Traditionally a person would not walk into another's village without carrying a basket. If someone is not carrying a basket it is polite to carry a green branch to signify that he is coming in peace.
Women and men carry their baskets differently. The size of a basket is determined by social status in the village. This is based on gender, age and caste.
There is proper basket etiquette. One would never get into another's basket without permission. It is not proper to step over another's basket; you walk around it.
Different baskets are also used to carry infants. Still other types of baskets are used to carry food.
Someone chewing betelnut looks a little like a baseball player with a wad of tobacco in his mouth. A reddening of the mouth occurs, accompanied by a mild buzz, which lasts only a few minutes.
Betelnut is chewed throughout the day. Spitting the red juice while chewing is necessary.
In a village at night, you'll hear the wind in the palms, the surf on a distant reef, land crabs scurrying across a tin roof, dogs barking -- and the elders pounding betelnut.
The largest of the three is the "pebay." This is a place for the community to come together for school, dances or meetings.
The "tabnuw" is the family house and is generally smaller then the community house. The roof is made of woven thatch (dried palm fronds). The inside is one open room with no lavatory. The kitchen is contained in a separate structure outside the family house.
The "faluw" is the men's house. Prior to World War I, women were kidnapped and brought to the "faluw." This practice does not occur today. It once was considered an honor to be chosen for the "faluw" because only the most beautiful women would be taken there. She would be the "mispil" or resident female of the men's house. As the Yapese culture became more influenced by the outside world's negative views of prostitution, this practice was stopped.
Like all structures in Yap, it is necessary to obtain permission before entering. There are a few men's houses on Yap that women are allowed to enter, however people must always ask for permission.
There were many levels to the caste, which was rooted in land rights. When the Yapese lost a battle, they found themselves on the bottom of the system.
The person of a lower caste is obligated to serve the higher caste. Lower castes would perform less desirable tasks like burying the dead or repairing a roof.
In return, the lower caste members were able to retain their land rights, and could call upon their landlords for protection and food.
Members of different castes traditionally eat different types of foods. The distinction of who can fish where, or which people eat certain foods, has ecological value -- the island was small, and the population was once very large. For example, the lower caste ate eel and the higher caste ate turtle. Thus there was a balance.
On the outer islands of Yap, women wear handwoven lava lavas, sort of a wrap-around skirt. Toplessness is common, even mandatory, for everyone on some of the outer islands. Still, women take great care not to show their thighs.
Men on Yap proper traditionally wore loincloths, known as thus. Now thus are worn mostly for special occasions such as dances. Some old men wear dry hibiscus and a lava lava with their thus, which signifies they've proven their manhood through fighting. Today younger men typically wear T-shirts and shorts. Boys in villages still grow up wearing thus, though: first one piece of cloth, then additional pieces of cloth as they grow older. Older boys wear three pieces. The material can be blue, red or white.
On the outer islands men wear one piece of long cloth.
In Colonia, the district center, it is common to see women and men wearing Western-style clothing -- for women, blouses and skirts typically, sometimes pants. More outer-island women are wearing T-shirts with their lava lavas.
Yapese women traditionally cared for children, worked in taro patches and gardens, and weaved baskets. They were expected to walk behind a man. If a woman had to pass in front of a man, she would bow -- not like one would bow to the queen of England, but more of a hunched-down position.
Traditional gender roles are changing, however. Now both men and women bow to show respect for each other. Some women now work outside the home, and they receive equal pay for equal work for nontraditional jobs such as store clerk, bank teller or government worker.
FSM's government is largely funded by the United States. FSM uses U.S. currency and is served by the U.S. Postal Service.
The government is Yap's major employer.
The FSM is a sovereign nation with its own constitution. Under the provisions of the Compact of Free Association, a treaty adopted in 1986 between FSM and the United States, the U.S. is responsible for the defense of the FSM as well as for the funding of a wide range of other government services, including postal service, building and maintenance of basic infrastructure, agricultural, economic development and social programs.
Generally, Yapese youth speak English as their second language. Most of the elders speak Japanese as a second language.
English is the official langauge of the Federated States of Micronesia.
Another relative newcomer to the islands is the personal computer. As on other continents, the youth seem to have embraced this new technology. High school students used the computer to record the history of their elders on a CD-ROM.
A piece of stone money can be several inches thick, and there is always a hole in the middle so it can be carried. The stones are at least 1 foot wide and can be as large as 12 feet wide.
The value of stone money is based upon its history, age, type of stone, shape, and the difficulty it took to obtain it. Were lives lost in a piece's journey? The stones that involved great personal risk are more valuable. Banks of stone money line the footpaths in villages.
The money is sometimes exchanged at a village festival. The stones are not exchanged at stores for common merchandise. U.S. currency is used for everyday goods.
There are other types of traditional money, but Yap is most famous for its stone money. During the Japanese occupation, however, to encourage the Yapese to work, some of the stones were crushed and used for roads.
"Don't brush your hair at night -- the ghosts will come."
"Don't sweep at night -- the ghosts will come."
In the village, a child might be told, "Don't whistle at night -- the ghosts will come." Long ago, people thought others had the power to send storms and typhoons.
Yap Day is March 1. It is an official holiday marked by a festival of food and dance.
Words and phrases:
Yapese English Kammagar Thank you Kefel Goodbye Siro Excuse me Winig Please Taboch Gow See you later
-- Compiled by Tim Engle and Francine Orr