Friday (May 20th) was our fifth and final (field) work day in Yap (we still have a LOT of data processing to do). Today we worked along side John with the Yap Historic Preservation Office (HPO) mapping a number of historic cultural sites including men’s houses, community houses and stone paths. Although there are a number of cultural sites easily accessible on Yap most of the one’s we mapped required permission of the municipality chief. These sites are rarely (if ever) viewed by outsiders so this was truly a unique experience for our group. Here is a brief description of some of the sites we were blessed to see.
Almost all of the sites we mapped were Men’s Houses or Faluws. Faluws are large thatched buildings that served as a meeting place, living quarters, school and lodge for Yapese Men. In these houses boys would learn important skills from older men and leaders would meet to discuss important issues in the village and on the island. Additionally, these buildings served as a rest stop for tired fishermen and a place to store their fishing equipment. The buildings were often (but not always) built around large stone platforms that served as outdoor meeting places. Some of these platforms have several large thin rocks sticking up from the ground. These stones were basically sitting areas (a backrest) for tired travelers or for any man that wanted to relax. All women (with one exception) were forbidden to enter the Faluws. The one exception was the Mispil whose
job was to keep the Faluw clean and cook for the men who used the house. There are areas only for women (known as Dapals) where men were forbidden to enter, however, most of these places have long been lost to time. Additionally there are large community houses (known as a Pebais) that were used by both men and women. They look very similar to the men’s houses however they are more open and occupy a large footprint. Most of the community houses were destroyed during Japanese occupation (leading up to WWII) but we were lucky to view one (named Bilechuruu) in Riken, Gagil. The Faluws we viewed (named Langruw, Daed, Mitethib, and Achigiyog) were in Riken – Gagil, Chool – Maap and Wuluu – Fanif.
As you may (or may not) know, Yap is known as the Island of Stone Money. Although we did not map any of the stone money or the stone money banks we were fortunate to visit some of these sites. Stone money was (and still is) used for trading and doing business. All of the stone money is made from rock NOT found on Yap (which is quite interesting). Most of the money comes from Palau (a Pacific Island west of Yap) and is made of Aragonite (a type of limestone). Interestingly the size alone does not determine the value of the money. The value of the stone money depends on the age, quality, color, shape and size of the stone. All of these factors reflect the hardships suffered to obtain the stone money. Some of the stones are quite large and difficult to move (though it is possible). When money was exchanged it didn’t necessarily mean that the money would move. The new owner would be given the history, which was very important as this established the value, and location of the piece. Throughout our travels through Yap we saw a number of stone money banks (usually near community houses or platforms). The stones here could be owned by an individual, family or the village. Usually these stones would not move unless money was exchanged between villages.
At one point it was estimated that there were more than 13,000 pieces of stone money on Yap. During World War II when the Japanese occupied Yap it is believed that a significant amount of stone money was destroyed (some were possibly used as anchors or for roads) leaving around 6,000 pieces. At one point it was possible for foreign individuals and banks to purchase stone money however that practice ended sometime in the 1900’s. Today, it is illegal to remove stone money from Yap. For more information on the stone money of Yap I highly recommend the Yap Art Studio history of stone money or the book “Traditional Money on Yap & Palau” by Charles Opitz (who was born in Milwaukee, WI 🙂 )
(Note: Much of the information (with links) provided in this blog post was provided by the Yap Art Studio, www.yapeseart.com. Please take a moment to visit their site and support their work.)