Micronesia: Another kind of Sept. 11

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

POHNPEI, MICRONESIA – There are no known Al Qaeda camps in the equatorial Pacific island of Pohnpei. In fact, there is generally not much of any anti-American sentiment to be found here.

Yet, Sept. 11 is a day of celebration in the capital state of the Federated States of Micronesia, when most everyone takes the day off work to feast while students proudly represent their municipalities in sporting events.

Pohnpei’s Liberation Day marks the eviction of the Japanese at the end of World War II and freedom from the horrors of war. Like many native Pacific Islanders, Pohnpeians suffered starvation, bombing raids, and forced labor as foreign soldiers fought for control of their constellation of islands.

While the end of conflict and the ensuing peace under American administration was mightily welcomed, the Japanese surrender actually led to many tearful departures. Until the late stages of the war, Japanese naval officers and colonialists had lived amiably among the Pohnpeians for roughly 30 years and intermarried with local women.

Although their wives could choose whether to stay home or depart for Japan, the husbands were required to leave. Many wives chose stay within the traditional, tightknit family structure of Pohnpei, while children were sometimes split between the parting parents.

These days, a rebuilt Kolonia plays host every Sept. 11 to picnicking families. Meanwhile, far from their coral atolls and tropical volcanic islands, the 40,000 Micronesian immigrants who now call America home have brought Liberation Day activities to such cities as Portland, Ore.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Honolulu.

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