National Geographic : 1967 May
KODACHROME BYJACKFIELDS( N.G.S . 708 The green of my first outer island rose no higher above the ocean than a pancake of coral sand could thrust a thick spread of tropical foliage. I landed, by chance, during a burial ceremony in a tiny cemetery darkened by a jungle of coconut palms. The People of the Deep Sea stepped forward across the coral sand, some of the brown-skinned women clutching naked babies to their breasts. In turn, they tossed tropical wildflowers sound lessly onto the lid of a coffin. Only days before, the coffin had been a canoe. It had sailed the blue island seas until its owner had died. Now it was going with him into the grave. Male mourners at the funeral were dressed only in brilliant red thus, loin cloths that waved like flags fore and aft. Women wore lava-lavas, waist-to knee sarongs woven from the inner bark of hibiscus; in Micronesian tradi tion, a woman's thighs must be modest ly covered, but her breasts may go bare. Small girls sported little ponytail switches of shredded hibiscus bark belted around their waists in pairs, front and back. Toddlers were com pletely naked. Dead Were Formerly Set Adrift These bereaved islanders might simply have pushed the burdened canoe away from shore. Consigned to the currents, the departed one would drift westward. His Micronesian an cestors had come from there long ago, sailing similar canoes, from Indonesia and Southeast Asia. He might have been cast adrift west ward, except that his survivors were culturally-moving eastward, toward the United States. "I would be happier if they'd put their dead out to sea as they used to, but they've heard that Americans bury their dead in the ground. You notice that we've got the cemetery a long way from any houses or wells. The only drinking water is from the rain. Old look on a new idea: Row of trophies from head-hunting days and, above it, misadventures of a prodigal son decorate Koror's community center, here being re thatched. Communal projects help Palau ans overcome local rivalries.