Thursday, May 14, 2015


January 17, 1931
A Cams 53 hydroplane, F-AJNN, took off from Etang de Berre, opening the first airmail service between Marseille and Beirut, the first segment of the France-Far East route. From 17 to 27 January, Air Orient performed a pioneering passenger service: Marseille-Naples-Corfu-Athens-Castellorizo-Beirut by Cams 53; Beirut-Damascus by coach; Damascus-Baghdad-Bouchir-Djask-Karachi-Jodhpur-Allahabab-Calcutta-Akyab-Rangoon-Bangkok-Saigon, with Maurice Noguès and Léon Launay. The journey took 10 days with 3 different aircraft (Cams 53, Farman 300 and Fokker VII). On 16 February, Maurice Noguès and his co-pilot Léon Launay returned to Le Bourget.

Artist: Basil Smith
1925 -
Nationality: British
Artwork Year: 1985
Image Size: 7 by 6 inches
Overall Size: 10 by 9 inches
Medium: Mixed Media on Hot Press Illustration Board

In the early modern age, the Spanish had advanced a nominal claim to Micronesian islands, and the Dutch retained a somewhat vague claim to the western half of New Guinea. The British extended their colonial imperium in Australia from Botany Bay and Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) to the whole of the continent by the 1820s. In 1840, they narrowly beat the French in a race to claim New Zealand; two years later, the French took over the Marquesas and Society islands, gaining control of Tahiti. A perceived slight to a Catholic missionary precipitated the move—Protestant missionaries had worked in Tahiti since 1797 and gained influence over the local chieftain—that allowed France to get a stake in Oceania. In 1853, France annexed New Caledonia to create a penal colony. Believing that they could imitate and perfect the British system of transportation, the French sent convicts and political prisoners (including Communards in 1871) to the islands from the 1860s to the 1890s. The British riposted by taking over the Fiji islands in 1874.

In the 1880s, other imperial powers entered the scramble. Germany took over northeastern New Guinea and neighboring islands, as well as the western Samoan islands, while the United States raised the flag over the eastern Samoan islands. Washington increased its holdings in 1898 when victory in the Spanish-American War allowed it to acquire the Philippines and Guam, and in 1900 the United States formally took over the Hawaiian Islands. Britain had by now taken over southeastern New Guinea, the Solomon islands, and the Gilbert and Ellis islands; France had claimed Wallis and Futuna; and Chile incorporated Easter Island. By the end of the century, only Tonga had not been formally integrated into a colonial empire. The New Hebrides, contested between Britain and France, became a ‘‘condominium’’ with two flags, two currencies, and two colonial administrators, a situation that endured as one of the most peculiar colonial arrangements until Vanuatu became independent in 1980.

As claims were made (and very often before), missionaries, traders, and planters arrived. Sugar became the major export of Fiji, and tropical fruits gained profits for planters in Hawaii. In the western Pacific, planters concentrated on copra, the dried meat of coconuts that European factories transformed into soap and other oil-based products. An attempt to create cotton plantations in Tahiti enjoyed only temporary success during the American Civil War. The French discovered huge reserves of nickel in New Caledonia, the world’s major producer by the late 1800s; settlers also developed pastoralism. The British mined phosphate in the Gilbert islands and Nauru, as did the French on Makatea. Prospectors later found a wealth of minerals in New Guinea.

Economic initiatives created a demand for labor. ‘‘Kanakas’’ (Melanesians) were recruited, sometimes under duress, for plantations around the islands and in Queensland. The British imported Indian indentured laborers to Fiji, where they came to outnumber indigenous islanders. In New Caledonia, the French employed Japanese, East Indians, and Indochinese; Chinese, Japanese, Europeans, and Americans migrated to Hawaii. Others Europeans settled in New Zealand and New Caledonia, though their presence elsewhere was relatively small.

Culture contact had a dramatic effect on islanders, though without the ‘‘fatal impact’’ that some writers postulated. Infrastructural development, paid employment, and imported goods changed material life. Evangelists succeeded in converting most islanders to Christianity (and establishing virtual theocracies in some islands), though with syncretism of Christian and local beliefs. Law codes regulated behavior, and secular and ecclesiastical authorities tried to stamp out what they termed immoral behavior: semi-nudity, dancing, and promiscuity. Diseases brought by Europeans, as well as intensive labor and even cultural anomie, caused a steep demographic decline in some islands. Health care and education nevertheless became more widely available. Sexual liaisons between Europeans or Asians and islanders created a métis population in Tahiti and Hawaii, while in some other islands virtual segregation prevailed. Colonial rule eroded the authority of traditional chiefs, and everywhere islanders remained politically disenfranchised.

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