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This article is about a type of political territory. For other uses see Colony .
In politics and in history, a colony is a territory under the immediate political control of a state. For colonies in antiquity, city-states would often found their own colonies. Some colonies were historically countries, while others were territories without definite statehood from their inception. The metropolitan state is the state that owns the colony. In Ancient Greece, the city that owned a colony was called the metropolis within its political organization. Mother country is a reference to the metropolitan state from the point of view of citizens who live in its colony. There is a United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

A colony is mostly ruled by another state or can be run independently. Unlike a puppet state or satellite state, a colony has no independent international representation, and its top-level administration is under direct control of the metropolitan state.

The term "informal colony" is used by some historians to describe a country which is under the de facto control of another state, although this description is often contentious.


In the modern usage, colony is generally distinguished from overseas possession. In the former case, the local population, or at least the part of it not coming from the "metropolitan" (controlling) country, does not enjoy full citizenship rights. The political process is generally restricted, especially excluding questions of independence. In this case, there are settlers from a dominating foreign country, or countries, and often the property of indigenous peoples is seized, to provide the settlers with land. Foreign mores, religions and/or legal systems are imposed. In some cases, the local population has been held for unfree labour, submitted to brutal force, or even to policies of genocide.

By contrast, in the case of overseas possessions, citizens are formally equal, regardless of origin and it is possible for legal independence movements to form; should they gain a majority in the oversea possession, the question of independence may be brought, for instance, to referendum. However, in some cases, settlers have come to outnumber indigenous people in overseas possessions, and it is possible for colonies to become overseas possessions against the wishes of indigenous peoples. This often results in ongoing and long-lasting independence struggles by the descendants of the original inhabitants.Culture is one of Colonists’ influences to the native people. Most of the countries that were part of Europe’s colonies still had a lot of different cultures. It was because after the colonists came to new lands, these races influenced the native people with their traditions. These cultural impacts sometimes caused a lot of struggles and these issues included different religions, languages and behaviors. Most of the colonists decided to recover these issues with battles. However, there were still some colonists who tried to solve the issues pacifically with the natives. Meyers said that, “Some European settlers, particularly the French, established close, respectful relationships with the native tribes they encountered. For a number of reasons, however, the relationship between Native Americans and the English settlers was quite different.”(Colonialism and the Revolutionary Period, p. 5)

The word colony may also be used for countries that, while independent or considering themselves independent of a former colonizing power, still have a political and social structure where the rulers are a minority originating from the colonizing power. Such was the case with Rhodesia after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence.

The term informal colony has also been used in relation to countries which, while they have never been conquered by force or officially ruled by a foreign power, have a clearly subordinate social or economic relationship to one.


Originally, as with the ancient Greek apoikia (αποικια), the term colonization referred to the foundation of a new city or settlement, more often than not with nonviolent means (but see for instance the Athenian re-colonisation of Melosmarker after wiping out the earlier settlement). The term colony is derived from the Latin colonia, which indicated a place meant for agricultural activities; these Roman colonies and others like them were in fact usually either conquered so as to be inhabited by these workers, or else established as a cheap way of securing conquests made for other reasons. The name of the Germanmarker city Köln, which is "Cologne" in English, also derives from colonia. In the modern era, communities founded by colonists or settlers became known as settler colonies.

The "Age of Discovery" began in the 15th century with the initiation of the vast Portuguese Empire and lasted until the mid-20th century. Curiously, the first great European colonial empire to be created, the Portuguesemarker, was also the last one to be dismantled. In this long period, the Spanish, the British, the French, the Dutch, the German, and other Colonial Empires were created. During these centuries European states, the United Statesmarker and others took political control of much of the world's population and landmass. The term "colony" came to mean an overseas district with a majority indigenous population, administered by a distant colonial government. (Exceptions occurred: Russianmarker colonies in Central Asia and Siberiamarker, American settlements in the American West, and German colonies in Eastern Europe were not "overseas"; British colonies (or "overseas territories") like the Falkland Islandsmarker and Tristan da Cunhamarker lacked a native population.). Most non-European countries were colonies of Europe at one time or another, or were handled in a quasi-colonial manner. The European colonies and former colonies in America made extensive use of slave labor, initially using the native population, then through the importation of slaves from black Africa.

