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Micronesia Definition

(Wikipedia) - Micronesia This article is about the greater region of Micronesia. For the independent state, see Federated States of Micronesia.
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Map of Micronesia (shown in dark magenta)

Micronesia (from Greek: μικρός, mikrós, "small" + Greek: νῆσος, nēsos, "island") is a subregion of Oceania, comprising thousands of small islands in the western Pacific Ocean. It has a shared cultural history with two other island regions, Polynesia to the east and Melanesia to the south.

There are four main archipelagos along with numerous outlying islands. Micronesia is divided politically into five sovereign states, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, and Palau, and three U.S. territories. The region has a tropical marine climate, and is part of the Oceania ecozone.

Micronesia began to be settled several millennia ago, although there are competing theories about the origin and arrival of the first settlers. The earliest known contact with Europeans occurred in 1521, when Ferdinand Magellan reached the Marianas. The coinage of the term "Micronesia" is usually attributed to Jules Dumont d''Urville''s usage in 1832, however Domeny de Rienzi had used the term a year previously.

  • 1 Geography
    • 1.1 Caroline Islands
    • 1.2 Gilbert Islands
    • 1.3 Mariana Islands
    • 1.4 Marshall Islands
      • 1.4.1 Bikini Atoll
    • 1.5 Nauru
    • 1.6 Wake Island
    • 1.7 Geology
    • 1.8 Fauna
    • 1.9 Climate
  • 2 History
    • 2.1 Pre-history
    • 2.2 Early European contact
    • 2.3 Colonisation and conversion
    • 2.4 German–Spanish Treaty of 1899
    • 2.5 20th century
  • 3 Politics
    • 3.1 States and dependencies
  • 4 Economy
  • 5 Demographics
    • 5.1 Carolinian people
    • 5.2 Chamorro people
    • 5.3 Chuukese people
    • 5.4 Kaping people
    • 5.5 Nauruan people
    • 5.6 Languages
  • 6 Culture
    • 6.1 Animals and food
    • 6.2 Architecture
    • 6.3 Art
    • 6.4 Cuisine
    • 6.5 Education
    • 6.6 Law
    • 6.7 Media
    • 6.8 Music and dance
    • 6.9 Sports
  • 7 Religion and mythology
  • 8 See also
  • 9 References
    • 9.1 Notes
    • 9.2 Bibliography
  • 10 Further reading
  • 11 External links

GeographyMicronesia is one of three major cultural areas in the Pacific Ocean, along with Polynesia and Melanesia.

Micronesia is a region that includes approximately 2100 islands, with a total land area of 2,700 square kilometres (1,000 sq mi), the largest of which is Guam, which covers 582 square kilometres (225 sq mi). The total ocean area within the perimeter of the islands is 7,400,000 square kilometres (2,900,000 sq mi). There are four main island groups; the Caroline Islands, the Gilbert Islands, the Mariana Islands, and the Marshall Islands.

Caroline Islands

The Caroline Islands are a widely scattered archipelago consists of about 500 small coral islands, north of New Guinea and east of the Philippines. The Carolines consist of two states: the Federated States of Micronesia, consisting of approximately 600 islands on the eastern side of the chain, and Palau consisting of 250 islands on the western side.

Gilbert Islands

The Gilbert Islands are a chain of sixteen atolls and coral islands, arranged in an approximate north-to-south line. In a geographical sense, the equator serves as the dividing line between the northern Gilbert Islands and the southern Gilbert Islands. The Republic of Kiribati contains all of the Gilberts, as well as the island of Tarawa, the site of the country''s capital.

Mariana Islands

The Mariana Islands are an arc-shaped archipelago made up by the summits of fifteen volcanic mountains. The island chain arises as a result of the western edge of the Pacific Plate moving westward and plunging downward below the Mariana plate, a region which is the most volcanically active convergent plate boundary on Earth. The Marianas are divided politically into two territories of the United States: The Northern Mariana Islands, officially known as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam, located at the southern end of the island chain. Guam is one of five U.S. territories with an established civilian government.

