Micronesia (from Greek μικρός, small, and νῆσος, island, signifying a region of small islands or islets) is a term of recent application, and is applied to a portion of the Central Archipelago, Pacific Ocean, including the Kingsmill group. Micronesia proper extends from the westernmost island of the Sandwich group to near Japan and the Philippines, and reaches south of the equator, including the Ladrone Islands, the Carolinas, and the Pellew Islands. The Kingsmill group lies on both sides of the equator, and consists of fifteen principal islands, all coral, and densely covered with cocoa-nut groves.
Customs. — The population of these islands amounts to about 50,000 souls. They are governed by independent chiefs or kings, and mostly lead a life of indolence. They are divided into three classes — chiefs, landholders, and slaves. They live in small communities, regarding the eldest of their number as a kind of patriarch. Polygamy is common. They are hospitable, and ready to share the last morsel with the needy. In each town is a "stranger's house," where travelers find a temporary home. The cocoa-nut, which everywhere abounds, supplies the few wants of the natives with little labor. Their chief employment is the manufacture of coconut oil. Almost everything which the natives eat, drink, wear, live in, or use in any way, is obtained from the cocoa-nut tree.
Religion. — There exists hardly any well-developed form of worship or religion. They have no idols and no priests. A loose system of spirit worship, or, better said, of veneration for the spirits of the dead, used to prevail among these people, but is gradually dying out. When a Micronesian dies, the body is placed upon mats, in the center of the house, and rubbed with coconut oil till the flesh is gone; then the bones are placed in a loft or thrown into the sea. A stone is placed near the house as a resting-place for the spirit, and offerings are made to it twice a year. There are but few traditions, and the people cannot be said to be very superstitious.
Missions. — Prosperous missions have been established in these groups by agents of the American Board of Foreign Missions; several of the workers have been selected from among their converts in Honolulu. As the result of the mission to Micronesia, during the nineteen years since its commencement, it would appear that a wonderful change has been produced in the social and moral condition of the once wild and savage inhabitants. A number of the natives have been converted to Christianity, and, according to the last report, 668 converts are united in Church fellowship. See The Missionary World (N.Y. 1873, 12mo), page 457 and 1123; Grundemann, Miss. Atlas, s.v.; Newcomb, Cyclop. of Missions, page 539 sq. SEE SANDWICH ISLANDS.