Micronesia Culture

Micronesia Culture

Cultural groups of the Pacific

The Pacific Islands are inhabited by three major human cultural groups: the Melanesians, the Polynesians and Micronesians. It was the French explorer Dumont d'Urville who proposed this division in 1831 - still on the agenda, even if historians and ethnologists have since made caveats.

The Pacific Midwest, between Papua and the western archipelago of Fiji. It is essentially made up of large islands. It owes its name to the many dark-skinned people who began to occupy the area at least 40 years ago.

By far the most famous, the Zéouest and L & rsquoest. It is Asian, gradually arrived from Melanesia 3000 to 5000 years ago, which colonized this vast space.

The MicronéC., Before dispersing ever further in this endless territory with atolls even smaller and isolated than in Polynesia.

Over time, population movements, wars and sporadic contacts have been at the origin of crossbreeding and cultural exchanges. If the vast majority of the inhabitants of Micronesia are Micronesians, Nukuoro Atoll, which depends on Pohnpei, marks the northernmost point reached by Polynesians (except Hawaii).
Although the statues of Easter Island and the Marquesan tikis are better known, the Micronesians were also great builders: the cities of Nan Madol (Pohnpei) and Lelu (Kosrae) bear witness to the development of this culture. unknown.


Despite their many differences (including languages), the result of their isolation, Micronesian societies have important points in common: they all give a central place to extended family, Au partage, Au community work and retain most of their old social hierarchy, marked by an organization in clans (mainly matrilineal).

Yap is also distinguished by a form of organization in castes, inherited from ancient conflicts between villages and islands before the Europeans landed. At that time, the roles could vary, the victors of the moment imposing their conditions on the vanquished - and vice versa after a reversal of the situation. But, for two centuries, social reality has frozen. The winners of yesteryear thus find themselves at the top of the social ladder today and the inhabitants of the outer islands, formerly conquered, at the very bottom, with much less chance of reaching positions of responsibility. The shyness of islanders in traveling from island to island and even crossing the boundaries of their municipality is a direct consequence - outside of Colonia, the capital, which has become neutral ground. Even though the big island of Yap measures only 100 km², many inhabitants of the sectors of Gilman or Kanifay, in the south, have never set foot in Ruul, Tomil or Gagil, the three "pillars of Yap", in the south. north, populated by descendants of "superior" clans!

In mirror image, the same people governed by caste systems. Each has a specific role: cleaning the roads for example, or enforcing order - with the power to impose fines, in the form of food or lava lava (thick cotton loincloths worn by women).

In Yap, in Pohnpei, more than elsewhere, the political systems inherited from the past also endure. The second, despite its new status as the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia, remains marked by the respect due to the nahmwarki, these kinglets whose ancestors once shared the island like a coconut pie - one portion for each, from the central summit to the coasts. Surprise: they always take a tithe on the crops and do not hesitate to sell titles of "nobility" to wealthy traders!

In Yap, the Tips from Pilung and Tamol, bringing together the traditional chiefs of the upper castes, retain significant power: in particular, they have the right to veto certain laws adopted by Parliament if they deem them to be contrary to custom. In Chuuk, the most populous of the states, the clans retained less prominence, as did Kosrae, which was massively converted by the Congregational Church.

Woman's place

Just as there is a very marked social hierarchy in Micronesia there is a big difference between the roles of men and women. Traditionally, everyone was assigned specific tasks without any being entrusted to the opposite sex. If these ladies collected the shells, these gentlemen fished offshore. And if they controlled the land and determined its use, they were prohibited from speaking in public or from decision-making positions ...
Daily, each had its own neighborhood. Women used to meet in the dapal, a common house forbidden to men, where they stayed during their periods.
Conversely, the faluw, the men's house, was logically forbidden to women ... with the exception of one, the most beautiful, the mispil, appointed volunteer as the hostess and the wife of all - a dubious honor that the missionaries naturally rose up against.
The custom disappeared with World War II, when the Japanese banned it.

Star navigation

Refusing in large part the modern head!  

By day, for those who know how to interpret them, the signs of nature, numerous, do not lie: winds, currents, wave movement… To the warned eye, a greenish reflection in the lower part of a cloud betrays the presence of an atoll, otherwise undetectable, within a radius of about forty kilometers. A darker shade indicates a wooded island, probably tall, of volcanic origin.
Other clues: the terns and the madmen fish on the high seas but spend the night ashore, another sign of proximity to a coast. As you approach the reefs, the water turns green and algae float in the direction of the current. It is even said that some sailors dive naked at sea to better feel its force on their private parts ...

In 1976, from Zealand to California via Hawaii and back via the Galapagos, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, etc. But in Satawal and Ifalik, young people are fleeing to Yap, Guam and Hawaii for a more comfortable life - and the hope of seeing this knowledge endure there is gradually dwindling.

Stone money and other traditional currencies

Sn their debonair surroundings, the villages of Yap hide a strange secret: the island has the biggest coins in the world: the rai. Carved in the rock, the discs, some of which weigh several tons, stand in collective “banks”, along the paths or at the foot of common houses.

In a very ancient time, the Yapeses discovered in the Palau archipelago, 230 nautical miles to the south, a limestone that they cut into the shape of a ray, the whale. Chief Anugmang replaced them with coins in the image of the full moon, pierced with a central hole to facilitate transport.
Over time, their size grows. The most impressive, preserved on the island of Rumung, prohibited until 2004 to foreigners, measures 3,60 m in diameter!
Yap now retains a little over 6000 rai. They are times less than before the Second World War: when the Yapeses resisted them, the Japanese destroyed their stone currency.

Their value n & rsquoKong after recovering from his emotions to buy a junk there and set up a prosperous business, importing the spokes by being paid in copra, then exported to Asia… When he died in 1901 in a typhoon, he was at the head of a vast fortune… in dollars!

D’other forms of traditional currencies endure, like the yar in the shape of a scoop, cut from the lip of a giant clam and fitted with coconut fibers. Her valeur, like that of the rai, depends on the difficulty acquiring it.

Elava, these heavy woven cotton loincloths introduced by missionaries.

If the dollar is now king in Yap, all these currencies retain an important ceremonial role. Stone money is thus still used in payment for land, a taro field, the construction of a traditional building, or given as compensation to a victim or his family during a murder, a fight or… a car accident! The transaction does not involve changing the place of the currencies: the effort would be quite useless, the exchange being known to all.

Deviations from custom, such as refusing to participate in Yap Day dances, may also be the subject offines to be paid in shell currencies. In the past, you could also be fined if you entered a village at night without signaling yourself with a light ... However, the yar find their main role during weddings: they form both the dowry and the compensation paid by the future. husband to his wife's family. In the event of separation, it suffices to return them to confirm the divorce.

Audio Video Micronesia Culture
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