Pohnpei “upon (pohn) a stone altar (pei)” (formerly known as Ponape) is the name of one of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and among the Senyavin Islands (part of the larger Caroline Islands group). Palikir, the FSM’s capital, is located on Pohnpei. Pohnpei International Airport (IATA code PNI) is located near Kolonia, on a small island named Deketik off the northern coast of the main island.
Pohnpei island is the largest, highest, most populous, and most developed single island in the FSM. The islanders of Pohnpei have a reputation as being the most welcoming of outsiders among residents of the island group, and the island contains a wealth of biodiversity.
Pohnpei is one of the wettest places on earth with annual recorded rainfall exceeding 300 inches (7,600 mm) each year in certain mountainous locations. The only known area in the world with more rainfall is Mt. Waiʻaleʻale on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
Ethnographer Martha Ward’s most recent work on the Pohnpeians and their culture is the 1989 text Nest in the Wind. A second edition discusses modern Pohnpeian culture and the changes that occurred on Pohnpei in the 30 years between Ward’s visits.
The Federated States of Micronesia is an independent, sovereign nation made up of Pohnpei and three other states; Chuuk, Kosrae, and Yap. Together, the FSM comprises approximately 607 small islands in the Western Pacific spread over almost 1,700 miles (2,700 km) from east to west just above the equator some 2,500 miles (4,000 km) southwest of Hawaii and about 1,800 miles (2,900 km) north of eastern Australia, above Papua New Guinea.
While the FSM’s total land area is quite small and amounts to approximately 270 square miles (700 km2), it occupies more than one million square miles of the Pacific Ocean. It ranges from Kosrae farthest to the east, then to Pohnpei, Chuuk, and finally to Yap farthest to the west. Each of the four States is centered around one or more main high islands, and all but Kosrae include numerous outlying atolls.
At over 2,500 feet (760 m), Pohnpei’s tallest peaks are lush and verdant towering above a gentle talus slope at lower elevations around its 80-mile (130 km) circumference.
The FSM was formerly a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), but formed its own constitutional government on May 10, 1979. Other neighboring island entities, and also members of the TTPI, formulated their own constitutional governments and became the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) and the Republic of Palau (ROP). The FSM is an independent, sovereign nation with a seat in the United Nations.
The population of Pohnpei is approximately 34,000. Pohnpei is more ethnically diverse than any other island in the FSM. This is largely due to it being home to the capital of the national government, which employs hundreds of people from the other FSM States having distinct ethnic and cultural origins. The indigenous makeup also includes people from the outer islands within the State, which comprise multiple regional ethnicities. Outer islands to Pohnpei include Pingelap, Mokil, Ant, Pakin, Ngatik, Nukuoro, and Kapingamarangi.
The majority of the population consider themselves ethnic Pohnpeian but from more than a century of foreign occupation Pohnpei is truly the FSM’s melting pot, a veritable hodge-podge mix of Austral-Asian Pacific Islanders and Japanese, German, Spanish, Chamorro, Filipino, American, Australian and other Western European people.