National Geographic : 1948 Jul
Pacific Wards of Uncle Sam Most homes here are small thatched struc tures. Some stand on short piles above the ground; floors of others are only coral pebbles covered with matting (Plate VI). Far more imposing are the canoe sheds on the islands. Huge breadfruit pillars and heavy crossbeams support the high-peaked thatched roofs. Their members are laced together with coconut-fiber twine (page 79). Once these canoe sheds were "all men" houses, from which women were barred. They still serve as local clubs and community gathering places. On a number I saw clusters of taro plants and dry fish hanging in the open gables. '"For good luck and good crops," Chief Ayster said. Every village has many canoes, large and small. I saw several under construction. The hull is hollowed and shaped from a single breadfruit log. Decorative prows, outrigger, and other parts are fastened into place entirely by twine. Not a nail or screw is used. Cracks and lacing holes are then calked with tree gums (Plate V). When the villagers cannot get canvas for sails, they make them of matting. These light, trim craft seem to fly before a good breeze. They are always sailed with the outrigger to the windward. So, instead of tacking, the canoeist lifts the sprit of the triangular sail and shifts it to the opposite end of the boat, then gaily sails off in a new direction, the stern now becoming the prow. A 350-mile Sail for Cigarettes A few months before I visited Puluwat, several of the islanders had sailed a seagoing canoe to Truk and back, a round trip of some 350 miles, just to buy cigarettes! In all, they had a total of $17. With this they bought cigarettes for the whole island. As you sail into the Namonuito group, you find yourself in a king-size atoll. The islands and reef sprawl in a rough triangle to hem a lagoon of some 724 square miles. Next to those of Kwajalein and Truk, it is the biggest lagoon in the Trust Territory. To get from Ulul, at one corner, to Onari, Ono, or Pisaras, on the opposite side, you travel about 50 miles. The western islands are tufted with feathery coconut palms. Only on Ulul Island are the trees set in orderly rows. There, some years ago, the Belgian family of Etscheit, from Ponape, established a large plantation. Coconuts play a remarkable role in the life of all these Micronesian peoples. They drink the water of young coconuts, prepare food and milk from the mature nuts, and make delicious salads from both the sprouting nuts and the palm hearts. They use the coconut's husks for fuel, light lamps with its oil, twist the fiber into twine, weave the leaves into mats and baskets, and thatch their homes with the big fronds. Copra, the dried meat, yields rich oils used in the manufacture of soaps, margarines, and other products. From most of the islands we took off many canoe loads of copra (Plates III and IX). Leaving the Namonuitos, we returned to Truk. And from there I shipped almost im mediately on another field trip going south. Chief Artie of Truk went along as interpreter and assistant to the civil administration officer. Sailing one afternoon out of one of Truk's south passes, we skirted near-by Kuop atoll and set course for Namoluk. Early the next morning we arrived off its reef. The coral barrier enclosing the triangular lagoon of Namoluk atoll has only a single shallow pass. Large craft are barred, and the entrance is so narrow that the islanders build their canoes with outriggers coupled close to the hulls (Plate V). When the tide is low much of the reef is awash, and the piled-up waters of the lagoon pour from the passage like a millrace. Boat men have to paddle and pole furiously in the twisting channel. Live coral on these reefs displays fantastic formations and hues. Here sparkle vivid yellows, greens, reds, and bright purples. Within the lagoon, too, dart brilliant fish. Many sea cucumbers (beche-de-mer), star fish, and other strange sea creatures dot the ocean floor (page 76). In Namoluk I found a marked difference from the western islands. Its homes are dis persed more widely. Paths, lined with green bushes or edged with coral rocks, thread through the coconut palms and huge bread fruit trees (Plate XVI). The people here, as in Truk, wear foreign type clothes. Their houses, too, are con structed mainly of wood. Some even have glass windows. A church, dispensary, and meeting house are of wood or plaster. The Nomoi group, our next stop, consists of three separate atolls-Etal, Lukunor, and Sata wan. As we cruised toward them we could see all three at one time from the ship's bridge. Etal, like Namoluk, has a closed lagoon, so again we had to lie off the island. Here the people have a whaleboat to ferry pas sengers ashore. We landed on a coral pier built on the open sea. Practically all of the Nomoi Islands have these coral stone piers and stone sea walls. Perhaps the most extensive construction is on Lukunor, where we next stopped.