1998 Guam

A bit of the history of this tiny but important island.

Guam (about 30 miles long) was originally inhabited by Chamorro Indians. The Spanish were very interested in the island and controlled it for decades. By the time World War II broke out, the U. S. had controlled the island for many years and impressed its mark, but had done little to defend the island. A strong U. S. presence was a thorn very close to the side of the Japanese, so the island was taken in the three days following Pearl Harbor. Japanese control lasted until early August, 1944. U. S. control was re-established starting with a two pronged landing on the west coast at Asan and Agat on July 21, 1944. In the remaining year of the war, a huge troop and supply buildup changed the face of Guam forever: thousands of GIs, miles of Quonset Huts, several highly developed airfields.

As we saw it in1998, Guam was a cross between Los Angeles, Tijuana and a Caribbean town, such as Georgetown, Grand Cayman; all with an oriental twist. Hustle and bustle - the largest K-mart in the world, replete with Japanese bus loads of tourists. High rise hotels are replacing GI housing. Anderson Air Force Base only had a caretaker group stationed there.

One of the best explainations of the Guam of today is in fellow Phoenician Clive Cussler's novel Flood Tide (Copyright © 1997 by Clive Cussler). His hero Dirk Pitt and sidekick Al Giordino are leaving Guam. Here's a paragraph of their story:

"They piled into the van, and twenty minutes later they were seated in a miltary cargo jet. As the plane rolled down the runway of Guam's Air Force base, Pitt looked out the window and saw the senior intlligence agent leaning against his van as if confirming that Pitt and Giordino had departed the island. In another minute they were flying above the often overlooked island paradise of the Pacific with its volcanic mountains, lush jungle waterfalls and miles of white-sand beaches graced with swaying coco palms. The Japanese swarmed into the hotels and onto the beaches of Guam, but not many Americans. He continued staring down as the plane passed over the turquoise waters inside the reef surrounding the island and headed out to sea."

Why go to Yap?

image.pngWhile we were in Micronesia in 1998, we spent a few days on Yap.

We went mostly for the up-close diving with the Manta Rays in M'il Channel.

However, we enjoyed the glimpse into the ancient culture of the Micronesian people.

PHOTO: Canoes in the inlet off Yap lagoon

Yap Island and three other islands within a fringing barrier reef make up "Yap Proper". Yap Proper and outlying islands, like Ulithi Atoll, spread over hundreds of miles of Pacific ocean make up Yap State of the Federated States of Micronesia. Yap State is in the western Pacific between Guam and the Philippines, on the eastern edge of the Philippine Sea. To help with the geography, check out the Map of Micronesia. What is now Micronesia has traditionally been called the Caroline Islands.

Micronesia has had a stormy history. Most of the current states grew from a simple, almost feudal, existence in the mid 1800s to being pivotal in the global struggle called World War II. Yap's history is very parallel to Chuuk's. The Yappese have a strong tradition as navigators and sailors. Their stone money derives its value from the extent of oceanic exploit which was required to obtain it. The history of Western involvement with Yap traces to British and Spanish exploration up through the end of the 19th century, when Spain was claiming title to Yap. The loss of the Spanish American War left Spain cash poor and the islands were sold to Germany in 1898. Germany's loss of World War I brought Yap under the Japanese "mandate." The allied victory in World War II brought Yap to be a Trust Territory of The United States. In 1979 four island groups (including Yap) became the four Federated States of Micronesia.

As we saw it in 1998, Yap is an unusual mix of modern and traditional island life. Yappese, for the most part, live in thatched huts or small houses. Water in the villages comes from cisterns and wells and is relatively prevalent. Water in the cities comes from wells and reservoirs and is variable. Although they have a Zip Code, mail is delivered at most on the bi-weekly jet flights. Electricity and phone service is semi available - and growing. The variability of the mail has caused a boom in fax and e-mail where phones and electricity are available. The Federated States of Micronesia have their own postage stamps (including an Elvis commemorative) denominated in US Dollars and Cents. The US Dollar is the official currency! They drive on the right, but many of the cars are used models from Japan (designed to drive on the left)!

Scuba diving on Yap

The major scuba attraction on Yap are the Manta rays in Miil Channel. There are all the normal central-Pacific reef critters, too.

Yap Culture

01The Yap people are very protective of their culture. They are willing to share their ideas and customs with visitors.

One of the first things we learned was local views on dress. Visiting women were cautioned against bikini bathing suits. Not because they had revealing tops, but because they showed thighs. Traditionally Yap's women have not worn what we would call shirts and blouses. Traditionally, they cover themselves from waist to knee. In the city, everyone wears "western" dress. But to show a bit of thigh is improper anywhere.

Our first interaction with the "locals" was a cultural visit to a native village. There we saw costumes and dances. We learned about customs.

02Women wear a black string around their neck. Girls do not. Marriage has nothing to do with it.

Most of the ornamentation for the dances is fabricated from plants for each ceremony. Thus, preparing is a major portion of the ritual.

We saw a women's sitting dance and a stick dance where both genders participated. The musical accompaniment was a cappella singing by the dancers and the beat of the sticks from the stick dance.

The only structure to the village is the ornate Men's House.

In addition to Manta rays in the sea, Yap is the home of stone money. The stones are up to 6 feet in diameter and a foot thick. No, it is not pocket change for purchasing every day needs. It is more of a show of the wealth of a village. It is lined up along a main area of the village. What makes it valuable is that it is mined about 300 miles away on Palau and rowed across the open ocean in canoes. The cost, in time and human life, to acquire and transport the stones creates the value. Stone money is seen in many of the photos from the village.

11We met a very nice local lady, also named Linda, who went to college at UCLA and returned to Yap. She helped my Linda get a lava-lava (skirt). When it was presented, she brought a bit of local color for us to wear. The amazing part of the lava-lava is the design. Many of the figures resemble things seen in the woven art of the Navajo and other indian tribes of the American southwest. In the end, we both went (mostly) native.

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