Micronesian Diary
Felicia R. Beardsley
Kosrae
Senior Fair
Village Resort
Site Inspections

Kosrae State, FSM - July to August 1999

July 29, 1999

Today was the Kosrae Senior Fair, where once a year the senior citizens of the island gather and display their handiwork in the form of traditional crafts and garden produce. Booths were set up at the grandstand, produce was laid out and numbered awaiting the judges, and various local dignitaries gathered to give speeches before the fair was officially opened. Local groups of seniors, set apart from one another by the color of their dresses and shirts, sang at intervals during the speeches.

Kosrae Seniors, the ladies in green
Kosrae Senior Fair --- the ladies in green

Kosrae Senior Fair, ladies in pink
Kosrae Senior Fair --- the ladies in pink

The booths supported handicrafts from weaving (baskets, mats, trays, purses, wallets) to wood and stone carving (model canoes, oars, faa'faa pounders, ax handles, figurines) to lacework on the hems of slips (many women wear these slips under their dresses, with the decorated part hanging below their hemlines) to beaded bracelets, to lots and lots of food.

Kosrae Senior Fair --- judging
Kosrae Senior Fair --- judging

Cut taro
Cut taro
Coconut
Coconut

Kosrae Senior Fair --- carvers
Kosrae Senior Fair --- carvers

Kosrae Senior Fair --- mats
Kosrae Senior Fair --- mats

Kosrae Senior Fair --- food
Kosrae Senior Fair --- food

Kosrae Senior Fair --- baskets
Kosrae Senior Fair --- baskets

The weather was a bit unsettled, with rain and wind periodically interrupting the events and sending everyone to cover under the shelter of the booths. This did not prevent the fair from going forward. What was a surprise for me, however, was how quickly the crafts sold out, in what seemd to be at most an hour. The fair was supposed to continue until 2:30, but by 12:30 nearly everything had been sold off the tables.

August 1, 1999

Sundays in Kosrae are a quiet time. No business is conducted, no work is done, no restaurants are open; all activities of the day are concentrated in the church. People go to church in the morning and afternoon, and sometimes in-between. They don't cook on Sundays, either; no smoke must be seen to dirty the sky, I was told. This is in reference to the old way of cooking in an earth oven, which is heated with fire and produces a lot of smoke. Even hotels adhere to this rule; all except one -- Kosrae Village Resort. Their restaurant is open all day Sunday to accommodate their guests. The hotel is an ecologically friendly place, run by three partners: Madison Nena, Bruce Brandt and Katrina Adams. Its rooms consist of a series of bungalows built in traditional style with traditional materials; all bungalows face the beach, so even if someone is staying in the bungalow next to you, there is always a feeling of privacy. They also happen to have the best food on the island. That is where I went today.

Bruce kept me company while I ate, and of course we talked about Kosrae, about historical sites and all kinds of other things. Our conversation ran the gamut, including diving and historical shipwrecks, like Bully Hayes' Leonora. This of course got us onto the topic of fishing in prehistoric times, about the coral fishhook industry I found in Walung, about the coral netsinkers that have been turning up in the Walung midden lab work, about deep-water fishing as opposed to fishing inside the reef, and then, the topic of fish traps. He said they have these odd configurations of coral on the reef in front of the hotel, and that these have been identified as fish traps. I was curious, so after eating, he, Katrina and I walked over the reef to look at them.

KVR, fishtrap 1 KVR, fishtrap 2

One in particular is very striking. It is a double alignment of coral slabs stuck on end and woven together much the same way fish trap construction is done in Yap (although these are not of the same configuration as those in Yap). The action of the seawater, together with the dissolution of the coral, effectively cements these standing corals together and creates a very sturdy structure. I don't know how this might have functioned, as I don't know enough about fish traps; but I can think of no other function for this alignment. It is not a retaining wall; it is not a canoe landing area; it is not a breakwater of sorts; nor is it a channel alignment. That leaves, as far as I can tell, only the function as a fish trap. Perhaps, as in Yap, it was used in conjuction with an enclosure made from organic materials.

There are other configurations on the reef as well: circular and square walls made of raised coral, with basalt added perhaps as a top course, perhaps as some sort of removeable gate. These walls encompass a depression in the reef flat, which retains water when the tide is out; today they are nice tidepools that have small fish darting about and starfish (brittle stars) nestled in the rocks. These configurations could be fish traps, and probably were; but they could also be turtle holding pens, which would not be uncommon. Naturally, for these to function properly and receive an inundation of water and fish, the shoreline would have to be a bit farther inland; and, according to the coastal management folks, it was. There has been a lengthy period of shoreline progradation, with a build-up of the shore and beach front, but for how long remains an unknown.