There existed various statuses and modes of operation for foreign countries, direct control by the colonizing country being the most obvious. Some colonies were operated through corporations (the British East India Company for Indiamarker; the Russian-American Company for Alaskamarker; the Congo Free Statemarker under the very brutal rule of Léopold II of Belgium); some were run as protectorates. Quasi-colonies were run through proxy or puppet governments, generally kingdoms or dictatorships. For instance, it may be argued that Cubamarker before the Revolution was a quasi-colony of the United States, with an enormous influence of US economic and political interests; see banana republic.

The United Kingdom used Australia as a penal colony: British convicts would be sent to forced labour there, with the added benefit that the freed convicts would settle in the colony and thus augment the European population there. Similarly, France once deported prostitutes and various "undesirables" to populate its colonies in North America, and until the 20th century operated a penitentiary on Devil's Islandmarker in French Guianamarker.

The independence of these colonies began with that of 13 colonies of Britain that formed the United States, finalised in 1783 with the conclusion of a war begun in 1776, and has continued until about the present time, with for example Algeriamarker and East Timormarker being relinquished by European powers only in 1962 and 1975 respectively (although the latter was forcibly made an Indonesianmarker possession instead of becoming fully independent). This process is called decolonization, though the use of a single term obscures an important distinction between the process of the settler population breaking its links with the mother country while maintaining local political supremacy and that of the indigenous population reasserting themselves (possibly through the expulsion of the settler population).

The movement towards decolonization was not uniform. Newer powers, sometimes themselves ex-colonies or once threatened by colonial power, tried to carve a colonial empire. For example, the United States expanded westwards, colonized Hawaiimarker, waged various wars, and conducted armed expeditions so as to assert power over local governments (for example in Japanmarker, with Commodore Matthew C. Perry, and in Cubamarker). European countries and the US, exploited the weakness of China's waning imperial regime, to maintain a sort of colonial enclave in China called international concessions; the coastal towns of Macaumarker and Hong Kongmarker were held on long-term leases by Portugalmarker and the United Kingdommarker. During the first half of the 20th century, until its defeat the Second World War, Japan, once afraid of becoming a European or American colony, built itself a colonial empire in Korea, Taiwan, South Sakhalinmarker, northeast part of China, and the Western Pacific, using brutal military force.

Under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, it is a war crime to transfer, directly or indirectly, the civilian population of a country power onto land under that country's military occupation. The reasoning for this crime is apparently to emphasise that it is now a violation of international law to annex territory through military force. This phrase describes many of acts of colonisation in the past, and arguably outlaws colonisation.

See also: Belgian colonial empire, British Empire, Dutch colonial empire, French colonial empire, Portuguese Empire, Spanish Empire, Colonialism, Colonial mentality, Colonization, British Nationality Law, Slavery, Imperialism, New Imperialism, settler.

Compare protectorate, Crown colony, dominion, Proprietary colony.

Colonies in ancient civilizations (examples)

See Colonies in antiquity.

Modern colonies (examples)

