People and Places of the Pacific

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Beginning with the Pacific Islands and ending with the nations on the Pacific Rim, this exhibition highlights the political and cultural relationship between these nations and the United States through the medium of postage stamps.

Contents

- Introduction
- Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of the Marshall Islands
- Republic of Palau and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
- American Samoa
- Guam: Stamps and Postal System
- Guam: The Island
- Hawaii: Captain Cook and the Islands
- Hawaii: Missionaries and Stamps
- Hawaii: Early Leaders
- Hawaii: The 50th State
- Hawaii: Heritage and Landscape
- Hawaii: Duke Kahanomoku
- China and the United States
- China: The Lunar New Year
- Japan: The Opening of Japan
- Japan: Isamu Noguchi
- Conclusion

Introduction

As one of the world’s most racially and ethnically diverse nations, the United States has been strongly influenced by many different peoples and cultures, including those of the Pacific Islands and Pacific Rim. Accordingly, U.S. postage stamps celebrate the people and places of the Pacific as an integral part of America’s history, and culture.

Pacific Islanders hail from some of the farthest reaches of the world, including the islands of Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, American Samoa, Micronesia and Palau as well as countries on the Pacific Rim such as China and Japan. Beginning with the Pacific Islands and ending with the nations on the Pacific Rim, this exhibition highlights the political and cultural relationship between these nations and the United States through the medium of postage stamps.

Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of the Marshall Islands

The United States has a long history of relations in the Pacific region. Initially valued for their strategic locations, many of the Pacific Islands have been or currently are territories of the United States. Stamps issued in honor of this region symbolize the goodwill between the islands and the United States.

After World War II, the United Nations assigned several Pacific island groups to a Trust Territory administered by the United States. The islands included Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau. Over time many of the islands became self-governing.

In 1986, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Marshall Islands negotiated with the United States to create the Compact of Free Association. Free Association enables the islands to self-govern while the United States provides them with defense as well as other services, such as economic aid.

Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of the Marshall Islands (continued)

In 1990, the U.S., the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Marshall islands released a joint issue of stamps commemorating the Compact of Free Association seen here.

These stamps illustrate aspects of the FSM and the Marshall Islands’ heritage that make them unique and distinct places such as traditional canoes and navigational stick charts.

Republic of Palau

In 1994, Palau voted to join the Compact of Free Association, and similar to the FSM and Marshall Islands, the United States and Palau’s postal systems worked together to issue joint stamps in celebration of Palau’s first year of independence. This stamp illustrates Palau’s rich marine life that draws many tourists and explorers to its island every year.

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Now a commonwealth territory of the United States, the Northern Mariana Islands are protected by the U.S., and its inhabitants hold U.S. citizenship. As such, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp in 1993 in tribute to the commonwealth’s fourteen islands. This stamp depicts latte stones, a common feature found on the Islands. The ancient stones were created by the indigenous Chamorro people as building supports.

American Samoa

Now a territory of the United States, the islands of American Samoa were discovered in 1722 by Dutch navigator, Jacob Roggeveen. In April 1900, local Samoan chiefs ceded the islands of Tutuila and Aunuu to the U.S. A stamp commemorating a century of political affiliation between the U.S. and the Samoan Islands was issued in 2000.

The stamp illustrates an alia, the traditional double canoe, sailing with the prevailing easterly wind. Sunuitao Peak, on the island of Ofu, can be seen in the background. The six islands of American Samoa officially became a U.S. territory in 1929.

American Samoa

American Samoa was again featured on a stamp as part of the Flags of Our Nation series in 2008.

Guam: Stamps and Postal System

Another territory of the United States, Guam, is located in the north Pacific Ocean. From the 16th to 19th century, Guam was as an important Spanish port, serving as a mid-point between the Philippines and Mexico. As a result of the Spanish-American war, Spain ceded Guam to the United States on December 10, 1898, where it was later used by the U.S. Navy as a supply depot, coaling station and aviation base. The presence of the U.S. Navy created a demand for postage stamps.

Since Guam was controlled by the U.S. Navy, Guam’s postal system was also under the United State’s jurisdiction. Thus, regular issue U.S. postage stamps overprinted with the word “GUAM” were introduced. This is one example of the eleven stamps issued.

