Micronesian Diary
Felicia R. Beardsley
Yap State, FSM - February 1999
February 20, 1999

Ship deckWe went to Ulithi on official business to attend their Culture Day on Saturday, February 20. Because of the cost involved in getting there, Yap HPO bought passage on the ship, the Micro Spirit, for the 19th with a return to Yap proper late February 20 on the small plane that services the island, Pacific Missionary Aviation.

The ship ride was terrific, although the T got a little seasick --- I had dramamine on hand, and that helped her. She refused to eat saltines, even though I told her how you ate them when you were on a ship and so on. She actually ended up sleeping a long time, and when she woke in the morning, there was no sea sickness or anything. We had a cabin, but for the first part of the evening, we stayed on deck, watching the stars, dozing and so on --- until the College of Micro. kids started making too much noise. (They were not only on their way to Ulithi for Culture Day, but also getting a lesson in astronomy --- I only hope the College was not paying the guy giving the talk, because it was just pointing at stuff and no talk.) We then retreated to the cabin for the remainder of the night's sleep.

Ship bow


The ship is a cargo ship mainly, that just happens to carry passangers. Just being on it, getting ready to go was something out of the 1930s or 40s. That was the impression you got, that you were in an old movie.

Ship at sea

Traditional canoeThe Micro Spirit's deck was filled with copra bags. There are usually a bunch of kids mixed into the bags. That is where we laid out in the early evening to watch the stars and doze. The Micro Spirit was starting a three-week tour of the outer islands. There was also a traditional canoe on board, something for the Ulithi festivities. The ship was carrying medical teams to provide medical assistance and check-ups at the various outer islands, along eith medical supplies to stock the dispensaries at each of the clinics set up on these islands. It was also carrying people from Yap EPA who were to review building permits and tend to other problems that have arisen in these islands. The ship was also picking up copra shipments along the way. The doctor on board looked at the stack of copra bags, shook his head and said, this means we are going to be at various islands for a few days, which could delay our trip a bit as we wait for them to fill up the bags and load them onto the ship. Costs of traveling on the cargo ship are $19.80 for a cabin, no matter how many people are using the cabin. There are costs for meals if you are on board for the long haul, but I don't know what that is; if there are not cabins available, you can buy deck space (not where the copra bags are, but special areas set aside for people to stash themselves and their belongings) for $3 a person. In front of the multi-story tower or whatever you call it with the rooms and bridge and stuff. The bridge rings the bell every hour and half-hour, by the way, which startles you awake if you happen to be dozing on the deck with the copra bags.

The sky was extremely clear last night, and the stars stood out in incredible numbers. It was absolutely gorgeous. I only wish I knew some of the constellations I was looking at. Just before we left, I looked at the little astronomy book of Teresa's, which is minimal at best --- showing the standard Greek constellations, but only a few of them, not everthing. At one point, we retreated into the cabin, but it was so hot and smelled of diesel, that we came back onto the deck and into the fresh air.

The cabin itself is rather small with bunkbeds in it. Me and Teresa got the upper bed; John took the lower one. Within the blink of an eye, we were all asleep! I think is was the sea air and the rolling of the ship.

Teresa on board
Teresa looks over the side as preparations are made to lower the boats

Ship deckWe awoke in the morning to the view of Ulithi. The ship's crew was getting the boats ready to offload those of us getting off here. On the island, preparations were underway for Culture Day. John Tharngan has already arranged for us to to stay at Philip Nerie's house. Philip is John's brother, and he is a very good story teller. He teaches Micronesian history at the high school on island. His granddaughter, Beverly, took Teresa and the two of them went off to pick flowers and make mwaramwars. I must have looked a little concerned because Philip turned to me and said, Don't worry, this is a small place, you go two steps that way and you are at the end of the island; two steps the other way and you are at the other end of the island; if you have a car, you simply turn the key, then turn it off again; don't worry, she can't go far.

