Micronesian Diary
Felicia R. Beardsley
Leluh to Walung

Kosrae State, FSM - May 1999

May 9, 1999

Leluh, "The Whale"
Leluh, "The Whale"

From the causeway it looks like the whale --- the mythical whale that was chained to the reef and then turned into Leluh Island.

Leluh, Yenasr Islet
Leluh, Yenasr Islet

Yenasr is the last of four on our list of sites for the project on Kosrae. We will check the current state of the islet compared to the map Cordy made in 1984, when he was proposing some stabilization work to curtail the erosion. This stabilization was completed soon after by the historic preservation office, apparently using the materials on-island. Cordy said he had prepared a plane-table map of the islet in 1984, but so far I have not been able to locate the map in the office files. At any rate, if we can't find Cordy's map, we will have to remap the islet. I also want to excavate to a point below the architecture, with a goal of locating some datable materials. Yenasr is a unique place within Leluh. It was a sacred island, where the bones of the high chiefs would be taken and dropped into the hole in the reef to the north of the islet. It is also the only place witin Leluh in which shell (Tridacna, the giant clam shell) adzes were made. Large numbers of cut, rectangular blocks of Tridacna (from the hinge area) were found on the island, along with fire-cracked rock, shell midden, and turtle carapace.

I just got back from wandering through Leluh again, with the sun lower in the sky. I don't know what I got yet in terms of pictures, but I think what I need more than anything else for pictures is an overcast sky --- some even light that doesn't set up such contrasts. And, I want a good picture for Ed Ferdon. I want to send him a picture for his birthday, which is Flag Day, June 14.

Leluh, Kinyeir Fulat interior view of wall
Leluh, Kinyeir Fulat interior view of wall

Leluh, Kinyeir Fulat interior view
Leluh, Kinyeir Fulat interior view

On another subject, I am told the water we get in our faucets is catchment water (from the rain), and I think that may be right. Why would anyone pump water out this way, to this island? So I think that is the case. But I am not totally sure about that. I will look into bottled water more directly, and see if there isn't a "cheap" route to go there. Maybe there is some sort of bulk packaged water deal around here. I go though a lot of water, just drinking it.

This is FSM Constitution Day, a holiday. Then on Thursday there is another sort of holiday. It is the anniversary day of the government department in which the HPO is listed; I don't know what all that means, other than we don't do much of any kind of work except attend some sort of festivities. So that leaves only Tuesday and Wednesday for work --- one of those days will be a trip to Walung.

I'm going without a bandage today, so my wound can get some air and, I hope, begin to scab up. It is still buried in antibiotic ointment, of course. I want NO INFECTIONS, and I also want this thing to get healed up quickly.

I am obviously not getting to the budget, nor am I finishing my Yap report. I have been more interested in reading about Kosrae, or working on editing articles, or contemplating a walk.

May 10, 1999

I have been watching one of my really big geckos chasing after a moth on the ceiling. The geckos are great to watch; very entertaining. These big ones, however, stomp. You can hear them running across the ceiling or wall from the other room; sometimes they get inside the walls, stomping their way to all sorts of bugs but at the same time a bit disconcerting because you hear them at a certain place on the wall but you don't see them. Last night I heard this crash in the kitchen, from the upper part of the wall. When I went in there I saw one of the big geckos on the wall near the ceiling with a roach wing and leg hanging out of its mouth. It must have leaped to get the roach; hence the clattering and banging.

May 12, 1999

I need to introduce the people of the HPO. Heading the office is Berlin Sigrah, the historic preservation officer. Standon Andrew, archaeological field supervisor, is essentially Berlin's deputy; when Berlin is gone, Stan does the administration. Nena Lonno, survey technician, has been called one of the best archaeologists in Micronesia. As a side note, all three were hired and trained by Teddy John. Stan has been in the office since 1979, Nena has been there between '79 and '81 and again continuously since '86, Berlin has been here since '79 or sometime shortly thereafter. (I don't really know his dates exactly, other than that he has been around the office and appears in reports as a crew member at least as long as these other two guys.)

Berlin Sigrah, Kosrae HPO administrator
Berlin Sigrah, Kosrae Historic Preservation Officer

Standon Andrew, Archaeological Field Supervisor
Standon Andrew, archaeological field supervisor

Nena Lonno, Survey Technician
Nena Lonno, survey technician

Others in the office include Angunis Ned, secretary, and Kerick Benjamin, information assistant, who does all the videotaping and editing for the office and the state. Kerick is responsible the video archives of past and current events. I think he also does the radio programs. He was hired in Teddy John's time too, I believe. He has a small video editing room with all kinds of editing equipment. Lupalik Wesley, land management specialist, handles all the easements in the state; I think there needs to be more like him. I was looking at a recent accomplishment report for the office, and he works the most hours out of anyone.