Today, as a trust territory of the United States, Guam uses regular issue U.S. postage stamps.

Guam: The Island

In the modern period the United States has issued three stamps highlighting the beauty of Guam. Hagatna Bay, portrayed in the 2007 stamp on the left, illustrates the serene beauty and landscape that defines Guam.

Guam: The Island (continued)

Well known for its many coral reefs, the rich marine life of Guam was celebrated in 2004 with the issuance of the Pacific Coral Reef stamps depicting the coral reefs of Guam. The island boasts approximately 250 coral species and 6,000 marine species, including the black-spotted puffer, threadfin butterfly fish and staghorn coral shown in the 37-cent stamp featured here.

Guam: The Island

Guam was again featured on a stamp in 2008 as part of the Flags of Our Nations series.

Hawaii: Captain Cook and the Islands

The second section of this exhibit focuses on the people and places of Hawaii. The stamps presented here highlight significant historical events that are part of Hawaii’s journey to become the fiftieth state in the Union. They also highlight the physical beauty of the island and the accomplishments of its people.

The relationship between Hawaii and the western world began with the arrival of Captain James Cook in the late 18th century. This 13-cent stamp depicts Cook’s ships Discovery and Resolution in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii - the location of Cook’s arrival to the island. This stamp was issued in 1978, approximately 200 years after Cook’s arrival in Hawaii.

The islands of Hawaii had been isolated from Europe and much of the western world when Captain Cook landed on the island of Kauai in January of 1778; it was the first contact among Europeans and Polynesians. Cook called the islands the “Sandwich Islands” after one of his sponsors, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.

The initial contact between the two peoples began as a peaceful meeting. However, violence later erupted when an incident occurred in which Polynesians stole one of Cook’s small boats, causing Cook to retaliate by taking a Hawaiian chief and holding him for ransom. Fighting broke out and Captain Cook was killed on Saint Valentine’s Day in 1779.

Hawaii: Missionaries and Stamps

Although Captain Cook initiated the first contact between Europeans and native Hawaiians, the settlement of western peoples on the islands did not begin until 1820 when the first Christian missionaries began to arrive in Hawaii.

13-cent “Hawaiian Postage” Missionary stamp issued in 1851.

Hawaii: Missionaries and Stamps (continued)

By the 1840s, there was strong demand for an efficient and effective means for missionaries to communicate with loved ones in the United States. On December 20, 1849, a treaty between the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii was established to provide a more systematic postal operation and better exchange of mail between the two countries.

Hawaii: Missionaries and Stamps (continued)

In 1850, Henry M. Whitney, Esq., a well-known merchant and printer in Honolulu, became the first Postmaster of the Kingdom of Hawaii, overseeing all mail to and from San Francisco, California. In November, 1850, the first bag of mail left Honolulu for the United States.

Hawaii: Missionaries and Stamps (continued)

On October 1, 1851, the Kingdom of Hawaii issued the first Hawaiian stamps, later referred to as the “Missionaries,” due to the fact that nearly all correspondence and mail sent from Hawaii to the United States was from American missionaries. The “Missionaries” were Hawaii’s postage stamps only until May of 1852.

2-cent "Hawaiian Postage" Missionary Stamp issued in 1851.

Hawaii: Missionaries and Stamps (continued)

5-cent “Hawaiian Postage” Missionary stamp issued in 1851.

Hawaii: Missionaries and Stamps (continued)

13-cent “H.I. & U.S. Postage” Missionary stamp issued in 1851.

Hawaii: Early Leaders

When the missionaries first arrived in Hawaii, it was ruled by King Kamehameha III (1814-1854). King of the Hawaiian Islands for thirty years, Kamehameha III was the longest reigning monarch. Influenced by the Christian missionaries, Kamehameha III became the first Christian king of Hawaii. In 1853, the “missionary” stamps were replaced by a new series depicting Kamehameha III. The dieproof shown here was created for the 1889 reprinting of the 13-cent Kamehameha III issue.

