Micronesia, a grouping of islands in the northwest Pacific, entered modern history as a place for ships to pause in trips between the Asian mainland and elsewhere. There they took on supplies of coal and fresh water supplies. During the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, Spain was the dominant imperialist power in the Pacific, as it occupied a number of Micronesian islands. Dividing up the area in the 20th century were Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and the United States. Only after World War II did some of the island-states become independent. Many more, however, remained outright colonies or sparsely self- governing entities. The imperialist powers in Micronesia shared at least one characteristic in common: They ruled as if forever, and thus expended no effort in preparing the indigenous people to exercise political power. Other than strategic location, few economic resources attracted the attention of outside countries. Native products included fruit- and vegetable-bearing plants and trees; a market existed for copra, the white meat of coconuts; and sugar was grown in some of the Northern Mariana Islands. Fishing was a major source of food. Altogether, the vast majority of people lived as subsistence farmers and fisher- folk. Continued outside rule, however, destroyed the economic independence of Micronesia and transformed most of the islands into a state of economic dependency.
Spanish rule lasted from 1521 to 1898, but the government undertook very little education in these years. Missionaries organized village schools whose principal purpose was to facilitate religious conversions. These were highly successful and by the mid-19th century, it was claimed by one source that "a large