Angunis Ned, Secretary
Angunis Ned, secretary

Kerick Benjamin, HOP Information Assistant
Kerick Benjamin, HPO Information Assistant

Lupalik Welely, Land Management Specialist
Lupalik Wesley, Land Management Specialist

The office is responsible for historic preservation programs, the museum, land management easements, coordination of research applications/projects for the state, and odd things like coordination of housing for all government contract workers. Just recently the state welcomed a new assistant attorney general (probably from the US, but I don't know for sure). He arrived earlier this week and has asked for a 3 bedroom house with no neighbors as his residence. There is a problem here in that the housing allowance for the government is limited to $500 a month, and finding a large place like that with the amenities (water and power) is well nigh impossible. I suspect this new Asst. AG has not been to places like Micronesia; either that, or he has but it has been places like the Philippines or Southeast Asia where you can find such bargains. Another little odd service the office provides is lending videotapes. There is no television station on-island, but people have video machines. If they want to see a recent event, they simply come to the office and check out a tape of that event.

May 13, 1999

Our starting point for the trip to Walung --- Okat dock, the main commercial dock in Kosrae. Chinese fishing boats tied up at the dock.

Okat Dock
Okat dock

Chinese Fishing Boat
Chinese fishing boat at Okat dock

Our day started off slowly; we were waiting for the tide. Once we got into the boat, however, we set out. The plan was to go outside the reef, troll for tuna on our way to the site, and wait for the tide to come up some more. Stan and the boat operator laid out their lines as we got close to a bubbling caldron of fish, places where birds were thick and diving for the small fish that travel with the schools of tuna. You could see the tuna jumping, splashing; Nena would every now and then point out one of these active areas; he would say, see it's boiling over there. That is what it looks like too, a pot of rapidly boiling water as the fish would jump and splash. You could feel the excitement. There were other boats out on the water, all doing the same thing we were, chasing after these bubbling caldrons of fish and birds. At some points in the chase we would be surrounded by these schools; no matter which direction you looked there were birds and fish. The boat would jump and roll with the swells on the water, some of them 5 feet high, probably more, as many of the boats would completely disappear between swells. Neither Stan nor the operator caught anything by the time they rolled up their lines and we headed for Walung.

Birds diving for fish off Walung
Birds diving for fish on the approach to Walung

On the way, we ran through a school of dolphins, chasing one another, jumping alongside the boat, swimming back and forth under the boat. To be that close to these animals was spectacular. They are so graceful and seemed rather playful. I didn't know if I should stand or not, but I did so I could get a better view of them.

We also ran by a number of flying fish. They look like small birds flying close to the water. Every now and then they would dive back into the water, but only for a few seconds, after which they would be up and out of the water again, skimming across it. They glide at great speed, and I couldn't help but think about the methods of catching flying fish in places like Yap, Pingelap, and Palau, and about parties of men going out at night in their sailing canoes with torches and nets. They would glide along the water, each canoe a certain distance from the others, holding torches high and spreading a net between themselves within the canoe. The fish, attracted to the light, would essentially leap into the boats, guided more directly into the boat by the net. If a fish happened to break through the net and hit a man (at that speed, it could do some damage), it was usually considered a bad omen and the man would likely be blamed for bringing this bad luck to the fishing party.

Flying fish in other places, such as the Marshalls or ancient Guam, were caught with hooks fashioned out of bone, shell, or wood, and after Contact, metal. The hooks were attached to gourds, which were then thrown into the water and dragged for these fish. The gourd would keep the hook close to the surface of the water, and with hooks baited with coconut meat, shrimp and other small fish, the men in these places would catch their share. I am not sure if this manner of fishing would also employ torches to stimulate the fish and draw them near the canoes.