Hawaii: Early Leaders (continued)

In 1937, the first U.S. postage stamp featuring a Hawaiian was released in celebration of Hawaii’s status as a U.S. territory, which it became in 1900. The stamp depicts a statue of King Kamehameha I, also known as Kamehameha the Great. He is credited with preserving Hawaii’s independence by building alliances with Pacific colonial powers and bringing the Hawaiian Islands under a single sovereignty. King Kamehameha I established a dynasty that ruled the Hawaiian Islands from approximately 1810 until 1872.

Hawaii: The 50th State

Hawaii remained a U.S. territory for sixty years before becoming a state on August 21, 1959. The United States Postal Service has issued several stamps commemorating the event.

Issued on the same day Hawaii was admitted to the Union, this 7-cent commemorative airmail stamp depicts a Hawaiian warrior presenting a lei of welcome to the star of statehood with a map of the new state’s islands in the background.

Hawaii: The 50th State (continued)

The twenty-fifth anniversary of Hawaiian statehood was celebrated on a stamp released in 1984. Stamp designer and Hawaiian native, Herb Kane, illustrates a view of Hawaii from the ocean. The stamp contains three objects of focus, all of which are unique to Hawaii and its culture. A Polynesian canoe, used by early Polynesian settlers that sailed to Hawaii, rides the waves of the sea with an erupting volcano in the background. In the foreground, a golden plover flies ahead. This bird lives in Alaska, except for the winter months when it flies south to Hawaii. First-day sales of this statehood stamp topped all USPS records at the time of its release.

Hawaii: The 50th State (continued)

In 2009, a stamp was released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hawaiian statehood. Also designed by Herb Kane, the stamp depicts a surfer riding a wave on a longboard and two people paddling an outrigger canoe to shore.

Hawaii: The 50th State (continued)

The Hawaiian flag was commissioned by Kamehameha the Great and has represented the Hawaiian nation for over 190 years. From its beginning, the flag stood as a symbol of Hawaii’s independence and sovereignty from other nations. The eight alternating red, white and blue stripes represent the eight islands of Hawaii. The British Union Jack flag is shown in the left corner in recognition of Great Britain’s early friendship and goodwill with Hawaii in the mid-19th century.

Hawaii: The 50th State (continued)

The Greetings from America stamp, issued in 2002, portrays a picturesque scene that is distinctive to Hawaii. Known as the “Aloha State,” Hawaii attracts over four million tourists annually. The stamp depicts Waikiki Beach with the extinct volcano Diamond Head in the background and the yellow hibiscus, the state flower, in the foreground.

Hawaii: Heritage and Landscape

The natural environment plays an important role in the culture and traditions of Hawaii. As seen in the Hawaiian Rainforests issue, the places, vegetation, and wildlife of Hawaii create a beautiful landscape that makes it unique.

Hawaii: Heritage and Landscape (continued)

Another landscape, that of Hawaii’s historic City of Refuge, is depicted on the 11-cent airmail stamp. The City of Refuge, now a national park, long served as a sanctuary for early Hawaiians seeking purification from temple priests after breaking a taboo and also as a place to escape from enemies. This notion is expressed on the stamp with its portrayal of a statute of Ki’i, an ancient god of the Hawaiian people.

Hawaii: Heritage and Landscape (continued)

Known for its breathtaking beauty is Honolulu’s Diamond Head, shown on this 80-cent air mail stamp.

Hawaii: Heritage and Landscape (continued)

The 20-cent Hawaii state bird and flower stamp, illustrates the natural beauty of Hawaii.

Hawaii: Duke Kahanomoku

Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968), the only modern Hawaiian to be featured on a postage stamp, captured the attention of the world. Hawaiian folk hero, three-time Olympic gold medal swim champion and father of surfing, Kahanamoku cultivated the interest of the outside in the islands and culture of Hawaii with his impressive performances in the 1912, 1920 and 1932 Olympics.

Kahanamoku brought attention and popularity to surfing all around the world and was dubbed the “Father of Surfing.” As recently as 1999, Kahanmoku was named the Surfer of the Century by Surfer magazine, and today, numerous places and competitions bear his name.

Kahanamoku served as a goodwill ambassador for Hawaii until his death in January of 1968. Kahanamoku continues to stand as a symbol of pride and a hero for Hawaiian people as demonstrated by a life-size statue of him on the beach at Waikiki and also in the 2002 stamp issue bearing his image.