He then went on to describe how Ulithi was formed ---

There were once, a very long time ago, some sisters in Yap. One in particular loved eating turtle, but her sisters would only give her the bad parts, like the fins. So she decided she was going to find a place where she could eat all the turtle she wanted. She took a coconut cup filled with sand, said some magic, then threw some sand ahead of her, which formed a strip of land that she could walk on. She did this until she came to a spot where there were lots of turtles. By this process, she formed the islands of Ulithi. She was happy at this new place because she could eat all the turtle she wanted, and not just the bad parts. After awhile her islet became overrun with ants and spiders, so she lit a fire and used the smoke as a bridge to go to another islet. Here too she found it overrun with ants and spiders, so again she lit another fire and walked over the bridge of smoke to the islet of Mog Mog, where she settled.

According to Philip, there is a platform there that was her platform. It is the only place in Ulithi where turtle may be killed. If I had more time, I would like to see this place.

Archaeology on atolls is an interesting and challenging pursuit, and it would be nice to undertake a project here and at the other outer islands in the state; much as it would be nice to be able to return to Pingelap in Pohnpei to conduct a more intensive archaeological survey there. Janet Davidson proved to the world of archaeology in the late 60s and 70s that atolls, contrary to popular belief, contain a complex record of cultural activity with stratigraphy. The popular belief at the time held that as these were low islands, the surfaces would be scoured in major storms, leaving nothing of the archaeological cultures. She proved them wrong. And those following in her footsteps, working on atolls, have also demonstrated cultural depth at various atolls out here. Of course for me, at this time, an atoll project or series of projects would take longer than the time I am alotted.

Culture Day on Ulithi consisted of the presentation of several dances, picnics with local food sold at booths, and the display and selling of crafts, also at small booths. Teresa and Beverly were pretty much on their own throughout the day, running here and there. The members of the household made sure they ate, and periodically I would see the two engaged in conversation with one of the pilots of the planes (two of them were booked for flights to and from the island for Culture Day) or with other people scattered throughout the day. The two showed up at the dance decorated in flowers.

I bought a few things, though not everything I really wanted. The dances fascinated Teresa, especially the men's dances, which were all about war. In fact, it reminded me of the story of Chelab in Palau, where a portion of the widened stone path was specifically for the young men to show off their training as warriors --- and what better way to do it than through dance. Their chants were more "rap"-like than other chants; of course, that could be the influence of the Dance Master, who was a young man.

Waiting for dancers
Waiting for the dancers

War dance --- this was a fast-paced dance. These guys are in a "war", fighting with sticks, dodging blows and stuff. It was really impressive, although the dancers tended to get all bunched up when they moved.

Dance master
Dance master's painted back

The young dance master --- he is making sure they are in the proper formation before the dance begins. He has a design painted on his back that is supposed to resemble a chief's tattoo. The design takes up his entire back.


Stick dance
The stick dance

Boy's dance
The boy's dance

Girl's dance
The girl's dance

Teresa learned how to make mwaramwars from the granddaughter of the man (Tharngan's brother) who allowed us to use his house as home base. Teresa made her own mwaramwar for her head. Beverly made the one for Teresa's neck. Teresa was very proud of her efforts. She really loves this sort of thing, didn't want to return to Yap.

Teresa got her face painted in tumeric (mixed with coconut oil), a preparation that is painted onto the dancers, and also painted onto honored guests. She was very cute --- and, I think it helped that she had a pal.

Beverly and Teresa
Teresa and Beverly

As it was, the two girls were heavily supervised by Beverly's dad, aunts, mother, uncles, cousins; everyone knew where the girls were and what they were doing. It is kind of interesting to see her being so independent, not knowing that she is actually being heavily supervised. I didn't worry about her getting lunch. She was fed --- she and Beverley shared their food. When she was thirsty, someone got her something to drink. Everything she needed was tended to --- like all kids on the island.

Interesting tidbit: Yvette's grandparents are from Ulithi, and were telling me about the return to traditional practices there and especially on the island of Mogmog (in Ulithi atoll). If a girl is caught breaking a taboo, the punishment is that she must make her own lavalave (sarong), from start to finish. That means selecting the banana tree, cutting it down, making the fibers, weaving, everything. The girl has a mentor, but that mentor cannot help with the physical process, just give advice. The background to this is that many of the young people are going away to school and not staying home where they would learn such skills. When they come home on summers and holidays, etc., they were hanging out with their friends and beginning to break curfew, drink and so on. So, this was one way to instill certain traditional skills on them. For boys who break taboos, they must make a certain amount of coconut sennit. From start to finish.

Next: Yap Day