Marshall IslandsBeach scenery at Laura, Majuro, Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands is an island country, located north of Nauru and Kiribati, east of the Federated States of Micronesia, and south of the U.S. territory of Wake Island, to which it lays claim. The country consists of 29 low-lying atolls and 5 isolated islands, comprising 1,156 individual islands and islets. The atolls and islands form two groups: the Ratak Chain and the Ralik Chain (meaning "sunrise" and "sunset" chains). All the islands in the chain are part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a presidential republic in free association with the United States. Having few natural resources, the islands'' wealth is based on a service economy, as well as some fishing and agriculture. 24 of them are inhabited.

Bikini Atoll

Bikini Atoll is an atoll in the Marshall Islands. There are 23 islands in the Bikini Atoll. The islands of Bokonijien, Aerokojlol, and Nam were vaporized during nuclear tests that occurred there. The islands are composed of low coral limestone аnd sand. The average elevation is only about 7 feet (2.1 m) above low tide level.

  • Image of the Castle Bravo nuclear test, detonated on March 1, 1954, at Bikini Atoll

  • An illustration of the Cross Spikes Club of the US Navy on Bikini Atoll, one of several Marshall Islands used for atomic bomb tests.

  • Kili Island is one of the smallest islands in the Marshall Islands.


Nauru is an oval-shaped island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, 42 kilometres (26 mi) south of the Equator, listed as the world''s smallest republic, covering just 21 square kilometres (8 sq mi). With 9,378 residents, it is the second least-populated country, after Vatican City. The island is surrounded by a coral reef, which is exposed at low tide and dotted with pinnacles. The presence of the reef has prevented the establishment of a seaport, although channels in the reef allow small boats access to the island. A fertile coastal strip 150 to 300 metres (490 to 980 ft) wide lies inland from the beach.

  • Aerial view of Nauru

  • Nauruan districts of Denigomodu and Nibok

Wake Island

Wake Island is a coral atoll with a coastline of 12 miles (19 km) just north of the Marshall Islands. It is an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States. Access to the island is restricted, and all activities on the island are managed by the United States Air Force.

  • Wake Island as depicted by the United States Exploring Expedition, drawn by Alfred Thomas Agate

  • Aerial view Wake Island, looking westward

This section requires expansion. (December 2013)

The majority of the islands in the area are part of a coral atoll. Coral atolls begin as coral reefs that grow on the slopes of a central volcano. When the volcano sinks back down into the sea, the coral continues to grow, keeping the reef at or above water level. One exception is Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia, which still has the central volcano and coral reefs around it.

Fauna Main articles: List of mammals of Micronesia and List of birds of MicronesiaSpinner Dolphins
This section requires expansion. (December 2013)

The region has a tropical marine climate moderated by seasonal northeast trade winds. There is little seasonal temperature variation. The dry season runs from December or January to June, and the rainy season from July to November or December. Because of the location of some islands, the rainy season can sometimes include typhoons.

History Pre-history

Micronesia began to be settled several millennia ago, although there are competing theories about the origin and arrival of the first settlers. There are numerous difficulties with conducting archaeological excavations in the islands, due to their size, settlement patterns and storm damage. As a result, much evidence is based on linguistic analysis. The earliest archaeological traces of civilization have been found on the island of Saipan, dated to 1500 BCE or slightly before.

Micronesian colonists gradually settled the Marshall Islands during the 2nd millennium BC, with inter-island navigation made possible using traditional stick charts.

Construction of Nan Madol, a megalithic complex made from basalt lava logs in Pohnpei began as early as 1200 CE.

The prehistory of many Micronesian islands such as Yap are not known very well.

Early European contact

The earliest known contact with Europans occurred in 1521, when Ferdinand Magellan reached the Marianas This contact is recorded in Antonio Pigafetta''s chronicle of Magellan''s voyage, in which he recounts that the Chamorro people had no apparent knowledge of people outside of their island group. A Portuguese account of the same voyage suggests that the Chamorro people who greeted the travellers did so "without any shyness as if they were good acquaintances", raising the possibility that earlier unrecorded contact had occurred.