China and the United States

The final section of this exhibition explores U.S. postage stamps that have focused on the heritage and culture of the Pacific Rim, specifically stamps featuring China and Japan.

Often stamps are used to promote goodwill between the United States and foreign nations. In the case of China, U.S. stamps have been used to promote the establishment of a republic and reinforce the United States’ support of the Republic once it had been established.

At the height of World War II, China was fighting its own war against Japanese aggression. As a gesture of support, the United States released a stamp in 1942 commemorating the resistance of the Chinese people to Japan in order to preserve a free government in China. The stamp includes the portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Sun Yat-sen, the first president of the Chinese Republic. Lincoln’s famous phrase “Of the people, by the people, for the people” is written below his portrait and in Chinese characters under the portrait of Sun Yat-sen. The Chinese characters in the middle of the stamp translate as “Fight the War and Build the Country.” The comparison of Sun Yat-sen to President Lincoln, considered not only one of the United States’ greatest presidents but also an icon of freedom, reflects the strong interest of the U.S. government in the establishment of a Chinese Republic.

China and the United States (continued)

Sun Yat-sen was again featured on a stamp in 1961 commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC). After the communist revolution in 1949 mainland China became the communist People’s Republic of China and the nationalist government of the ROC governed what is now Taiwan. At the time this stamp was issued the western world considered the ROC to be the legitimate government of mainland China. The issuance of this stamp was a political statement demonstrating the United States’ support of the ROC and denunciation of the communist People’s Republic.

China and the United States (continued)

On October 9, 1994, the United States and China released the first joint issue stamp intended to recognize friendship between the two nations. Delegates from both the United States and China agreed that the subject of the stamps should be uncontroversial and apolitical given that politics of the United States and China are fundamentally different.

China and the United States (continued)

It was determined that the stamps would feature the black-necked crane, a native bird of China and the whooping crane, a native bird of North America. Native and rare to each country, conservation efforts had been established to save these endangered birds. The Chinese consider the crane to be a symbol of peace and friendship; thus, the use of cranes as the subject held significant symbolic value.

China: The Lunar New Year

U.S. stamps have also celebrated aspects of Chinese heritage and culture that go beyond the realm of politics. The Lunar New Year Collection is one of the most successful issues in the history of the USPS. These postage stamps embody an aspect of Chinese culture and tradition that has left an indelible mark on the United States and also found a place in popular culture.

The Chinese lunar cycle is based on a twelve year repeating cycle. According to legend, the signs of the Zodiac were determined when Buddha invited all the animals of the kingdom for a meeting. Only twelve animals showed up: the rooster, dog, boar, rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, ram and monkey. Buddha gave each animal its own year; thus, it is believed that people will possess the nature and characteristics of the animal that represents the year in which they are born.

The 29-cent Year of the Rooster stamp was issued on December 30, 1992.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, artist Clarence Lee was selected to design the first Chinese lunar stamp, the “Year of the Rooster.” Issued in 1992, the stamp met with such success that he continued to design the stamps for the rest of the twelve-year series. When designing the first stamp of the series, Lee created a distinctively modern and Chinese design, hence the paper-cut two dimensional look. On each stamp of the series, a professional calligrapher wrote Kanji characters to state the name of each stamp. Kanji is a Japanese adaptation to Chinese characters and can often be read by a variety of Asian groups from differing countries and cultures.

The 29-cent Year of the Dog stamp was issued on February 5, 1994.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

The 29-cent Year of the Boar stamp was issued on December 30, 1994.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

The 32-cent Year of the Rat stamp was issued on February 8, 1996.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

The 32-cent Year of the Ox stamp was issued on January 5, 1997.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

The 32-cent Year of the Tiger stamp was issued on January 5, 1998.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

The 33-cent Year of the Rabbit stamp was issued on January 5, 1999.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

The 34-cent Year of the Snake stamp was issued on January 20, 2001.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

The 34-cent Year of the Horse stamp was issued on February 11, 2002.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

The 37-cent Year of the Ram stamp was issued on January 15, 2003.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

The 37-cent Year of the Monkey stamp was issued on January 13, 2004.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

In 2008 the Postal Service began a new series of Lunar New Year stamps. The stamps focus on some of the common ways the holiday is celebrated. Some elements of the previous Lunar New Year stamps were incorporated in the new design, including the paper-cut designs of the twelve animals and Chinese calligraphy.

