Book highlights German role in Pacific island country

11 MARCH 2000

A new book by an Australian historian places a hitherto unknown and positive light on the German colonisation of the Mariana Islands in the North Pacific at the end of the 19th Century.

A new book by an Australian historian places a hitherto unknown and positive light on the German colonisation of the Mariana Islands in the North Pacific at the end of the 19th Century.

According to author of Aurora Australis and Charles Sturt University academic Dr Dirk Spennemann, the German influence was very significant in rebuilding the pride of the local Chamorro people after centuries of oppression and persecution by Spanish colonists.

"The first German administrator, George Fritz, re-developed Chamorro pride in their own culture by decreeing that Chamorro should be the first language of instruction in schools and by using Chamorro legends on the Marianas as readers in German language classes," Dr Spennemann said.

The book is the first English-language history of the German colonial period in the Mariana Islands. The German period was only brief, from 1899 to 1914, but came at a time when the entire Pacific Region was undergoing rapid change.

"Although little physical evidence remains of German colonial influence, its most lasting legacy was the fact that Chamorro is still spoken fluently in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI).

"This contrasts dramatically with the southernmost island of the Marianas, Guam, which became an American territory after the Spanish-American War in 1899. Here we see a Chamorro culture that was kept very subdued."

The first edition of Aurora Australis has become a textbook for students in island country's high schools and the College of the Northern Marianas to help understand this important period of their history. The book was published by the CNMI Historic Preservation Office.

Preorders and book sales have been above expectations and work has already begun on a second edition.

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Albury-Wodonga International