Further contact was made during the sixteenth century, although often initial encounters were very brief. Documents relating to the 1525 voyage of Diogo da Rocha suggest that he made the first European contact with inhabitants of the Caroline Islands, possibly staying on the Ulithi atoll for four months and encountering Yap. Marshall Islanders were encountered by Alvaro de Saavedra in 1529. More certain recorded contact with the Yap islands occurred in 1625.

Colonisation and conversion

In the early 17th century Spain colonized Guam, the Northern Marianas, and the Caroline Islands (what would later become the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau), creating the Spanish East Indies, which was governed from the Spanish Philippines.

In 1819, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions - a Protestant group - brought their Puritan ways to Polynesia. Soon after, the Hawaiian Missionary Society was founded, and sent missionaries into Micronesia. Conversion was not met with as much opposition, as the local religions were less developed (at least according to Western ethnographic accounts). In contrast, it took until the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th centuries for missionaries to fully covert the inhabitants of Melanesia; however, before a cultural contrast can even be made, one cannot neglect to take into account the fact that Melanesia has always had deadly strains of malaria present in various degrees and distributions throughout its history {see: De Rays Expedition} and up to the present; in contrast, Micronesia does not, and never seems to have had any malarial mosquitos nor pathogens on any of its islands in the past.

German–Spanish Treaty of 1899German New Guinea before and after the German-Spanish treaty of 1899Main article: German–Spanish Treaty (1899)

In the Spanish–American War, Spain lost many of its remaining colonies. In the Pacific, the United States took possession of the Spanish Philippines and Guam. This left Spain with the remainder of the Spanish East Indies, about 6,000 tiny islands that were sparsely populated and not very productive. These islands were ungovernable after the loss of the administrative center of Manila, and undefendable after the loss of two Spanish fleets in the war. The Spanish government therefore decided to sell the remaining islands to a new colonial power: the German Empire.

The treaty was signed on February 12, 1899, by Spanish Prime Minister Francisco Silvela and transferred the Caroline Islands, the Mariana Islands, Palau and other possessions to Germany. The islands were then placed under control of German New Guinea. Nauru had been annexed and claimed as a colony by Germany in 1888.

20th centuryMap from 1961 of the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, formerly Japan''s South Pacific Mandate.

Full European colonization did not come until the early 20th century, when the area would be divided between:

  • the United States, which took control of Guam following the Spanish–American War of 1898, and colonized Wake Island;
  • Germany, which took Nauru and bought the Marshall, Caroline, and Northern Mariana Islands from Spain; and
  • the British Empire, which took the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati).

During World War I, Germany''s Pacific island territories were seized and became League of Nations mandates in 1923. Nauru became an Australian mandate, while Germany''s other territories in Micronesia were given as a mandate to Japan and were named the South Pacific Mandate. During World War II, Nauru was occupied by Japanese troops, who were bypassed by the Allied advance across the Pacific. Following Japan''s defeat in World War II its mandate became a United Nations Trusteeship ruled by the United States, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

Today, most of Micronesia are independent states, except for Guam, Wake Island, and Saipan which are U.S. territories, and for the Northern Mariana Islands, which are a U.S. commonwealth. Nauru gained its independence in 1968.


The Secretariat of the Pacific Community is a regional intergovernmental organisation whose membership includes both nations and territories in the Pacific Ocean and their metropolitan powers.