  • East Timormarker was a colony of Indonesiamarker from 1975 to 1999.
  • Indonesiamarker was a Dutch colony for 350 years, from 1600 to 1945/49, occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945.
  • Hong Kongmarker was a British colony from 1841 to 1997, and Macaumarker was a Portuguese colony from 1557 to 1999.
  • Parts of Indiamarker were under the direct control of the government of the United Kingdommarker between 1858 and 1947. See also Crown colony.
  • Taiwanmarker was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples closely related linguistically, culturally and genetically to the Filipino people and more distantly to the Polynesians. From 1895 to 1945 Taiwan was a colony of Japanmarker. For a brief period prior to that, the Eastern half of Taiwan was a county and, briefly, a province of the Qing Dynastymarker, and previously part of the Fujian Provincemarker for two centuries from the 1680s. However, as late as 1882 the Chinese Imperial government formally denied that Taiwan formed part of China. Before Chinese republicans settled on Taiwan in 1947, Mao Tse Tung encouraged Taiwanese to seek independence. The Dutch were the first to establish a settled government on Taiwna and for much of the 17th Century Taiwan was a Dutch colony. Since 1949 Taiwan has been settled by the Republic of China.
  • The Philippinesmarker, previously a colony of Spainmarker, was a colony of the United Statesmarker from 1898 to 1946. During World War II between 1942 and 1945, it was occupied by the Japanese forces.
  • The United States of Americamarker, originally 13 distinct English colonies in British North America. The Colony of Virginia, later to become the US states of Virginiamarker, Kentuckymarker and West Virginiamarker, was the first of the 13 colonies and was under English rule from 1607 until 1783.

Today, the colonizing European and North American powers hold few colonies in the traditional sense of the term, with exceptions in the case of the US (including Guammarker, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islandsmarker, American Samoa, The Northern Marianas and arguably Hawaii - see next section), Francemarker and the UKmarker (including the Falkland Islandsmarker, The British Virgin Islandsmarker. However, the Channel Islands are not colonies, they are a remnant of the Duchy of Normandy. Some of their former colonies have been integrated as dependent areas or have closer integration with the country.

Current colonies (examples)

  • Puerto Rico's subjection to US sovereignty is considered by many countries (including Boliviamarker, Cubamarker, Dominicamarker, Ecuadormarker, Iranmarker, Nicaraguamarker, Panamamarker, Saint Vincent and the Grenadinesmarker, Syriamarker, and Venezuelamarker ) to constitute a colonial imposition because Puerto Ricans are subject to laws passed by the US Congress without their consent and they are excluded from electoral participation in elections of the officials that hold ultimate sovereignty over their national government. According to the US President's Task Force Report on the Political Status of Puerto Rico the US may dispose of Puerto Rico by transferring it to another sovereign country as a mere disposition of property. In a recent letter addressed to then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the governor of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, accused the US of having deceived the United Nations and the international community in 1953, when it succeeded in having the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico recognized as a provisional decolonized status subject to continued monitoring; Acevedo-Vila claimed that it was ironic that this is the position taken by the Government of Iran and that the Governor of Puerto Rico will soon feel forced to support Iranmarker's claims regarding the US government's alleged-hypocritical actions with regards to Puerto Rico's "colonial" status. In 2006, The UN General Assembly Special Committee on decolonization approved a draft resolution that calls on the US to expedite the process to allow Puerto Ricans to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. H.R. 1230, The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2007, introduced in the US Congress on February 28, 2007, would recognize the right of the People of Puerto Rico to call a Constitutional Convention through which the people would exercise their natural right to self-determination, and it would establish a mechanism for congressional consideration of such decision.


  • Easter Islandmarker is a special territory incorporated to Chilemarker. Although today natives have full rights as Chilean Citizens, there were many abuses in the early stages of Chilean colonization.

See also


  1. Special Committee on Decolonization Approves Text Calling on the U.S. to Expedite Self-determination Process for Puerto Rico. On Session June 15, 2009. Special Committee on GA/COL/3193 Decolonization. UN Department of Public Information, News and Media Division. New York.Retrieved November 5, 2009.
  2. "While the approval of the commonwealth constitution marked a historic change in the civil government for the islands, neither it, nor the public laws approved by Congress in 1950 and 1952, revoked statutory provisions concerning the legal relationship of Puerto Rico to the United States. This relationship is based on the Territorial Clause of the US Constitution", further, in a footnote, "The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.” US Const., Art. IV, Sec. 3, cl. 2.",
  3. Prensa Latina, Nestor Rosa-Marbrell, November 20, 2007; last verified on December 1st, 2007
  4. El Gobernador pide a Rice que enmiende el informe sobre el estatus político de P.Rico; Yahoo News; November 19, 2007 - Last verified, December 1st, 2007.

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