Walung Village
Walung village: two men are carving a canoe center right

We got to Walung, which is on the coastal plain at the southwestern corner of the island. It is a small, sandy stretch of land separated from the main island by a mangrove. In the reef just beyond the site is a narrow opening; beyond this opening, the reef extends nearly to Okat Bay (there is small opening in the reef about halfway to Okat), and to the south, the reef merges with the land. In looking at the site location with respect to the known sites in this area, it sits alone at the corner of the island, like a lone sentinel on guard watching the opening in the reef and all comers within the lagoon. In this regard, it is in a strategic location. There are no sites close by; farther to the north, within Walung, but at the north end of the village, there is a small site; there is another site around to the southern side of the island; and there are a series of relatively small sites that line the base of the mountain slopes on the main island, on the other side of the mangroves from the site we visited today. So it is an isolated point, a true Fortress of Solitude. From all accounts, it is also one of the larger sites on island; Nena could think of no other that had such a large area defined by a perimeter wall.

Walung Site
Walung site

The site itself is not much to look at. So far, it consists only of a perimeter wall, constructed with coral and basalt prisms and boulders. Today the wall is no longer standing, but is flattened or perhaps collapsed with its components spread thickly over an area between 3 and 5 meters wide at any one point along the length of the wall. Every now and then, as we walked the length of the wall, I caught a glimpse of what seemed to be an original base alignment, mixed into and under all the rubble. Here there would be several coral and basalt boulders lined up; they were, for the most part, nearly buried in the sand except for a small portion still visible. One of my first questions upon looking at the site was, where did the basalt come from? It had to come from the main island, but where? In the mix of wall rubble, there were also a couple of seka pounding stones. Were these part of the wall itself or added later? Has the wall been built and rebuilt over time? Enlarged? Modified?

Walung Wall 2
Walung wall 2, flattened and scattered

Walung, Wall 3
Walung, Wall 3

Walung, Seka Pounding Stone
Seka pounding stone (note small depression in the middle of the rectangular stone)

There has been no survey with the walls, so there is no telling what may be there. It is covered by extremely thick brush; I think I almost gave Nena a heart attack today when I was musing about walking through the middle of the compound from one wall to an opposite. He gave me this look as if to say, I am the only one with a machete here and that means I would have to cut you a corridor through this jungle (thicker, by the way, than anything I encountered on Yap). We didn't do that as today was meant only to review the site and see what sort of work we will face when it comes time for this one. I am told that the owner had used this area for raising pigs; otherwise, we don't know what other sorts of disturbances have influenced the make-up of the site.

I don't know why the walls have collapsed, other than the sediments. Unlike other places on the island, this is predominately sand, which provides a certain degree of instability. In Yap, many of the features within the coastal plain were located below the current surface; they had sunk into the sandy sediments, whole daf complexes and retaining walls had collapsed into compound alignments of rubble buried in the sand. The Walung site is on an old beach berm on a coastal plain. How much of the site is buried below the sand, essentially sunken over time? Were there platforms inside, as there are with many other walled compounds on the island? And where does this site fit in with the rest of Kosrae cultural history?

Stories from Stan and Nena suggest that Walung, a general reference to the western side of the island as well as the place name for the site we visited today, was settled first in the history of the island, and that the chiefs who later occupied Leluh could trace their descent from Walung. Now, whether Walung in this instance refers to the village of Loacl, on Okat Bay, or our general site area is an unknown in this equation. Loacl was at one time a major center of activity, and probably one of the dominant political points before the growth of Leluh. Intuitively, I would suspect that the area we visited today would have been among those areas initially settled. It is visible from the ocean beyond the reef, presents a flat and accessible piece of land, it's not hidden by mangroves like Loacl, there is access to both food (land, marine) and water, and it presents a good look-out location.

Walung, by the way, means "hinterland, away from Leluh". The old name for Kosrae (told to the whalers, traders and missionaries who arrived in the 19th century) was Ualung or Wacluhng (where the c is nearly silent, a brief glottal stop in the back of your throat). This name was most certainly used in reference to the then-capital and political-economic-social-cultural center at Leluh. We don't know what the island was called before then; Western contact began in 1824 and increased thereafter.

Walking out of the site I spotted a large piece of Tridacna (the hinge portion) mixed in with the wall debris. The thinner, outer or dorsal region of the shell had been removed, and there were large flaking scars along the edge suggesting deliberate removal of this dorsal region. In my experience, such a large piece of deliberately worked shell forms the transportable raw material used in the manufacture of adzes.

When we got back to the dock in Okat, Stan and the boat operator dropped us off. They then went back out fishing. Nena was surprised, and said had he known Stan was going to do this, he would have eaten half the cookies we brought along with us. As it was, he was trying to reserve his cookie-eating for the ride back to the office.

Next: Tofol Site and Local Crafts



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