States and dependencies Country Population (July 2010 estimate) Area (km2) Population density (/km2) Urban population Life expectancy Literacy Rate Official language(s) Main religion(s) Ethnic groups Total 531,823 4,116 193.206 71.71% 71.19 94.93%
 Federated States of Micronesia 107,154 702 152.641 22% 71.23 89% English Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant 47%, others 3% Chuukese 48.8%, Pohnpeian 24.2%, Kosraean 6.2%, Yapese 5.2%, Yap outer islands 4.5%, Asian 1.8%, Polynesian 1.5%, other 7.8%
 Guam (United States) 160,865 1,478 122.371 93% 78.18 99% English 38.3%, Chamorro 22.2% Roman Catholic 85%,Buddhism 3.6, other religion 11.4% Chamorro 37.1%, Filipino 26.3%, other Pacific islander 11.3%, white 6.9%, other 8.6%, mixed 9.8%
 Kiribati 99,482 811 122.666 44% 64.03 92% English, Gilbertese (de facto) Roman Catholic 55%, Protestant 36% Micronesian 98.8%
 Marshall Islands 65,859 181 363.862 71% 71.48 93.7% Marshallese 98.2%, English Protestant 54.8%, other Christian 40.6% Marshallese 92.1%, mixed Marshallese 5.9%, other 2%
 Nauru 9,267 21 441.286 100% 64.99 99% Nauruanf Nauru Congregational Church 35.4%, Roman Catholic 33.2%, Nauru Independent Church (Protestant) 10.4% Baha''i faith 10%, Buddhsim 9% Nauruan 58%, other Pacific Islander 26%, Chinese 8%, European 8%
 Northern Mariana Islands (United States) 48,317 464 104.131 91% 76.9 97% English Christian,Buddhism 10.6 Asian 56.3%, Pacific islander 36.3%, White 1.8%, other 0.8%, mixed 4.8%
 Palau 20,879 459 45.488 81% 71.51 92% Paluan 64.7%d, English Roman Catholic 41.6%, Protestant 23.3% Palauan 69.9%, Filipino 15.3%, Chinese 4.9%, other Asian 2.4%, white 1.9%, Carolinian 1.4%, other Micronesian 1.1%, other 3.2%

Nationally, the primary income is the sale of fishing rights to foreign nations that harvest tuna using huge purse seiners. A few Japanese long liners still ply the waters. The crews aboard fishing fleets contribute little to the local economy since their ships typically set sail loaded with stores and provisions that are cheaper than local goods. Additional money comes in from government grants, mostly from the United States, and the $150 million the US paid into a trust fund for reparations of residents of Bikini Atoll that had to move after nuclear testing. Few mineral deposits worth exploiting exist, except for some high-grade phosphate, especially on Nauru.

Most residents of Micronesia can freely move to, and work within, the United States. Relatives working in the US that send money home to relatives represents the primary source of individual income. Additional individual income comes mainly from government jobs, and work within shops and restaurants.

The tourist industry consists mainly of SCUBA divers that come to see the coral reefs, do wall dives, and visit sunken ships from WWII. Major stops for SCUBA divers in approximate order are Palau, Chuuk, Yap, and Phonpei. Some private yacht owners visit the area for months or years at a time. However, they tend to stay mainly at ports of entry and are too few in number to be counted as a major source of income.

Copra production used to be a more significant source of income, however, world prices have dropped in part to large palm plantations that are now planted in places like Borneo.

Demographics Further information: Demographics of Oceania

The people today form many ethnicities, but are all descended from and belong to the Micronesian culture. The Micronesian culture was one of the last native cultures of the region to develop. It developed from a mixture of Melanesians, Polynesians, and Filipinos. Because of this mixture of descent, many of the ethnicities of Micronesia feel closer to some groups in Melanesia, Polynesia or the Philippines. A good example of this are the Yapese who are related to Austronesian tribes in the Northern Philippines.

Though they are all geographically part of the same region, they all have very different colonial histories. The US-administered areas of Micronesia have a unique experience that sets them apart from the rest of the Pacific. Micronesia has great economic dependency on its former or current motherlands, something only comparable to the French Pacific. Sometimes, the term American Micronesia is used to acknowledge the difference in cultural heritage.

Carolinian people

It is thought that ancestors of the Carolinian people may have originally immigrated from Asia and Indonesia to Micronesia around 2,000 years ago. Their primary language is Carolinian, called Refaluwasch by native speakers, which has a total of about 5,700 speakers. The Carolinians have a matriarchal society in which respect is a very important factor in their daily lives, especially toward the matriarchs. Most Carolinians are of the Roman Catholic faith.

The immigration of Carolinians to Saipan began in the early 19th century, after the Spanish reduced the local population of Chamorro natives to just 3,700. They began to immigrate mostly sailing from small canoes from other islands, which a typhoon previously devastated. The Carolinians have a much darker complexion than the native Chamorros.

