History of the Federated Polynesian States
Archeological evidence suggests that the westernmost isles were first settled about 17,000 years ago, and the rest of the island group shortly thereafter. Proto-Polynesian settlers maintained and adapted cultural practices they had brought with them from islands further to the north-west, and the isles remained in loose contact over the following centuries. The various settlements each had their own ahiki (chief), and were essentially self-sufficient.
Oral histories record that relations within the island group were, for the most part, peaceful, but that warfare erupted sporadically around the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The causes varied from a relative paucity of ressources in the atolls (compared with the larger islands), and competing claims of chiefdom over several islands due to family relations. By the end of the fourteenth century, a single ahiki, Tohesa, had united the island of Orowu and annewed several neighbouring islands. Over the course of the following generations, Orowu's claim to supremacy crumbled, and the island itself reverted to seperate village groups each with its own ahiki, but a precedent had nonetheless been set for a form of political unity above the authority of individual ahiki.
In 1494, the first South-East Asian explorers travelled the Pacific, and stopped briefly on the western islands of Aeta and Fokohesa. Islanders and Asian crewmembers were curious about one another, and there was, according to local oral histories, some exchange of technologies, and mutal teaching in various craft skills. The concept of trade was one unfamiliar to the islanders, however, and the foreign ships soon left, marking the islands on their maps and noting "the isles are of anthropological interest, but the indigenese appear to know nothing of sound economics".
Seven years later, in 1501, another South-East Asian vessel sailed to Fokohesa. Its captain, Liu Shuai, was freely offered food, as was his crew, and he offered the islanders tools in exchange. He then asked the islanders about their customs and beliefs, but there appears to have been some antagonism, although the precise causes were recorded by neither side. Liu then proceeded to abduct several islanders, causing a general skirmish in which an indeterminate number of Fokohesans were killed, one crewmember also died, and Liu was forced to make a hasty retreat, taking two islanders with him, a man and a young woman. Liu's ship then sailed on to the much smaller island of Aeta, where he stopped just long enough to kidnap nine inhabitants, "so that our scientists and anthropologists may study these beings more at leisure, as I understand that there is some curiosity about the primitive indigenes of the South Seas".
What exactly became of those eleven captives is unknown. Records are fragmentary, but it appears at least two died during the voyage to Asia, and at least five others died shortly after their arrival of illnesses they possessed no immunity against. The survivors are thought to have been kept in captivity for a number of years, before most of them were released into an utterly alien Asian society and left to fend for themselves. There are no records on what happened to them after that.
Oral records on Aeta say that one member of Liu's crew, a man refered to as "Jee", was injured and captured by the Aetans before he could return to his ship. He was then nursed back to health by his captors and lived out his life on the island. Liu's ship's records, however, make no note of having lost a crewmember to the Aetans.
Opening to the world
Word of Liu's actions filtered back to the eastern islands, where it seemed it was often disbelieved. Tales of pale-skinned men in strange clothing, sailing in huge vessels and wielding strange powers, sounded a lot like fiction. The eastern isles were not to encounter non-Polynesians before 1760, when European explorers charted them thoroughly. Perhaps remembering the cautionary tales from Fokohesa, the islanders were on their guard, and often gave the foreigners a cold welcome. They offered food, but insisted the Europeans did not move further inland than the beach, and that they hurry on their way. Finally, the explorers noted the location of the islands on their maps, and moved on.
In 1819, the first Christian missionaries arrived, hoping to convert and "civilise" the "heathen" Polynesians. Undeterred by an initially lukewarm welcome, they settled in Orowu and several other islands. Some were Europeans, but others, in later years, were Polynesian Christians, as it was felt they might be better accepted.
By that point, word of European might spreading throughout the Pacific had reached the islands, causing increasing concern. Some felt it would be wise to expell the missionaries, but others argued the missionaries were a lesser evil. The Christians promised protection from the depredation of their fellow Europeans, and also brought medical knowledge with them. Often it was of similar or inferior quality to medicine already practised by Polynesians, but some of it was an improvement, and several ahiki felt the missionaries could be trusted. Ahiki slowly began to convert, leading entire villages to follow suit.
Mutual acceptance, however, was not always easy. Missionaries were shocked by some of the practices retained by their new converts. They dismissed important rites and ceremonies as "primitive superstition", thus undermining the islanders' cultural traditions. They insisted that women should no longer walk with bare breasts, despite the warm, humid climate. They also succeeded in making converted ahiki ban dances deemed "obscene", and the drinking of the mildly intoxicating kala. Finally, missionaries were horrified by rare (but not unheard of) instances of cannibalism.
For their part, islanders were sometimes dismayed at the loss of ma'apeho (unity, consensus) brought about by the new religion... especially since missionaries represented several conflicting religions, and the islanders were bemused by their theological disputes.
Stories of nearby islands being annexed by Western powers became increasingly numerous over the same period, prompting concerned ahiki to make a historic decision. For the first time ever, a gathering of chiefs was decided, grouping ahiki from throughout the island group. They met in 1823 on Orowu, and, after several months of talks, the Federated Polynesian States were proclaimed on June 10, 1824. The missionaries were divided in their reactions. Some gave their tacit support, hoping the move would protect the islands from negative foreign interference, and that it would secure the missionaries' position as only foreigners in the newborn Federation. Others, however, feared it would slow the "civilising" process, and were concerned that the Proclamation of Sovereignty made no mention of religion. Some ahiki, mainly in the outer islands, were still "heathens", and had obtained the promise that Federation would not entail forced conversion.
A sovereign nation, the Federal Polynesians knew, needed a head of state. And a technologically "under-developed" nation, they felt, nodded a strong head of state. The assembled ahiki decided that the Federation would have a King, who would wield considerable authority on a national level, while the ahiki would retain day-to-day governance of their own chiefdoms. (See: Politics of the Federated Polynesian States.) The assembly chose a monarch from within its own ranks, and it was King Mosese who first read the Proclamation of Sovereignty to a (smallish) gathering of his subjects on Orowu. On the basis of the theory that unity (ma'apeho) is strength, islands were, furthermore, grouped into fourteen States, the member States of the Federation.
The new nation exchanged ambassadors with the main European powers of the era, but was content to remain essentially isolationist, and fiercely resisted any interference in its internal affairs. Above all, it resisted the influence of Western economics, all but completely closed itself to the lure of trade and imported material goods, and did not create a form of monetary currency (the Polynesian pound) until 1829.
King Mosese was a Christian (but mostly secular) monarch, which made him acceptable to the major foreign powers. He consolidated some Christian customs in law, but also strove to preseve the islands' cultural heritage and traditions. Over the next decades, Christianity made some further inroads into the outer islands, but, by the dawn of the twentieth century, it had begun very gradually to recede, and some Christians even returned to indigenous spirituality.
In the 1970s, the country was increasingly exposed to foreign media, culminating in the opening of Apawa International airport in 1979. At the same time, some Federal Polynesians travelled, studied and worked abroad, and returned home with a foreign spouse, bringing a small measure of ethnic diversity into the population. Orowu was very moderately Westernised, through the development of a limited cash economy. Today, just as two centuries ago, the monarch attempts to balance the requirements of the modern era with the preservation of the nation's cultural heritage and traditional practices.