5,000 years ago, sailors from Taiwan and China populated the
islands of Micronesia. They lived in sharply stratified
societies where gender, age and fighting ability determined
the individual's social position and material wealth. The
colonization of the islands in the 19th century destroyed
many of the small communities, but failed to completely
crush the former civilization.
In 1899 Germany bought the islands of Spain for 25
million pesetas and in 1914 they were taken over by the
Japanese. During World War II, Japan established its largest
naval base on Palau, and at the same time, the United States
recognized that the islands were of strategic importance for
the conquest of the Philippines. The islands were therefore
subject to fierce fighting.
By the end of World War II, the native population had
been reduced from 45,000 to 6,000. The United States
subjugated Micronesia as a protectorate, used it for nuclear
testing and reinforced its economic dependence. The process
of independence was therefore only initiated in the late
In 1978, the archipelago detached itself from the rest of
Micronesia, and in January 1979 a constitutional assembly
drafted a constitution for autonomy. The Constitution
explicitly prohibited the storage of nuclear weapons or
nuclear waste in the country. It also ruled that foreigners
could not own land and established a 200-mile sea-level zone
- in accordance with UN resolutions, but to the great regret
of the United States.
The constitution was signed by 35 of the 38 members of
the Constitutional Assembly, but the United States put
pressure on the local government to agree to the creation of
a large military base on Palau. Following a third referendum
in July 1980, the original text of the Constitution was
adopted with 78% of the vote.