The series will continue through 2019. The 2008 Year of the Rat stamp features festive red lanterns, common decorations at New Year celebrations.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

The 2009 Year of the Ox stamp features a lion head of a type worn at parades and other festivities connected with the New Year.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

The 2010 Year of the Tiger stamp features narcissus flowers, considered auspicious at any time of year and thus especially appropriate at the beginning of a new year.

China: The Lunar New Year (continued)

The 2011 Year of the Rabbit stamp features kumquats, which are eaten for luck and given as holiday gifts.

Japan: The Opening of Japan

Like China, Japan has made many important contributions to the history and culture of the United States. Both stamps shown here were released post-World War II as the world recovered from the devastating war, and the United States made efforts to improve relationships with countries that were once enemies. These stamps served as visual demonstrations of peace and friendship between the two nations.

In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry traveled to Japan on behalf of the U.S., seeking to re-establish trade for the first time in over 200 years. Perry succeeded in negotiating with Japan, and the Kanagawa Treaty was established, opening Japan's ports to American ships. This 1953 stamp celebrates the 100th anniversary of Perry’s voyage to Japan, portraying Perry’s arrival in Tokyo Bay with Mt. Fuji in the background.

Japan: The Opening of Japan (continued)

While the Kanagawa Treaty granted safe harbor to American ships in Japan it did not provide for commercial trade. In 1858 an expanded treaty, known as the Harris Treaty, was signed opening Japan’s ports for commercial trade with the U.S. This 4-cent US-Japan Treaty stamp was issued in 1960, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the treaty. The stamp was meant to recognize the goodwill and mutual understanding between the U.S. and Japan.

Japan: Isamu Noguchi

For centuries, Japanese culture has strongly influenced art and design in the United States. This influence can be seen in the works of Japanese American artist, Isamu Noguchi. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth, the U.S. Postal Service issued five stamps in May of 2004 depicting Noguchi’s work.

Japan: Isamu Noguchi (continued)

Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles, California, on November 17, 1904. Strongly influenced by surrealism and other abstract art, he is well known for his sculptures and furniture designs as depicted in this stamp issue. He traveled many times to Japan where he found inspiration for his work from Japanese gardens as well as from the materials of wood, stone, bamboo and water.

Japan: Isamu Noguchi (continued)

Noguchi’s subject matters possess elements of two cultures, merging western and eastern ideas. His sculpture of an Akari lamp was selected to be one of the works portrayed on the U.S. postage stamp not only because it is one of his most recognized sculptures, but also because is serves as an example of western-inspired abstract art that embraces the Japanese inspired notions of peace, light and serenity. Constructed of mulberry paper, bamboo and wires, Akari lamps are based upon the lanterns of the fisherman of Gifu on the coast of Japan.

Japan: Isamu Noguchi (continued)

The 37-cent Mother and Child stamp

Japan: Isamu Noguchi (continued)

The 37-cent Black Sun stamp

Conclusion

The postage stamps presented in "People and Places of the Pacific" highlight the ways in which the Pacific is part of American history - providing insight into the political relations and significant historical events between the United States and the nations of the Pacific. These stamps acknowledge with gratitude and respect the rich heritage and culture of the region and the contributions its inhabitants have made to the United States.

The 33-cent Year of the Dragon stamp was issued on January 6, 2000.

Created by Joan Flintoft and MJ Meredith, National Postal Museum
Credits: Story

Created by MJ Meredith, Museum Specialist, and Joan Flintoft, Intern, National Postal Museum

References used in this exhibit include:

People and Places of the Pacific: A Celebration on Stamps. United States Postal Service Publication 153. May 2002.

U.S. Post Office Department Stamp Design Files. Collection of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, National Postal Museum branch.

Linn’s U.S. Stamp Yearbook. Various Years.

The United States and the Opening to Japan, 1853. U.S. Department of State.

http://history.state.gov/milestones/1830-1860/OpeningtoJapan

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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