Friday, December 7, 2012

Culture, Culture and more Culture

Everyone always says, "What a great opportunity you're giving see the world and learn about other cultures..." Well, I'll tell you, he's learning culture now. And so are we...

A young boy with his ration of fish.
It's hard to sum everything up in a cohesive story so I'm not going to try. Andy has spent a fair amount of time with the men, and I with the I'm going to try to just summarize what we've learned (with a little bit of my opinion, of course :) ).

There are four clans on the island. They're not necessarily family, but "like family" is what I was told. As a matter of fact, the chief's stepson, Mannuel, is in a different clan than he is. Not sure how that happens, but it does. Each of the clans control a different part of the island; one controls the sea, one the land, one the tuba (remember the coconut toddy?), and one does the administrative tasks (not quite clear what this entails yet). There was a meeting the other day (and apparently, days after that), to discuss the tuba. Since the holidays are coming up, they want to decide if they're going to let the men drink the fermented tuba, or make them drink the sweet tuba (non-alcoholic) that the women drink. They want everyone to have fun and be happy, but they don't want them drunk all the time and useless. One night, the meeting results were handed out and it was a yes, you get to drink the tuba (interestingly enough, the women have a large say so in this), but last night another meeting decided that no, you don't get to drink the tuba. I don't think it's much different than our politics at home, actually....

The fish to be divided among the various families on the island.

Michaeila (I totally spelled it wrong in the last post, sorry. Pronounced, Mi Kay La, very common at home, I just don't know how to spell) told me how women get married here. I was very curious as there just doesn't seem to be a lot to pick from. She said a boy decides he wants to marry a woman and goes to her parents and asks permission (much like we do in the south, right?). If the parents say yes, the boy and girl go "away" for a few days to get to know each other and basically to let the girl decide if she wants to marry the boy and "how" they want to get married (I don't know what "how" means). If she decides she likes him, they go back and tell her parents, yes. Then they go to each of their family's houses and tell them they're going to get married and "how" they want to get married. Then they wait for the priest. On this island, there is a deacon, so they can get married anytime they like. If they are from two different islands, the man moves to the woman's island. I like that they get to say no if they want to...

Mannuel and Andy
Mannuel, the chief's step son, paddled out to the boat yesterday to give us our ration of fish (the clan that controls the water, divides the day's catch up among the men based on the size of family. They included us in this process, therefore we received more fish than we were ever able to eat in a given meal.). He stayed and had a few cold beers (his first since being in Yap in June) and we started to talk about their traditional dress. As I've described, the men wear the cloth tied around their nether-regions, called a "thu" here and the women wear lava lava's that they make here and go shirt less as well. While I've read numerous blogs and tour guides that will lead you to believe that they are bucking western traditions, I heard it straight from the chief's son's mouth that it basically comes down to soap. Yep, soap. Only a hand full of people here have jobs....teachers, doctor, dentist, etc. No one else has any money unless they sell the occasional lava lava or basket or what have you. So the people with money, tell the people without that they don't have the money to buy soap so they shouldn't wear the shirts. If you can't afford to wash them, you shouldn't wear them. I can't make this stuff up, people. For the older generation, this really is just how they dress, but for the younger generation, it's a restriction. If we're carrying a camera, you can see the young girls put their school books up to their chests. If you do see a young man wearing a shirt, he has written on it and cut it up into his own design...trying to make a statement. Not unlike any other culture we've ever known, including our own (I remember numerous mid-drift shirts and short skirts driving fathers crazy all over my hometown back in the 80-90's). But I thought Mannuel's explanation was worth noting.

Kira and Jake playing.  Kira was afraid
there were sharks in the water so we couldn't
get her off the ladder, but she had fun
Every night we've been here (with the exception of the one night I didn't go to shore), we've had dinner cooked for us at Michaeila's house. They fry up the fish and put some taro in for us. One night they even found some breadfruit and instead of eating it themselves, they saved it for us and fried it up with our fish (breadfruit is out of season right now, so to find one is very rare). At the same time, the men are giving us our "rations." We have more fish than we know what to do with. To show my appreciation, I invited Michaeila out to the boat. She was so giddy it was like a teenager. She brought her granddaughter, Kira with her and they had a blast. Kira, of course, played with Jake (it's amazing how kids can play even when they don't speak the same language), while Michaeila and I chatted on the bow. I baked some pumpkin bread for them and made some deviled eggs...I was trying to think of something "American" that I might have the ingredients for. Turns out she loved both. We sent her home with a ton of goodies and a nice color picture printout of us on the boat. It was so funny and fulfilling to watch her so excited. She's a large woman and wasn't sure if she could climb on board, but in the end, she couldn't pass up the opportunity. And I think it made more than one woman on shore jealous...I think she liked that :).

Tomorrow is the big celebration. It's the day of Mary's Ascension. After Mass, they're having a big party, complete with turtle. The poor thing has been laying on it's back for two days huffing and puffing trying to stay alive. We thought about secretly letting it loose, but we think they harpooned it in the neck. We'll have to go for the "we're not going to waste it" attitude and have a taste tomorrow. Then on Monday, we're off....

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Anonymous said...

Good to know the islanders did their best welcoming you and your family onshore in our own way. I always thought that all sail boats passing by our islands that crew comes on shore for tour are just giving fake smile at some points. Not realizing they are all disgusted at some points. Good to know you enjoyed it and apology it didn't go the way you expected (everything to be all modern). Yeah some places still preserves their culture, like these places you just visited!

The Crew of Savannah said...

Hi there. We did enjoy Lamotrek very much. I think most sailors really enjoy coming to your islands or they wouldn't do it. I've never met anyone who was disgusted, only fascinated. I think it went perfectly and I never expected anything to be modern. That's the point of understand the different cultures and see how others live. Lamotrek was one of our favorite spots in all of our sailing. I think sometimes the islanders see us and just think we're a bunch of rich people coming to take pictures of them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of us live on modest budgets and have gone back to the simple life ourselves. We really do just want to get to know everyone and maybe learn a few things along the way.

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