With a population of 7,317 (1994 census), Kosrae is the most eastern of the Caroline Islands. The island is located 370 mi (590 km) north of the equator, between Guam and the Hawaiian Islands. Its land area is 42 mi² (110 km²).
Kosrae is a high island that is largely unspoiled and rarely visited. Kosrae is becoming a destination for scuba divers and hikers. The coral reefs that surround the island are kept in pristine condition through an extensive mooring buoy system, installed and maintained by concerned ex-pat dive operators with the help of the Governments Marine Resources office. The reefs are seldom visited, and contain miles of hard corals, some said to be thousands of years old.
Dense vegetation and steep mountains keep the island largely undeveloped. Viewed from the sea, the island's distinct shape resembles a female body. This has led to the island being called "the island of the sleeping lady."
The official language of Kosrae is Kosraean, although the English language may also be used in government discourse. According to the Constitution of Kosrae, English is held to have "equal authority" to Kosraean (although in an instance where the Kosraean and English versions of the Constitution are held to be in irresolvable conflict, the Kosraean version prevails).
Archaeological evidence shows that the island was settled at least by the early years of the first millennium AD, although it is expected that future research will push this back to the first millennium BC.
By the time of the island's first contact with European travellers in 1824, Kosrae had a highly stratified society, typical of the surrounding islands of the time. Its cultural features included matrilineal lineage and clans, with a feudal structure of "nobles" controlling land worked by "commoners" and settlements consisting of small groups of close relatives sharing a single cook house.
The first missionary post was established by Congregationalists in 1852, and virtually the whole island had converted to Christianity by the 1870s. Today, many sects of Christianity are represented on Kosrae, and religion still plays an integral role in culture.
The pirate Bully Hayes was shipwrecked on Kosrae on March 15, 1874, and made his home in Utwe for almost a year, during which he allegedly terrorized the local people. When a British vessel arrived (in February 1875) to investigate the claims against him, Hayes escaped - but not before, it is believed, he buried his treasure somewhere in the forest. (However, subsequent diggings have failed to uncover any such treasure.).
Extensive economic improvements took place during the Japanese mandate of 1914 to 1945. The island was occupied by the Japanese during World War II, but no battles took place on Kosrae. Tunnel bunkers were dug into the tops of some of the island's interior peaks by Japanese soldiers and some are still intact.
In 1945, administration of the Micronesian islands, including Kosrae, passed to the United States, which began to provide aid and investment for the island in the 1960s.
During the Trust Territory (TTPI) period, Kosrae was initially administered as part of the Ponape (Pohnpei) District, but later became a separate district. When the Micronesian constitution was defeated in the TTPI districts of Palau and the Marshall Islands, Kosrae joined the remaining districts (Yap, Chuuk and Pohnpei) to form the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Kosrae is the only one-island FSM state, while the other three states are composed of many islands.
In early times, a system of exchange based on shells existed on Kosrae, although little is currently known about how it operated.
Since the 1960s, the Kosraean government has become the main employer on the island, where fishing and traditional farming remain the main source of the islanders' subsistence. Imports have replaced almost all other native manufactures. The U.S dollar is the official currency used in Kosrae and throughout Micronesia.
There is a small tourism industry, mainly centered around scuba diving on the coral reef that rings the island.
Traditional foods included breadfruit, coconut, banana, taro, yam, and sugarcane. Breadfruit was the usual staple food, and it was preserved in leaf-lined pits for times of scarcity. Coconuts were reserved for nobles.
Food was a central part of island life, since each settlement consisted of small family groups gathered around a cook house containing at least one earth oven. Soft taro was made into a feast food called fahfah by men trained in the elaborate skills needed to prepare it properly, who also prepared a drink known as kava. Brewed from the roots of a mountain plant, kava was served to members of the nobility. Fish were harvested mainly from the lagoon using nets.
Daily food for most families today consists of imported rice, tinned meats and fish, combined with fresh local fish and root crops. Even today, fahfah and pork are considered mainly feast foods. It is thought that the Japanese introduced limes to the island, which now bear fruit almost all year round and are of the highest quality. Tangerines , which are green when ripe, also abound, and are famous and sought after throughout the surrounding islands. There are even apples grown in many parts of Kosrae. There are many varieties of bananas, even some that must be cooked before eating. Few vegetables are grown on the island despite the favorable climate, largely because there are no pollinating insects.
The state is subdivided into five municipalities:
The capital of the state is Tofol, in Lelu municipality.