waiting to be slaughtered. However, when they found my accidental arrival, they were overjoyed as if my arrival was God’s will and begged me for the charter of my ship. My righteous heart was heating up, seeing their hopeless situation, and I willingly agreed to their request. At the same time I joined their punitive forces. Sharing uncountable hardships with them and applying various tactics all successfully, we finally conquered and pacified the little barbarians.

Apparently Komine dramatised the encounter to his advantage. German records indicate no such incident either at Herbertoshöhe or at Rabaul. Nonetheless Komine’s description verifies two facts: the administration was suffering from a lack of seaworthy vessels; and he accompanied Hahl on his trips to other places. There were mutual benefits: Hahl needed a vessel and Komine needed provisions for his voyage. This circumstance contributed to the development of the two men’s relationship and later led to the emergence of the Japanese community in German New Guinea.

The men’s characters may also have contributed to some extent. Komine’s determined and adventurous nature which had been demonstrated on his arrival may have appealed to Hahl who was, Sack argues, ‘by no means free of the racial prejudices of his time, but … liked people, even if they were black or brown or yellow’. Similarly, Firth claims that Hahl ‘had broader and more humane objectives, though still primarily economic ones … unlike many German governors in Africa’.

The European status given to the Japanese, however, shows German subtlety Hahl pursued strict policies to maintain a racial hierarchy with whites always at the top. He never allowed his personal friendship to undermine this hierarchy. When court cases involving Japanese arose, they were not heard in the European courts but in a separate court constituted only for the Japanese. Similarly, the Germans were cautious about giving commercial advantage. The administration did not grant the right to purchase freehold to the Japanese. Indeed, the administration introduced a discriminatory law to restrict non-indigenous coloured people acquiring land: ‘land could not be purchased from the government by natives or by persons who had not equal rights with Europeans; and land could neither be bought nor leased by persons unable to read and write a European language’. In addition, the Germans limited the land rights of the Japanese, and of the Chinese, to leases only for a term not exceeding 30 years.

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Filed under economics, Germany, Japan, language, migration, nationalism, Papua New Guinea

Early Japanese Interest in South Seas

From Nanshin: Japanese settlers in Papua and New Guinea, 1890–1949, by Hiromitsu Iwamoto (Journal of Pacific History, 1999), pp. 15-16:

Until the late 19th century the Japanese government had no policies for the South Seas. The government was preoccupied with domestic affairs, while Germany, the United States, Australia, France, Spain, Netherlands, and Britain were involved in the acquisition and exchange of tropical islands. The Japanese government’s primary concern was to centralise governance in order to build a strong empire which could not be colonised. External affairs were secondary concerns in which the government was mainly preoccupied with the removal of unequal treaties imposed by Western nations and the promotion of national prestige. Although Japan’s expansionism was shown in the 1870s in Saigō Takamori‘s claim to invade Korea, Ōkubo Toshimichi‘s decision to send a military expedition to Taiwan and the government’s declaration that the Ryūkyū Islands and Sakhalin were parts of Japan, the expansion was limited to the adjacent region. The government’s involvement in South Seas affairs was marginal and largely confined to matters of national prestige and the rights of citizens abroad.

Japan’s first involvement in the South Seas was an embarrassing episode involving emigrants to Guam. In 1868 about 40 Japanese emigrated as contract labourers to work on a plantation where a Spanish employer treated them harshly. The Japanese were treated no differently from locals and the employer did not pay their promised wages in full. Their complaint to a Spanish administrator was ignored. In 1871, after some had died due to harsh work conditions, three managed to return to Japan to report their plight. The government was astonished and the matter was discussed, but it is unknown whether it took any action to save these migrants or protested to the Spanish administration. In 1868, 153 contract labourers in Hawaii suffered a similar fate. These incidents embarrassed the Japanese government which was acutely sensitive about its national dignity but probably the government, which was just managing to survive by pacifying rebels, chose not to protest in order to avoid conflicts that it could not handle confidently. The government could only ban emigration by enforcing tight regulations to avoid further national disgrace.

However, the issue of sovereignty over the Ogasawara (also known as Bonin) Islands provided an opportunity to stimulate Japanese interest in the South Seas. Although the Tokugawa government hardly resisted when Commodore Perry demanded the opening of Japan and proclaimed US possession of the Ogasawara Islands in 1853, some vocal Meiji officials in 1875 ’emphasised the urgency of return of the islands that could connect Japanese interests to the South Seas’. The report of the Foreign Ministry to the Prime Minister explained that ‘the islands were a strategic point in the Pacific sea route, which was extremely important in Japan’s advancement in the South Sea’. Then negotiations began and the US compromised. The issue signalled the beginning of the government’s awareness of its interests in the South Seas. It was also significant in that the government promoted national dignity by recovering territory.

As the incidents in Guam and Hawaii showed, the government was aware of its weak internal position and tried not to provoke other Western nations in the South Seas until the 1880s.

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Filed under Australia, Britain, economics, France, Germany, Hawai'i, Japan, Korea, labor, Micronesia, migration, nationalism, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Spain, Taiwan, U.S.

Early Japanese Settlers in PNG

From Nanshin: Japanese settlers in Papua and New Guinea, 1890–1949, by Hiromitsu Iwamoto (Journal of Pacific History, 1999), p. 10:

A MASSIVE EXODUS OF PEOPLE WAS A WORLD-WIDE phenomenon during the 19th century. About 50 million Europeans emigrated to the Americas and 47 million Chinese and Indians emigrated to the Asia-Pacific. However, the scale of Japanese emigration was small. Rough estimates of Japanese emigration before the Pacific War are at least 1.6 million: from 1868 to 1941, 776,304 Japanese emigrated to areas other than Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan, and from 1936 to 1940 about 820,000 people emigrated to Manchuria. Comparable figures were 23.1 million from Britain, 4.3 million from France, seven million from Holland, 33.9 million from Germany and 22 million from Italy between 1851 and 1950. The number of Japanese emigrants to Papua and New Guinea was tiny: it was never above 200.

