National Geographic : 1950 Apr
Feast Day in Kapingamarangi BY W. ROBERT MOORE With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author " HERE it is! There's Kapingama rangi." The youthful skipper of our small ship lowered his binoculars and thrust them toward me. Through them I could distinguish only a hazy line dead ahead on the horizon. But it was our landfall, and I was seeing a hope be come fact. Months before, my interest in Kapingama rangi had been aroused when an officer at the Navy Department in Washington tripped lightly over its musical syllables. Like Kala mazoo or Kealakekua, it was a name I couldn't forget. Later, in Guam, I learned more about Ka pingamarangi from a civil administration offi cial in a discussion of the former Japanese mandated islands of the Pacific, over which the United States now has control. Uncle Sam's Remote Polynesian Wards "Kapingamarangi, you know, is Polyne sian," he explained. "The language and cus toms of the people there and at its nearest neighbor, Nukuoro, 200 miles to the north, differ from those in all the other island groups of our Trust Territory. The rest are Micro nesian. "Why Polynesian folk should be on these two isolated atolls, hundreds of miles away from any part of Polynesia, no one knows. But there they are" (map, page 530). As we talked, a comely Polynesian maid smiled at me over my informant's shoulder from a framed photograph on the wall. Her home was Kapingamarangi. In Truk I learned that an American station ship was due to leave soon on a southern island run. It was scheduled to call at Kapingama rangi, nearly 500 miles to the southward, close to the Equator. When it sailed I was aboard. A few days later I stood on the bridge watch ing the Kapingamarangi island mass grow and solidify into thick clusters of coconut palms and heavy green breadfruit trees (page 524). The sun slipped down into the orange stained sea when we maneuvered through nar row Greenwich Passage and entered the lagoon. In the short tropic dusk that followed we were afforded only a brief view of the 34 islands which stud the atoll, pear-shaped and seven miles long. Only a few yellow lights from tiny coconut oil lamps flickered across the water from two or three islands near where we anchored in darkness. But our arrival had not gone un heeded. Numerous outrigger canoes emerged from the blackness and swarmed about our ship. They were slender dugouts, with incurving gunwales and long spidery outriggers, unlike any I had seen in other Pacific islands (page 531). "There's King David," said one of my ship mates, when a long white canoe swung into the lights of our landing ladder. Seated amidships in the craft was a bulky figure clad in a khaki shirt and white shorts. Half a dozen bronze-backed paddlers manned the canoe. Sitting in the boat, overflowing its gun wales, King David looked large. When he clambered aboard he looked even larger, for he is nearly six feet tall and must weigh be tween 250 and 300 pounds (page 532). He beamed greetings at everyone on board, and made the rounds to shake hands. Deftly a local trader handled the language exchange, for the chief spoke only a few halting words of English. Scores of other islanders scrambled aboard and crowded the deck space to see the ship movies. Whenever American vessels halt overnight at any of the Pacific islands, native villagers are eager to get the chance to watch the motion-picture shows. I spent an interesting hour studying the play of expressions over their intent upturned faces as they watched Joe Palooka get en meshed with some shysters in a real-estate and park-promotion scheme. Movies over, the people again melted into the darkness. But they had left the pleasant rumor aboard that there was to be an island wedding and feast the next day. Natives Clustered on Three Islands Early next morning, when I went ashore in a bobbing outrigger canoe, I found prepara tions for the feast already under way. Women sat in the shadows of their thatched homes and under the trees busily working at piles of coconuts, breadfruit, and puraka, or swamp taro (page 528). Here and there men were cutting more coconuts from the towering trees. Several canoes arrived from other islands laden with supplies (page 533).