National Geographic : 1952 Dec
Grass-skirted Yap War Made Uncle Sam Foster Parent to These Far Pacific Islanders, Who Prize Old Ways, Taboos, and Huge Disks of Stone "Money" BY W. ROBERT MOORE With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author THE TINY naval freighter shuddered and reeled as she nosed out of Guam harbor breakwater and headed south westward. A typhoon careening off toward the Philippines had kicked up a lively sea. On a small space of the unsteady afterdeck sat seven of us-a priest going to the Palaus, a trader in island products, four Harvard anthropologists, and I. We clung to our seats amid a chaos of suitcases, boxes, camera gear, and sleeping cots under a canvas awning that was to prove inadequate to ward off either tropical sun or sweeping rain squalls. But what did it matter? The strange and inviting Yap Islands lay over the horizon, only 500 miles away. During the war in the Pacific I had seen Yap as I flew between Guam and the Palau Islands. Our forces had bypassed the Yap group of islands, but Japanese antiaircraft guns made the climate above them a bit un healthy. Since then, Yap, like the other Pacific islands of the former Japanese Man date, has become part of the Trust Terri tory under United States control.* My four anthropologist shipmates-Wil liam D. Stevens and David M. Schneider, social anthropologists; Nathaniel R. Kidder, demographer; and Edward E. Hunt, Jr., physical anthropologist-were members of the Peabody Museum expedition from Harvard. They were one of the teams in the compre hensive project called the Coordinated In vestigation of Micronesian Anthropology CIMA for short-sponsored by the Pacific Science Board of the National Research Coun cil and by the Navy Department. Theirs was the nine-month task of making a detailed study of the customs in the Yap island group, of finding how the Yap mind ticks. Some of the facts they found were generously shared with the NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE. Man Added an Island to Yap When first seen from a plane or ship, Yap appears as a single land lump. Actually it is made up of four main islands and several small ones closely set within a hemming coral reef. Overall, the group is some 16 miles long and 6 miles across at its bulging midriff (see Pacific Ocean map, a supplement to this issue). Once there were only three main islands Yap, Map, and Rumung. The fourth, Gagil Tomil Island, formerly was linked to Yap Island by a low mangrove-covered strip of land at the upper end of deeply indented Tomil Harbor. But the Germans, during their occupation before World War I, sliced it away by digging the shallow Tageren Canal to afford easy access by small boats to Map and Rumung (pages 808-809). Like Ponape, Kusaie, and the chief islands of Truk and the Palaus, Yap is a "high" island group. It has hills. Although the highest ridges rise slightly less than 600 feet, these islands form sharp contrast to the multi tude of flat coconut-studded coral atolls that comprise part of the Carolines and all the Marshalls. Islanders Proud of Their Culture Yap islanders are an independent folk. They want no truck with foreign clothes and foreign ways. Hiking about the islands with my anthropological companions, I found hardly a native wearing trousers or a dress. The men wear loincloths; the women fashion skirts of grass, reeds, and ferns. For centuries such garb has suited their needs and economy. So why change? As we roamed from one village to another, we saw these grass-skirted women cooking food over outdoor fires, sweeping their yards, weaving baskets, and digging in the taro beds. On island paths they looked like perambulat ing haystacks (pages 815-817 and 828). Breechclouted men worked in the canoe sheds, building outrigger canoes or repairing nets. Some were busy erecting new "men's houses," or clublike gathering places, to re place those destroyed during the war. Other men sailed the lagoon to tend fish traps. Many loafed in the shade and chewed blood-red betel nut (pages 819 and 825). At first glance the Yap people might seem to be among the most primitive of island folk * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Pacific Wards of Uncle Sam," July, 1948, and "South from Saipan," April, 1945, both by W. Robert Moore; "Yap Meets the Yanks," March, 1946, by David D. Duncan; "Hidden Key to the Pacific," June, 1942, and "Mysterious Micronesia," April, 1936, both by Willard Price; and "Yap and Other Pacific Islands Under Japanese Mandate," by Junius B. Wood, Ie cember, 1921.