The smallness of Japanese emigration is attributed mainly to Japan’s seclusion policy which prohibited overseas emigration until 1868 and its integration into world capitalism. Destinations for Japanese emigrants were limited, because by the time Japan began to modernise, most Pacific-Asian countries had been colonised by European powers. Although Japan’s rapid modernisation from the late 19th century with colonisation of Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria and Micronesia created space for emigration, this was only possible in a short period of 50 years ending with the Pacific War.

Japanese emigration to Papua and New Guinea began around the turn of the 19th century. It was an offshoot from the settlement of Japanese pearl divers on Thursday Island where they were squeezed out by Australian restrictions on migration and by the exhaustion of pearl beds. The migration was also a result of a series of searches for new beds and a place to settle by an adventurous Japanese skipper Komine Isokichi.

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Filed under Australia, economics, Germany, Japan, migration, nationalism, Papua New Guinea

1918 Flu in the Pacific

From Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World, by Laura Spinney (PublicAffairs, 2017), Kindle pp. 93-94:

Australia saw the epidemic coming from a long way off, both in time and space. Its authorities first heard about a flu epidemic in Europe in the northern hemisphere summer of 1918, and in September they became aware of the horrifying reports of the lethal second wave. Having watched it advance through Africa and Asia, they finally introduced quarantine procedures at all Australian ports on 18 October (New Zealand did not follow suit). When jubilant crowds gathered in Sydney’s Martin Place to celebrate the armistice in November, therefore, they enjoyed the privilege–almost unique in the world–of having nothing to fear from the virus. Though the country did receive the third wave in early 1919, its losses would have been far greater had it let the autumn wave in.

The Philippines were not protected by their island status. When flu broke out there, it didn’t occur to the occupying Americans that it might have come from outside, even though the first casualties were longshoremen toiling in the ports of Manila. They assumed its origins were indigenous–they called it by the local name for flu, trancazo–and made no attempt to protect the local population, which numbered 10 million. The only exception was the camp on the outskirts of Manila where Filipinos were being trained to join the US war effort, around which they created a quarantine zone. In some remote parts of the archipelago, 95 per cent of communities fell ill during the epidemic, and 80,000 Filipinos died.

The starkly contrasting fates of American and Western Samoa–two neighbouring groups of islands in the South Pacific–show what happened when the authorities got the direction of travel right, and when they got it wrong. The American authorities who occupied American Samoa realised not only that the threat came from outside the territory, but also that indigenous Samoans were more vulnerable to the disease than white-skinned settlers, due to their history of isolation, and they deployed strict quarantine measures to keep it out. American Samoa got off scot-free, but Western Samoa, under the control of New Zealand, was not so lucky. After infection reached the islands via a steamer out of Auckland, local authorities made the same error as the occupiers of the Philippines, and assumed that it was of indigenous origin. One in four Western Samoans died in the ensuing tragedy which, as we’ll see, would dramatically shape the islands’ future.

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Filed under Australia, disease, migration, military, New Zealand, Philippines, Samoa, U.S.

Yapese “See something, say something”

Public service announcements in TheBus in Honolulu typically include two Micronesian languages, Chuukese and Marshallese, in addition to several Asian languages, but I recently saw one that included Yapese, another language in Micronesia that is not closely related to any other Micronesian language, and is in many ways unique among Austronesian languages.

The Yapese text is written in a very barebones orthography, making even fewer distinctions than the Bible orthography. It makes me think someone who speaks but doesn’t write Yapese dictated it to someone who transcribed it without knowing much Yapese phonology or grammar (or even the Bible orthography), since they don’t write any glottal stops or glottalized consonants (usually marked by an apostrophe), only write 5 vowels, and misanalyze some small grammatical particles. The original spelling is in quotes.

I’ve respelled each line in something close to the new orthography, but without the controversial q for glottal stops, and also added a line with rough glosses for each word. The naag that I’ve glossed ‘TR’ makes transitive verbs out of other words, including words borrowed long ago from Japanese, like dengwa ‘telephone’ and unteng ‘drive’, as well as those borrowed more recently from English. The ea glossed ‘ART’ occurs before specific nouns that are neither indefinite (marked with ba) nor definite (marked with fa). It’s interesting that they felt it necessary to define English bus driver in a paraphrase that relies on an older Japanese loan.

“Mu ayweg nem. Mu rin.”
Mu ayweeg neem. Mu riin’.
You help you. You do [it].
= Be aware. Take action.

“Mu eg nag e nen nag be guy ni ra bucheg banen”
Mu eeg naag ea n’ean ni ga bea guy ni raa bucheeg ba n’ean
You report TR ART thing that you are seeing that will do-bad a thing
= Report anything you see that will cause harm.

“Mu dengwa nag e 911 fa mog ko bas driver”
Mu dengwa naag ea 911 faa moeg ko bas driver
You telephone TR ART 911 or you.say (it) to bus driver
= Call 911 or tell the bus driver

“(un ni be unteng nag e bas)”
(an ni bea unteng naag ea bas)
(person that is driving TR ART bus)
= (the person who is driving the bus)

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Filed under education, language, Micronesia, migration, U.S.