Chamorro peopleChamorro people in 1915

The Chamorro people are the indigenous peoples of the Mariana Islands, which are politically divided between the United States territory of Guam and the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Micronesia. The Chamorro are commonly believed to have come from Southeast Asia at around 2000 BC. They are most closely related to other Austronesian natives to the west in the Philippines and Taiwan, as well as the Carolines to the south.

The Chamorro language is included in the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of the Austronesian family. Because Guam was colonized by Spain for over 300 years, many words derive from the Spanish language. The traditional Chamorro number system was replaced by Spanish numbers.

Chuukese people

The Chuukese people are an ethnic group in Oceania. They constitute 48% of the population of the Federated States of Micronesia. Their language is Chuukese. The home atoll of Chuuk is also known by the former name Truk.

Kaping people

The roughly 3000 residents of the Federated States of Micronesia that reside in Kapingamarangi, nicknamed ''Kapings'', are both one of the most remote and most difficult people to visit in Micronesia and the entire world. Their home atoll is almost a 1000-mile round trip to the nearest point of immigration check-in and check-out. There are no regular flights. The only way to legally visit is to first check-in, travel on a high-speed sailboat to the atoll, and then backtrack almost 500 miles. Owing to this difficulty, only a handful of the few sailors that travel across the Pacific will attempt to visit. The local language is Kapingamarangi language. The children typically attend high-school on Phonpei where they stay with relatives in an enclave that is almost exclusively made up of Kapings.

Nauruan people

The Nauruan people are an ethnicity, which inhabit the Pacific island of Nauru. They are most likely a blend of other Pacific peoples.

The origin of the Nauruan people has not yet been finally determined. It can possibly be explained by the last Malayo-Pacific human migration (c. 1200). It was probably seafaring or shipwrecked Polynesians or Melanesians, which established themselves there because there was not already an indigenous people present, whereas the Micronesians were already crossed with the Melanesians in this area.


The largest group of languages spoken in Micronesia are the Micronesian languages. They are in the family of Oceanic languages, part of the Austronesian language group. They are descended from the protolanguage Proto-Oceanic, which are developed from Proto-Austronesian.

The languages in the Micronesian family are Marshallese, Gilbertese, Kosraean, Nauruan, as well as a large sub-family called the Trukic–Ponapeic languages containing 11 languages.

There are two languages spoken in Micronesia that are part of the Sunda–Sulawesi language group; Chamorro in the Mariana Islands and Palauan in Palau. On the eastern edge of the Federated States of Micronesia, the languages Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi represent an extreme westward extension of Polynesian.

Culture Animals and food

By the time Western contact occurred, although Palau did not have dogs, they did have fowls and maybe also pigs. Nowhere else in Micronesia were pigs known about at that time. Fruit bats are native to Palau, but other mammals are rare. Reptiles are numerous, and both mollusks and fish are an important food source. The people of Palau, the Marianas, and Yap often chew betel nuts seasoned with lime and pepper leaf. Western Micronesia was unaware of this ceremonial drink, which was called saka on Kosrae and sakau on Pohnpei.


The book Prehistoric Architecture in Micronesia argues that the most prolific pre-colonial Micronesian architecture is: "Palau''s monumental sculpted hills, megalithic stone carvings, and elaborately decorated structure of wood placed on piers above elevated stone platforms". The archeological traditions of the Yapese people remained relatively unchanged even after the first European contact with the region during Magellan''s 1520s circumnavigation of the globe.


Micronesia''s artistic tradition has developed from the Lapita culture. Among the most prominent works of the region is the megalithic floating city of Nan Madol. The city began in 1200 AD, and was still being built when European explorers begin to arrive around 1600. The city, however, had declined by around 1800 along with the Saudeleur dynasty, and was completely abandoned by the 1820s. During the 19th century, the region was divided between the colonial powers, but art continued to thrive. Wood-carving, particularly by men, flourished in the region, resulted in richly decorated ceremonial houses in Belau, stylized bowls, canoe ornaments, ceremonial vessels, and sometimes sculptured figures. Women created textiles and ornaments such as bracelets and headbands. Stylistically, traditional Micronesian art is streamlined and of a practical simplicity to its function, but is typically finished to a high standard of quality. This was mostly to make the best possible use of what few natural materials they had available to them.