August 2, 1999

Nena and Lupalik were visiting a number of special project sites, where landowners are supposed to clear the vegetation from historic sites on their properties for a small fee. This was an inspection visit, to see how far the clearing work has progressed on each site. I went along for the ride, and to see these sites. We visited several different kinds, from Japanese bunkers to prehistoric era sites.

The Japanese sites are along the coast, in Malim. That was the site of Japanese settlement during the pre-war years until the Japanese surrender in WWII. A couple of the sites were bunkers with gun turrets; another was a meeting place. The bunker I photographed has concrete walls that are over 3 feet wide, with openings to the sides and toward the island interior. The meeting place is completely subterranean, an artificial concrete cave with two entrances (to the island interior) and ventilation openings at the top. You would never know the structure was there because the top is flush with the ground.

Japanese meeting place, Malim
Japanese meeting place, Malim

Japanese bunker, Malim
Japanese bunker, Malim

Japanese bunker interior, Malim
Japanese bunker interior, Malim

Nena and Lupalik at IsraWe visited Isra Village, too. I had been here once before, when I first arrived on the island, and viewed a previous special project site. Today, we looked at two additional compounds that were added as special projects to provide a greater perspective to this ancient village through at least three cleared compounds. All three compounds face a channel now choked with vegetation, but it used to provide the principal access to this village. A stream with fortified retaining walls separates the first compound with one of the two we viewed today. All compound walls are made of basalt boulders and fragments of columnar basalt, as well as coral; although most of the coral appeared in the front wall of one compound. Inside our first compound of the day were pavements, platforms, and cooking areas. The vegetation growth is particularly thick; it must take the landowner considerable effort to remove it.

The next, adjacent compound was not a living compound but enclosed a tomb. The tomb was very similar to those in Leluh, consisting of a platform with a crypt sunken into its center. The platform was rectangular, while those in Leluh are in the shape of a truncated pyramid. Surrounding the tomb we saw today was another wall, roughly the same height as the platform; there was a gap between this wall and the platform. The perimeter wall of the burial compound consisted of three sides, with an opening to the front. No one knows who the tomb was for, although it must have been a high-ranking person to have such an elaborate burial site.

Isra village gate
Isra village gate

Isra Tomb V, outer wall
Isra Tomb V, outer wall

Isra Tomb V, inner wall
Isra Tomb V, inner wall

Behind each of these compounds (to the inland side) was a paved path which ran the length of these compounds, essentially connecting each with the other. Farther inland from the path were additional pavements and platforms outside the compound walls, as well as seka stones and cooking areas.

This was my first real perspective of a prehistoric village per se, that is, outside Leluh. Here were several compounds, three cleared or nearly so, but several more overgrown and completely obscured by vegetation. All are in close proximity to one another; there is an arterial that connected one with the other, and essentially unified the village. I don't know if there was a village center, nor do I have a clear understanding of the overall arrangement of compounds and those features outside the compound walls; there has been no formal survey or mapping effort completed here. (Then again, one can say that about many of the historic sites on this island; there are so many that have remained untouched by development, and so few resources available to document everything.)

Finlesr, Utwe to Walung Channel
Finlesr, Utwe to Walung Channel

Finlesr, red soilOur final site was the Finlesr Lap Site. This is the site where the pigment for red paint is collected; the paint is mixed with oils and used on canoes, adze handles and other items. The site is said to be the oldest on the island, formed when the island was formed, when Sleeping Lady became Kosrae. She was menstruating at the time. Finlesr is located between her legs, the ground stained red by her menstrual discharge. In prehistoric times, the red soil was mined for paint; it is still mined today, only the need for this red pigment is no longer in great demand. To get to the site, you have to hike some ways into the mountains, over boulder fields and through and by compounds that housed unnamed souls more than likely related to this site. Here again, oral history fails us. We don't know if access to the pigment was controlled by a clan or a high-ranking person, perhaps a chief; if only certain professionals or expert craftsmen could mine the pigment; if access was unlimited. We don't know if the compounds we passed housed a "gatekeeper" or were available to any and all to use during their stay. It is said that Sleeping Lady will deny access to those she does not want coming to her most private part. We were not prevented admittance.

The soil is a very bright red pigment, and will stain. I got some on my pants and, of course, my hands. I could eventually get it off my hands by scrubbing, but my pants will retain their streaks of Lap for some time to come, I think.

Next: Sacred Places


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