The first half of the 20th century saw a downturn in Micronesia''s cultural integrity and a strong foreign influence from both western and Japanese Imperialist powers. A number of historical artistic traditions, especially sculpture, ceased to be practiced, although other art forms continued, including traditional architecture and weaving. Independence from colonial powers in the second half of the century resulted in a renewed interest in, and respect for, traditional arts. A notable movement of contemporary art also appeared in Micronesia towards the end of the 20th century.


The cuisine of the Mariana Islands is tropical in nature, including such dishes as Kelaguen as well as many others.

Palauan cuisine includes local foods such as cassava, taro, yam, potato, fish and pork. Western cuisine is favored among young Palauans.


The educational systems in the nations of Micronesia varies depending on the country, and there are several higher level educational institutions.

The CariPac consists of institutions of higher education in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau. The Agricultural Development in the American Pacific is a partnership of the University of Hawaii, American Samoa Community College, College of Micronesia, Northern Marianas College, and the University of Guam.

In the Federated States of Micronesia, education is required for citizens aged 6 to 13, and is important to their economy. The literacy rate for citizens aged 15 to 24 is 98.8%. The College of Micronesia-FSM has a campus in each of the four states with its national campus in the capital city of Palikir, Pohnpei. The COM-FSM system also includes the Fisheries and Maritime Institute (FMI) on the Yap islands.

The public education in Guam is organized by the Guam Department of Education. Guam also has several educational institutions, such as University of Guam, Pacific Islands University and Guam Community College, There is also the Guam Public Library System and the Umatac Outdoor Library.

Weriyeng is one of the last two schools of traditional navigation found in the central Caroline Islands in Micronesia, the other being Fanur.

The Northern Marianas College is a two-year community college located in the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

The College of the Marshall Islands is a community college in the Marshall Islands.


Understanding Law in Micronesia notes that The Federated States of Micronesia''s laws and legal institutions are "uninterestingly similar to ". However, it explains that "law in Micronesia is an extraordinary flux and flow of contrasting thought and meaning, inside and outside the legal system". It says that a knee-jerk reaction would be that law is messed up in the region and that improvement is required, but argues that the failure is "one endemic to the nature of law or to the ideological views we hold about law".

The Federated States of Micronesia adopted many US legal codes during the Law and Development movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s. They were implemented by the Trust Territory Administration.


In September 2007, journalists in the region founded the Micronesian Media Association.

Music and dance

Micronesian music is influential to those living in the Micronesian islands. Some of the music is based around mythology and ancient Micronesian rituals. It covers a range of styles from traditional songs, handed down through generations, to contemporary music.

Traditional beliefs suggest that the music can be presented to people in dreams and trances, rather than being written by composers themselves. Micronesian folk music is, like Polynesian music, primarily vocal-based.

In the Marshall Islands, the roro is a kind of traditional chant, usually about ancient legends and performed to give guidance during navigation and strength for mothers in labour. Modern bands have blended the unique songs of each island in the country with modern music. Though drums are not generally common in Micronesian music, one-sided hourglass-shaped drums are a major part of Marshallese music. There is a traditional Marshallese dance called beet, which is influenced by Spanish folk dances. In it, men and women side-step in parallel lines. There is a kind of stick dance performed by the Jobwa, nowadays only for very special occasions.

Popular music, both from Micronesia and from other areas of the world, is played on radio stations in Micronesia.


The region is home to the Micronesian Games, a quadrennial international multi-sport event involving all Micronesia''s countries and territories except Wake Island.

Nauru has two national sports, weightlifting and Australian rules football. According to 2007 Australian Football League International Census figures, there are around 180 players in the Nauru senior competition and 500 players in the junior competition, representing an overall participation rate of over 30% for the country.

Religion and mythology

Micronesian mythology refers to the traditional belief systems of the people of Micronesia. There is no single belief system in the islands of Micronesia, as each island region has its own mythological beings.

There are several significant figures and myths in the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauran and Kiribati traditions.

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